Yves here. It’s been discouraging to see a significant portion of members of the commentariat take a “These awful trade deals are inevitable, lie back and think of England” attitude as far as fighting the trade deals are concerned, and are unwilling to make even the small investment of time required to call their Senators and Representative to put their opposition on record.
The battle is going far better than the opposition expected. Obama had planned to have Fast Track authority sail through the Senate so as to prove to the House, where he faces a real fight, that the bill has bipartisan support, Majority Leader John Boehner has made clear that he is not going to pass a bill without having meaningful Democratic party air cover, and he hasn’t seen enough evidence of that in whip counts. The fact that Obama got a visible black eye in the Senate and has lost time in moving the bill forward has strengthened the position of opponents and called more public attention to the process. It also has underminded Obama’s plan to make approval of Fast Track authority seem uncontroversial and inevitable.
This post explains why merely delaying Obama so that he does not get the bill passed in May throws a likely fatal wrench into the entire deal. The Administration is already about as late as it can be in getting the deal done, given the moving parts overseas and the President moving into lame duck territory. One thing the author gets wrong is when Congress goes out of session. The last day for business this month for the House is this Thursday, the 21st, and for the Senate, Friday the 22nd.
So your calls are critical to stiffening the spine of the rebels and letting the traitors know that voters will take their vengeance for a sellout in the next election. As reader Kokuanani pointed out:
As I’ve posted elsewhere with regard to contacting your Senators and Rep., NUMBERS COUNT. The staff members reading e-mails and answering the phones are only reporting the volume of incoming communication and which “side” it supports. Your fabulous essay on the evils of the TPP and Fast Track will never reach the voting member. So don’t waste your time writing it.
Pick one or two arguments [e.g., “secrecy”] and make them. Briefly. Like a sentence or two. Spend the rest of your time getting friends and family to contact Senate offices. The e-mail forms [links provided by Yves] make this ridiculously easy. All you need is a zip code showing you’re in the state. You can walk your pals through the process.
I don’t know how effective contacting the DNC would be, but it can’t hurt, and can alert them that they can’t rely on you for fund-raising or votes.
By Martin Khor, Executive Director of the South Centre, Geneva. Cross-posted from The Star.
Is the TransPacific Partnership Agreement about to be concluded, or will it be put into deep freeze instead?
The answer may be known in the next few days or weeks as the controversial TransPacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations face another crunch time.
Last week, U.S. top negotiator Michael Froman was in Kuala Lumpur for a series of meetings.
He told the public that Malaysia’s concerns, especially on bumiputra policy, would be taken into account and that by joining the TPP, Malaysia’s economy and exports would grow significantly.
Froman also said there was no rush to conclude the TPPA.
In fact, there is an urgency for the talks to conclude within a few weeks because of the US political calendar.
Chief negotiators are scheduled to meet in Guam later this week to iron out outstanding issues so that a meeting of trade ministers of the 12 countries can conclude the deal in the Philippines at the end of this month, following the Apec Summit.
Why the hurry? The final TPPA has to be approved by the U.S. Congress latest by December to avoid preoccupation with next year’s U.S. presidential elections.
An agreement has to be reached by the ministers by May or June, or else the deadline may be missed and the TPPA may have to await a new president and Congress.
Other countries won’t negotiate their “bottom line” (or final positions) until the U.S. obtains “fast track authority” from Congress, meaning Congress can only vote yes or no to the whole TPPA, but can’t amend the agreement.
The current sitting of Congress ends on May 18, and it has to fast-track the bills by then, or else the negotiators and ministers are unlikely to achieve a breakthrough in their meetings this month.
This is one of the many hurdles to cross if the TPPA talks are to succeed.
Firstly, Obama’s trade policy is unpopular both with the public and the Democrats. There are doubts whether the fast-track bills (known as Trade Promotion Authority) can be passed by both the Senate and the House of Representatives.
If even one of these does not accept the bill, then the TPPA talks will be in trouble, as partners of the United States will have no confidence that what their negotiators agree to will be approved by Congress, which has power over trade deals.
Second are the contentious issues in the negotiations which are difficult to resolve.
Most of the countries are opposed to the U.S. demands on intellectual property. These will hike the price of medicine, causing them to be even more out of reach of the ordinary people; make it difficult for generic producers to operate; affect access to information and educational materials; and impact on farmers’ rights to save and exchange seeds.
Another issue is the TPPA’s investor-state dispute settlement system (ISDS), which gives power to foreign companies to challenge government policies in a foreign tribunal and to obtain compensation (up to billions of dollars) for loss of future profits.
In April, a group of renowned legal experts, including Obama’s old Harvard University law mentor Laurence Tribe, sent a letter to congressional leaders pronouncing that the ISDS is contrary to America’s legal traditions and principles and undermines its democratic norms.
Malaysia and some other countries find serious difficulty in the proposed TPPA rules to curb the operations of state-owned enterprises or even private companies in which the government has a stake.
This may affect big companies such as Petronas and the many enterprises under Khazanah and possibly PNB and EPF. Negotiations on whether companies can be exempted are under way. Future enterprises will certainly be affected.
Government procurement will be opened to foreign goods and companies, above a certain project threshold value.
The bumiputra preferences, a cornerstone of the Malaysian political economy, will be affected (though the extent and nature of the effects are still being negotiated).
This is within the larger issue of loss of preferences and advantages for local companies and goods (bumiputra and non-bumiputra) via the chapters on investment, procurement, competition and services.
Third is the question of benefits. Malaysia’s exports can be expected to increase due to better market access to the other TPPA countries. However, imports will also increase as Malaysia’s tariffs are eliminated.
Since our tariffs are generally higher than those of the United States, the most important partner, Malaysia would have to make more concessions and it can be expected that the trade balance would be negatively affected.
Fourth are the additional conditions that the United States may impose on other TPP countries, as it has done in previous FTAs with Peru, Guatemala and Australia.
Congress members also demand that TPPA countries that are “currency manipulators” (Malaysia has been mentioned as a candidate country) be punished, and that countries involved in human trafficking (Malaysia has been mentioned) be excluded from agreements that enjoy the fast-track treatment.
All these issues are already being hotly debated. If the TPPA negotiations conclude, the texts will at some stage be made public, and the debate can be expected to intensify.
But there are many hurdles to cross before that happens, and whether the political deadline can be met is still a big question. This will be answered in the next few weeks.