Denver Direct: Congressional oversight of foreign trade is essential

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Congressional oversight of foreign trade is essential

By Dave Felice

These days, bipartisan agreement on anything in Congress is big news.  So, it is worth noting that many members of the House of Representatives from both parties are trying to preserve Congressional authority over trade agreements.
One reason is that today’s “trade” agreements include provisions allowing foreign corporations to skirt U.S. laws and courts and drag the U.S. government before foreign tribunals to demand compensation for environmental and health laws the corporations think undermine their expected profits.
Under past deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), more than $400 million has been paid out to corporations for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, water and timber policies and more.  Just under U.S. pacts, more than $14 billion remains pending in corporate claims against medicine patent policies, pollution clean ups, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices.
So, maybe it’s not surprising that NAFTA-style trade deals have grown increasingly unpopular across the political spectrum.  From a conservative perspective, the problem is trade-pact-enabled raids on the U.S. Treasury via unaccountable foreign tribunals.  These are new attacks on the policies needed to keep our families and the planet safe.
What is surprising is that Representatives Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis have not joined the growing block of Democratic and Republican representatives insisting that Congress maintain its power to make sure the U.S. is not hit with another damaging trade deal.
Large corporations are pressuring Congress to give away its constitutional authority over trade.  They want Congress to agree to “Fast Track” authority.  Fast Track would allow a massive trade agreement with 11 Asian and Latin American countries to be signed before Congress gets to vote on it.  Under Fast Track, this “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) trade agreement could then be railroaded through Congress quickly with no amendments allowed and limited debate.
Representative Diana DeGette has expressed opposition to Fast Track, but appears reluctant to make a firm public statement.
Fast Track is an extraordinary procedure that has only been used 16 times, including NAFTA, since Richard Nixon cooked it up in the early 1970s.  Since NAFTA, nearly 26,000 Colorado workers certifiably endured trade-inflicted job-losses under a narrow provision called Trade Adjustment Assistance program This program is difficult to qualify for, and figures only include those workers who were certified.
Leaks from the extremely secretive TPP negotiation reveal the proposed deal would expand NAFTA’s terms that empower foreign corporations to attack U.S. environmental, health and safety laws.  And the TPP includes special privileges to help firms send jobs offshore, eliminating many risks that make corporations think twice about relocating American manufacturing and service-sector jobs to low-wage countries.  
The TPP includes Vietnam, a totalitarian nation which bans independent unions and was recently red-listed by the Department of Labor as one of just four countries that use both child labor and forced labor in apparel production.
Colorado’s number one export – beef – is significantly threatened by the TPP.  The pact includes four of the world’s top ten beef exporters – Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mexico – which export more than twice as much beef combined as the United States.
Members of both parties in Congress oppose Fast Track because of the damaging result of the Fair Trade Agreement with Korea in 2011.  The overall U.S. trade deficit with Korea grew 37 percent during the first year of the pact, resulting in the net loss of 40,000 American jobs according to a recent study.  This is the opposite of what many agribusiness interests and the Chamber of Commerce promised when urging members of Congress to vote for the deal, which Rep. Perlmutter wisely opposed.  
U.S. agriculture has been hit hard.  In the first year of the agreement, beef exports from the U.S to Korea declined eight percent, U.S. pork exports dropped 24 percent, and U.S. poultry exports fell 41 percent in FTA’s first year.
Fast Track removes Congressional authority to make sure deals such as the TPP do not cause more harm.  Previously, Congress has rejected this power grab, but the TPP has so many outrageous provisions, including a ban on Buy American policies, that TPP’s boosters need this constitution-busting to slip the TPP past Congress.
The last thing that any member of Colorado’s House delegation should do is support Fast Track.  Nobody should give up constitutional authority to protect us from another damaging trade deal.
Reps. Perlmutter and Polis in particular should join GOP and Democratic colleagues in publicly opposing Fast Track and demand scrutiny of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.