Meet the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secretive trade agreement that would let 9,000 foreign corporations bypass the U.S. legal system and force taxpayers to pay them millions. Why would both Congressional Republicans and President Obama support such a naked corporate power grab? Just follow the money.
The TP-What now?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a massive proposed free-trade deal that would include roughly 40% of the world economy. It's also highly secretive — leaks to the press are the only reason the public has any idea what could be in it.
The TPP lets corporations bypass the domestic legal system.
Imagine if a multinational corporation was accused of something truly reprehensible — like, say, poisoning hundreds of children with faulty mining equipment. What if when the government tried to make them pay for the cleanup, they responded by suing taxpayers for $800 million? And what if instead of filing in a normal court, they were allowed to take their case to a tribunal of three highly paid corporate lawyers whose rulings can never be appealed?
Well, you don't have to imagine — That's exactly what's happening in Peru right now (poisoned children and all):
This is all possible thanks to a process called Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which is frequently included as a feature of modern free-trade agreements, including the TPP. ISDS cases allow foreign companies to bypass the legal systems of sovereign governments and go straight to an international trade tribunal to demand compensation directly from taxpayers.
It's a policy designed perfectly to infuriate both the American right (ceding U.S. power to tribunals organized by the United Nations and World Trade Organization) and left (giving corporations massive new power to attack everything from environmental policy to public health measures on a global scale). It has drawn heavy criticism from all sides, from Tea Party groups to Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
Why is this happening?
How could it be that the TPP, which would open the U.S. to ISDS actions from 9,000 foreign companies, has the support of both congressional Republicans and President Obama?
Here's a hint: The answer rhymes with "$."
Some of the most powerful special interests in Washington — from Hollywood to pharmaceutical companies — are huge fans of the TPP. ISDS is just one of many, many corporate-friendly provisions being pushed by the Obama administration's trade negotiators. Other leaked draft texts have revealed provisions that critics say could sharply increase the cost of prescription drugs, threaten Internet freedom and privacy, and hit American workers with outsourced jobs and lower wages.
The pro-TPP lobby is composed of industries that help raise big money for both Republicans and Democrats, which could explain why major political donors have been given full access to TPP documents even though the Obama administration has made every effort to conceal the details from the public. (Even members of Congress had to jump through hoops to view draft texts.) It also helps that many of the administration's trade negotiators used to work for companies that are now lobbying for the TPP.
What happens now?
Congressional leaders recently struck a deal that would give President Obama authority to "fast-track" TPP negotiations, which would help rush the TPP through with extremely limited debate. However, the deal isn't final quite yet.
The TPP's supporters know they have a small window before the public catches on and they lose their chance, which is why they're trying to rush fast-track language through Congress as quickly as possible. Without fast track, the TPP will have to work its way through Congress in the full view of the American public — which means a massive wave of opposition that could derail the entire agreement.
It has already cleared two key committees and is headed to the House floor for a likely vote in early May.
If you think the TPP sounds awful, call your member of Congress right this second and demand they make a public statement against fast track. If email is more your speed, you can also send a short message using this form.
And lest you get all cynical on me, remember that the fast-track agreement is very much up in the air and is facing growing opposition from both liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans in the House. With enough public attention and pressure, fast track will fall apart, which could derail the entire TPP agreement.
If want to see the TPP stopped, now's your chance. Get calling.