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TPP Free Trade Agreement: Why We Haven't Heard About It

During his State of the Union, President Obama prioritized strengthening the American economy through creating middle class jobs. 

He announced that one of his methods to restore the middle class will be to begin talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union. What is this agreement that will ensure economic sustainability, and “boost American exports,” and “support American jobs”? So far, it seems that the implications of the treaty for American prosperity and global human rights and health are concerning.    

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is intended as an “ambitious” attempt to anticipate trade needs in the new globalized economy, and “to make U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region a top priority.” 

Negotiations on the TPP Free Trade Agreement have been going on since 2005. The agreement currently includes Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam in negotiations

Perhaps the reason the mention of the agreement was so surprising is because there has been little transparency regarding its negotiations. Though 600 corporate lobbyists have been involved in negotiations of the TPP, many public experts, as well as representatives and senators, have commented on the lack of public accountability for those negotiating the agreement (Senator Wyden, the chair of the U.S. congressional committee with jurisdiction over TPP, has introduced a bill that would require the Obama administration to provide greater information to Congress about the intricacies of the negotiations), but what little information is known about the tenets of the bill is enough to raise the eyebrows of those concerned about economic development, human rights, and the health of our environment.

This lack of transparency might be related to Americans increasing distrust of free trade agreements. According to a recent Wall Street Journal poll, more than half of those surveyed, 53% said free-trade agreements have hurt the U.S.

Such a lack of transparency begs the question of what facets of TPP the Obama administration might prefer not to have as public knowledge, including the economic, environmental, and public health consequences of the agreement. 

The agreement opens new doors for companies to send manufacturing to states like Vietnam where labor costs are far lower than in the United States, “where they can pay pennies on the dollar.” As the agreement allows countries to join even after the treaty has been ratified, new, cheaper labor markets could open indefinitely, even in countries with abysmal standards of human and labor rights. 

Another broad reaching implication of the treaty is the inclusion of investor–state arbitration, which allows corporations to sue national governments outside of their domestic courts. As JD Journal points out, “such international trade tribunals have already rules against the fairness of U.S dolphin-safe tuna labeling and anti-teen smoking efforts as unfair barriers to trade.” 

This treaty could easily override innumerable consumer, environmental, and health protections designed to protect citizens of the world from corporate excess. It also seems that the TPP would eliminate for life saving medication: Doctors Without Borders commented that the United States is “is walking away from previous efforts to ensure that developing countries can access affordable medicines, setting a dangerous new standard that will likely be replicated in future trade agreements.” Yet the lack of transparency in discussion about the agreement makes these concerns less than salient for those who have no knowledge that the treaties are being negotiated at all.

TPP would jeopardize economic security and the jobs in the United States, and is a devastating blow for labor, human, and environmental standards around the world.   Yet few people have the necessary information to counter President Obama’s claim last night that TPP would strengthen the American economy. TPP will not effectively solve the crisis of the American middle class, but instead exacerbate the United States’ income inequality while eroding the power of the state to protect its citizens from environmental, labor, and health issues.

Transparency about the TPP must be an imperative for those interested in the United States’ economic prosperity, regardless of how President Obama characterizes its provisions.  

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