November 23, 2015 by davidgeri
Congressman Rick Larsen and the TPP
by David Turnoy
On Sunday, Nov. 15, Congressman Rick Larsen visited San Juan County to hear from and answer questions of constituents related to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. About fifty members of the public attended the forum held at the Grange Hall in Friday Harbor, and for anyone who was unable to attend, you are welcome to view the proceedings at the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7Cd1wYjfiI.
Rep. Larsen started by informing his audience of the top three questions he has been receiving at his other appearances on this issue around his district.
First, he is asked if he is voting for the TPP. His response is that he is actually trying to read the entire 5,500 pages before making a decision. When asked what he will base his decision on, he answers that in looking at the positives and negatives, he will have to decide whether the positives outweigh the negatives or vice versa. He states that 40% of jobs in our Congressional District are tied to trade in one way or another, that it is the top district as far as trade with Asia. Positives he mentioned that the Obama Administration touts with TPP are that it gets rid of 18,000 tariffs on American goods in other countries, that the TPP is better than previous trade agreements on labor, the environment, and investment disputes [this is certainly quite arguable], and that China is negotiating its own trade treaty with many of these same countries so we’d better get in on the action. Negatives Larsen listed: Is the investor dispute mechanism (ISDS) constitutional?; Will there be enforcement of standards?; The danger that American laws and regulations will be subject to challenge and thrown out.
The second question he has had to answer frequently is whether investor tribunals, the mechanism created by the TPP to resolve disputes between corporations and countries over application of the country’s laws, will override the courts of a country. Rep. Larsen claims that the TPP is subject to the US Constitution, but I don’t think he is correct on this. Language from the TPP indicates that “the dispute settlement provisions of this Chapter shall apply . . . wherever a Party considers that a benefit it could reasonably have expected to accrue to it . . . is being nullified or impaired as a result of the application of a measure of another Party that is not inconsistent with this Agreement.” (Article 28.3)
In the TPP and the New Global Corporate Government by Jack Rasmus, found at http://readersupportednews.org/opinion2/277-75/33573-the-tpp-and-the-new-global-corporate-government and just published on Nov. 19, the author states, “The TPP is not simply an economic document, about trade in goods, services and, investor money capital flows. The TPP is first and foremost a political document. The TPP is the latest salvo fired by global corporations against national and popular sovereignty, against Democracy itself. The key to understanding how TPP is about global corporations setting up their own global government is contained in its Chapters 27 and 28. In chapter 27, the TPP provides for a new executive-legislative body whose decisions will usurp national and state-local legislative functions and representative democracy — already under serious attack everywhere by corporate money and other initiatives. And in chapter 28, TPP provides for a new kind of global corporate court system, run by corporate-friendly lawyers and hirelings who will make decisions which cannot be reviewed, appealed or challenged in existing court systems of any TPP member country. The TPP ‘courts’ will take precedence over US and other national court systems, already under heavy attack by corporate forces vigorously promoting arbitration as a means by which to bypass the formal judicial system in the US.”
Clearly the TPP document gives the still-to-be-created executive-legislative body tremendous authority, and it is certainly not clear at all that our Constitution will take precedence over the TPP, as our Congressman claims. I would imagine we will have to wait for an aggrieved party to bring a lawsuit, take it all the way to our Supreme Court, and then see if the highest court in our land is willing to state that our Constitution trumps the TPP authority. Especially with the current court, there are no guarantees here.
The third question Rep. Larsen hears a lot is, “Will this create a race to the bottom in wages and labor standards?” He says this can be argued either way, that there are labor standards in chapter 19, but the question is whether they will be enforced. As far as jobs going overseas, he doesn’t see jobs as very involved in trade agreements. They don’t create jobs, he says, and they are not economic competitiveness tools. I would argue that jobs are a big deal; the AFLCIO claims that we lost 700,000 jobs to Mexico due to NAFTA, the first of the major trade agreements that involved just the US, Mexico, and Canada. Vietnam has a minimum wage around fifty cents per hour, so there will certainly be temptation for corporations to move there. Related to this question, Rep. Larsen was asked about the fact that TPP will allow foreign companies to move here with their employees. He claims that this already happens now, that employers simply need to get visas for their workers, but he said he will check to see if there will be anything different with the TPP.
Rep. Larsen was asked if the loss of corporate profit or inability to realize expected profit can be used against our environmental laws, and he answered no, though I am not so sure it is that easy to answer. While the language in chapter 20 on the environment seems to have good verbiage about protecting the environment, there are also many sections that use verbs like “promote” and “encourage”, words that don’t inspire a lot of confidence in enforcement. Though language in chapter 20 makes it appear that multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) entered into by TPP countries will still be in force, 13 major environmental organizations have stated that 6 out of 7 MEAs will no longer be in force under the TPP.
Rep. Larsen was asked about food safety. He responded that he has not yet read that chapter. He did say that Article 29.5 prevents tobacco companies from using ISDS to throw out tobacco control laws, which he said so far is the only thing that would make him vote for the TPP.
Rep. Larsen was asked about forced labor, essentially slavery. He answered that TPP in chapter 19.6 says that it should be “discouraged” but not necessarily “prevented”.
Rep. Larsen was asked why multinational corporations were allowed to be part of the secret negotiations but not environmental, labor, or justice organizations. He was also asked if a country not a party to the TPP supplies a part used by a TPP country in making a product, would that be allowed? He was unsure.
Rep. Larsen has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president. He was asked if her position on the TPP will influence his, and he answered no. He humorously answered that if Donald Trump is for it, Larsen will be against it.
Rep. Larsen expressed a desire to learn as much as possible about the TPP before deciding how to vote. To that end, he encouraged constituents to send him links to good articles on the subject. I already sent him the Rasmus article mentioned above, and you too should send him links to articles you find that do a good job of explaining provisions and consequences of the TPP. And while you’re at it, send the links to our senators as well.