November 23, 2015 by islandersvoice1
Report on Rep. Larsen’s Town Hall on Trans-Pacific Partnership
By Lauren Sands & Susan Dehlendorf
Rep. Rick Larsen (D), of Washington’s Second Congressional District, met in Friday Harbor on Sunday, November 15 with a crowd of over fifty San Juan County residents to explore pros and cons of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The TPP reduces tariffs on goods and services that the United States and member countries export and import amongst themselves.
One of the ‘pros’ that Congressman Larsen mentioned about the agreement is that it will lessen taxes on 18,000 products that the U.S. exports, increasing corporation’s access to the world marketplace and adding to their bottom line.
The TPP is an almost 6,000 page draft agreement between the United States, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam . Many people think that China is party to the agreement, but it is not.
Larsen indicated that a possible “con” to the agreement is that if it is not enacted, China is likely to execute its own agreement with some or all of the parties, shutting the U.S. out.
A simplified explanation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is that it provides legal guidelines for import and export of goods and services among member countries, often at a reduced tax rate. Out of the 5,800+ pages, thousands are devoted to new tariff schedules, like the price per ton of beans exported.
The TPP also has chapters on labor requirements, the Investor- State Dispute Settlement process which provides for dispute proceedings under the trade agreement, for example between a company and government outside of a nation’s own legal system. There’s even a ‘Rules of Origin’ chapter regarding whether party countries can use non-party country’s goods to manufacture their wares for export.
The TPP is a contentious issue amongst Democrats! It was developed over seven years of negotiations by President Obama’s administration and the party countries. The President has indicated his approval. But Democratic presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have refused to endorse it, as has Minority Leader and Head of the Democratic Party in the House, Nancy Pelosi. Clinton stated that she wants Obama to work with Nancy Pelosi to create a stronger agreement (http://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2016-election/hillary-addresses-trans-pacific-partnership-her-first-major-rally-n375196).
The TPP is scheduled to be fast-tracked, which means that no amendments will be made to the agreement before U.S. Congress votes, in a yes or no vote, in four months. That also means that Nancy Pelosi and Obama cannot make changes, unless Congress votes ‘no.’ Rep. Larsen said he is currently undecided as to whether or not to vote in favor of the agreement and is actively reading all of the chapters, except the inapplicable tariff schedules. He is doing his homework and finding out what the public thinks, through town-halls such as these.
Larsen kicked off the San Juan Island forum by indicating that he wasn’t there to share his thoughts, as much as he was there to hear islanders’ thoughts. Out of 50 or so residents, there were neutral parties, there to learn more about the Trans-Pacific-Partnership, but many islanders had serious misgivings, some of which concerned Rep. Larsen and some of which didn’t. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f7Cd1wYjfiI
He commented that historically-speaking, cutting export taxes is the main goal of trade agreements and that job loss or job creation is not what they’re meant to regulate. Larsen added that outsourcing is already legal; it’s not the TPP making it so. He said that he could fill a 20-gallon trash can with the articles he’d read saying that the TPP would lead to jobs lost and fill another 20-gallon trash can with the articles he’d read saying it would create jobs. He added that trade agreements cannot substitute for advancements in education, infrastructure, and research as keys to economic development.
Presidential nominee Senator Bernie Sanders disagrees. In his official statement on the TPP, he says that “These treaties have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world. The result has been massive job losses in the United States and the shutting down of tens of thousands of factories.” (http://www.sanders.senate.gov/download/the-trans-pacific-trade-tpp-agreement-must-be-defeated?inline=file)
Other concerns about the TPP that the citizens of the islands had were: A) How it would affect the environment; B) Whether it would prohibit forced labor; and C) Whether it would be plagued by food safety issues and toxic import threats. Regarding the environment, the Sierra Club has published these statements in opposition to the TPP:
In regard to forced labor, the TPP does not forbid it, but strongly ‘discourages it’ (in section 19.6). One ‘pro’ that Rep. Larsen mentioned is that China is developing its own trade agreement with these countries and, “It’s better that the US sets these rules than China.” He didn’t go into further detail but one can’t help but wonder, If China’s trade agreement is signed before ours, will it mean lower labor standards, than the Unites States is trying to outline in the TPP? Rep. Larsen said that the TPP improves upon NAFTA in requirements for the environment and labor. If we beat China to it, will we have an opening down-the-road to forbid American companies from importing from companies or countries that use forced labor?
The TPP is a complex proposal and bound to have unintended consequences, both positive and negative. Enforcement of the TPP labor and environmental standards will be at the discretion of the current administration according to Rep. Larsen.
A question to the reader is, should congress pass the TPP so that it can create economic benefit for companies and their workers through lower tariffs? Or should they vote ‘No’ so that we can amend the agreement before it is voted on again? Let us know your thoughts by commenting to this article or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.