Huffington Post | 6 Nov 2014
Director, Responsible Trade Program, Sierra Club
More than 700,000 tell Congress: Fast Track is the wrong path
The saying goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same. This couldn’t be more true for the two largest trade agreements currently in negotiation, the contentious Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While the Obama Administration and congressional supporters of the pacts have rekindled timeworn talking points that describe these deals as "21st century" trade agreements, in reality, they strongly resemble the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that went into effect more than two decades ago.
That’s why today, representatives from environmental, labor, food and farm, consumer rights and other fair trade allies delivered to Congress more than 700,000 petitions opposing "fast track"—a piece of legislation that would push these harmful trade agreements through Congress without any meaningful oversight or assurances that the trade pacts would actually benefit workers, families, and the environment. The delivery, which comes days before President Obama leaves for Beijing, China, where leaders will once again make a push to finalize the stalled TPP, sends a clear message that, in the words of Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune, "fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land."
Today’s delivery wasn’t the first time members of Congress has heard that message. As I wrote about before, back in September nearly 600 organizations including major environmental, labor, civil rights, and consumer rights groups sent a letter to Chairman Wyden reiterating their opposition to fast track and calling for a new model of trade. And, it’s important to note that the recent election results in which the Republicans took control over the Senate and increased their majority in the House does not mean that fast track is any closer to completion. In fact, there is considerable Republican opposition to fast track, and polling from this year demonstrates that giving fast track authority to President Obama is overwhelmingly unpopular among Republicans; 87 percent of Republicans polled, for example, oppose giving fast-track authority to President Obama. The majority of democrats polled also oppose fast-track authority.
So why are members of the public so concerned? Well, take a look at just a few parts of the TPP and you’ll understand why. While the TPP has been negotiated in near total darkness, leaks have revealed that the pact is laden with giveaways to big corporations. The pact includes, for example, rules that empower foreign corporations to challenge public interest and environmental policies in private trade tribunals and that give corporations right extract millions or billions in compensation from taxpayers if the corporation wins. The TPP also would require the United States to automatically approve all exports of liquefied natural gas to countries in the agreement, which would mean more dangerous fracking, more coastal export terminals, and more unstable pipelines here at home.
But, if fast track were to pass, our representatives in Congress would barely be able to make a peep in objection and wouldn’t be able to raise a pen to change the deal, as Congress’ Constitutional right to shape these massive and far reaching trade agreements would disappear. Big corporations and Big polluters, naturally, are chomping at the bit to wield "fast track" and the trade pacts it would facilitate as tools to whittle away at legislation that safeguards our environment, advances clean energy, and protects our health.
History has shown us that trade agreements like the TPP and TTIP have failed to support workers, strengthen our economy, and protect communities and the environment. Now, just months after almost 600 organizations said "no" to "fast track" and "yes" to a new model of trade, more than 700,000 Americans are speaking out. Members of Congress must listen. The Obama Administration must listen. Congress must act. And the corporations trying to sneak these trade pacts past any kind of oversight must pay attention. The age of NAFTA-like agreements must come to an end.
Join us in opposing fast track so we can create a new, more equitable model of trade that protects our environment and jobs, safeguards our communities and establishes the U.S. as a leader in responsible trade.