Opinion: The Trans-Pacific Partnership is Dangerous for America

Behind closed doors, corporate lobbyists and government officials from twelve countries are putting the final touches on a proposed free trade agreement that would have enormous repercussions on all of our lives. Called by Representative Keith Ellison as “the largest corporate power grab you never heard of”, negotiations for the deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), are being kept secret from the public, the press and even members of Congress because it would be killed from the inevitable, massive backlash that would result before it is even off the drawing board.

Over the years, free trade agreements have been detrimental to the American economy, resulting in outsourced jobs, trade deficits, and numerous other consequences. For example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has cost America one million jobs and has resulted in a $181 billion combined trade deficit with Canada and Mexico. More recently, the South Korean-US Free Trade Agreement (KORUS), has already resulted in 40,000 American jobs lost and has increased an already existing trade deficit by almost $6 billion since its implementation two years ago.

Additionally, free trade has contributed to the decline of the middle class and tremendous income inequality over the past thirty years. This income inequality, in turn, leads to further stifling of economic growth and less opportunity, and undermines our democracy. Those at the top, such as the richest 1% and corporations, are able to use their wealth to influence legislation in their favor, at the expense of everyone else.

Free trade agreements hurt other countries as well. They enable authoritarian regimes to stay in power while stymying movements for democracy. Workers are exploited for their cheap labor, unable to form labor unions, and cannot afford the products that they make. Globally, free trade creates supply gluts coupled with reduced demand, increasing economic instability.

A map of the countries that could be in the proposed TPP. Image via publicknowledge.org

A map of the countries that could be in the proposed TPP. Image via publicknowledge.org

While this is all bad, the TPP, which would be the largest free trade deal ever implemented, will have even greater negative consequences that extend far beyond job losses and trade deficits. Apparently, only five of the twenty-nine chapters of the proposed agreement deal with trade: food safety, financial regulations and intellectual property are at stake as well.

All of this is a classic example of the “race to the bottom” phenomenon, which occurs when free trade causes lower labor and environmental standards for the sake of harmonizing the laws of the different countries. Countries would now be required to change their laws to meet the terms of the free trade agreement under threat of lawsuit from other countries and corporations, thus infringing upon national sovereignty.

One of the TPP’s negotiators is Monsanto, the multinational agri-corporation that produced Agent Orange during the Vietnam War, and has come under fire in recent years for genetically modified foods and patenting seeds. Monsanto stands to gain immensely if the TPP comes to fruition. Not only would Monsanto obtain a huge market advantage due to essentially writing the rules of the game and stifle free enterprise, but would also, along with other multinationals, be able to sue governments over policies that they deem hurt their profits. This could mean attacking labor’s constitutional right to organize and collectively bargain, the FDA’s ability to regulate food safety and the EPA’s standards on carbon emissions.

Big pharmaceuticals like Pfizer are getting what they want in the TPP as well. Generic medicines, which are much cheaper than brand name drugs while having the same effect, could be deemed to violating patents and taken off shelves. This means that healthcare costs will skyrocket worldwide due to the lack of competition in the marketplace.

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Image via Wikimedia Commons

SOPA, the proposed law early last year that would have severely curtailed internet freedom, also could be rearing its ugly head again. The TPP would implement something like this on an international scale. There are also efforts in place by the banks to roll back financial regulations like the Dodd-Frank Act, which was designed to prevent the conditions in the economic collapse of 2008 from reoccuring.

Unfortunately, the TPP could be brought to Congress under fast track authority, which would give President Obama the ability to sign the TPP beforehand and limit Congress to an up or down vote with no revisions to the text of the agreement. Fast track was also used by both Bushes and Clinton for the free trade agreements that they negotiated.

However, there is some hope to stopping the TPP in Congress. As the negotiations have been secret, there are many in Congress that are angry over the lack of transparency and would vote against Fast Track. Others, mostly progressives, are opposed to the TPP on both procedure and substance. And of course, it behooves Congress to take heed the voice of the people, who hold the key to their re-election campaigns. This is probably one of the few instances where Congressional dysfunction and a general inability to pass legislation can be beneficial.

Ultimately, the TPP is threatening our way of life and must be rejected. Furthermore, we should end our free trade policy altogether. Instead, we should pursue fair, reciprocal trade agreements only with developed countries with at least the same labor and environmental standards as us. This way, we can ensure that the rights of the American people are being protected, and that we are creating an export market for American products, rather than for American jobs.

School, major and year: A&S, Political Science, '14
Hometown Lindenhurst, New York
You have 24 hours to give prospective students a tour of BC and convince them to enroll. How do you spend the day? I’d take them to Seth Jacob’s Vietnam class to show off the academics, then head over to Gasson, Stokes, and Bapst…then Conte Forum for a hockey game, and then a trip to some Mod parties.
If you could go back in time and give yourself a pep talk the night before you moved into BC as a freshman, what is the most important piece of advice that you would give to your former self? Keep calm and things will fall into place.
What is your favorite study spot on campus? Usually my desk in my dorm room or a table in my common room.
What is your go-to meal at Late Night? Mozzarella sticks (pronounced muz-zuh-elle in my Brooklynese/Long Island accent) paired up with a Honey Q Wrap, with Blue cheese and without the tomato
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