The 12-nation, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership "is at a make-or-break point," according to Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who said that if the U.S. is able to overcome opposition from leading figures like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the deal could be inked within weeks.
The Sydney Morning Herald, owned by Fairfax Media, reports: "Mr. Robb and other close observers have told Fairfax that negotiators are poised to strike a ground-breaking deal which would bring huge economic benefits to Australia and mark a major strategic win for the United States, as it wrestles with China for regional leadership."
But, Robb added, Warren's "ferocious attack on the TPP has caused Congress to baulk at giving the Obama administration the Fast-Track authority it needs to seal a deal during the only realistic window of political opportunity prior to the US presidential election in November 2016."
Though hardly alone in her opposition, Warren has argued that implementation of the secretly negotiated trade deal would boost corporate power while making it harder to prevent another financial crisis. She has taken specific issue with 'Investor-State Dispute Settlement' (ISDS) provisions, which she claims would "tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations."
Stakeholders in the U.S. who have lined up against the agreement also see the next few weeks as a critical turning point in the fight over Fast Track and the so-called "free trade" deals that authority is designed to promote.
"We are going all out to oppose it: phone banks, leaf letting, door knocks in various congressional districts and Senate states in informing the general public, and we will continue this until we are successful in defeating it," AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said during a reporter roundtable on Tuesday.
Should the trade agreement go through despite vociferous public opposition, "It will adversely affect the way working people view this administration and all those in the Democratic Party for a long time," Trumka said. Democrats under pressure from the White House to support it should remember that the president won't be on the ballot in 2016, he added. "He isn't running again, they are."
Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, warned this week that "the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis."
Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for the Washington Post: "Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?" Here's a hint: The answer is definitely not "all of the above." Multinational corporations—including some of the planet's biggest polluters—could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers' rights, and more.
This isn't a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phaseout and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.
There is an alternative, the Congressional Progressive Caucus declared earlier this month—one that prioritizes workers rights, environmental and public health protections, and balanced trade deficits over corporate interests.
"As a global leader, the United States has a unique opportunity to shape the future of global trade agreements, so it is imperative that we get the rules right to strengthen global trading systems," they wrote. "The U.S. must stop using trade agreements as investment deals for the world’s wealthiest corporations and instead prioritize higher wages, safer work and environmental standards and a healthier world economy. Trade agreements should improve the bottom lines of all Americans, not just of American corporations—or else we shouldn’t enter into them at all."
Indeed, passing no agreement is better than passing this one, argued author and activist David Korten in an analysis published in YES! Magazine this week.
"The time has come to end the use of international agreements to strengthen corporate rule," Korten stated. "We have no need of stronger protections for corporate rights."
He added: "Rejecting Fast Track will create the opportunity for a long-overdue public conversation on a new framework for international trade and investment agreements that strengthen democracy, hold global corporations accountable to the public interest, secure worker rights, raise working conditions, and strengthen environmental protections in every signatory country."