It seems these days that we can’t get Congress to agree on much of anything. And the more the people call for transparency in the government, the more things that get clouded in secrecy. All one has to do for that is look at the NSA and the FISA courts. However, one would not expect to find such secrecy when it comes to treaty negotiations.
In the early days of our nation, it was not uncommon for treaty details to remain unknown while negotiations were ongoing. Communication took some time to go back and forth, so negotiators had to do their best with the instructions they were given prior to departing. These days, there is instant communication back and forth, and the details are known to the President long before a treaty ever reaches his hand. The power to negotiate treaties with other nations falls to the Executive Branch (even trade treaties) though all treaties must be approved by the Senate first. However, the Senate has been debating whether to fast track the new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty. Essentially, this would allow the President to sign the treaty before the Senate even sees the details that are included.
“He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur […]” Article 2, Section 2, Clause 2 of US Constitution
Needless to say, this has many groups worried about what this treaty might contain especially since these negotiations have been secret and very little has been leaked. In a recent email, the Green Shadow Government (the Green Party) released a statement detailing what they see as the global corporate rule over “we the people.” The email goes even further to state that we must tell Congress not to fast-track the treaty and to do its constitutional job.
So what is the TPP? It started out in 2005 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPSEP) between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore. Since 2010, negotiations have been ongoing to expand TPSEP to include the nations of Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, Vietnam, and South Korea. This expansion is what is known as the TPP.
Trade is normally seen as good. It gives us new markets for our products. Free trade (as the TPP would create) is a controversial issue in itself. But other than that, what has organizations and government “watch dog” groups weary of this new treaty. According to an article published by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs from August 2012, “Evidently, trade is only the beginning of the TPP’s jurisdiction as it also contains chapters on customs, cross-border services, telecommunications, government procurement, competition policy, cooperation and capacity building, investment, financial services, environmental regulations, and intellectual property rights.” The article continues by stating, “The very breadth of the agreement would require the rewriting of numerous domestic laws in every signatory country, threaten the sovereignty and autonomy of domestic legal systems, enable environmental degradation by transnational corporations, impose harsh patent regulations, and severely limit access to information across the globe.”
There are concerns over copyrights, currency manipulation, and even the power of corporations to sue the governments over laws that violate the TPP, which could be related to energy, the environment, taxes, etc. From what has been leaked, the provisions regarding intellectual property are very restrictive and even go beyond the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). According to the website Public Knowledge, TPP would put in effect a form of SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) or PIPA(Protect IP Act). Both of those pieces of legislation failed to be passed by Congress over concerns of it violating the First Amendment. So would we be giving this treaty the power to overturn our First Amendment’s “freedom of speech.” And would corporations challenge our First Amendment on the grounds that it violates the treaty that was signed in good faith? (It should be noted that no treaty can violate any part of the US Constitution.)
The United States already publicly criticizes China of devaluing its currency so that its cheaper for companies to operate there and; therefore, makes it easier to lure companies away from other nations. So with a free trade agreement in place with these other Asia-Pacific nations, would they devalue their currencies to try and lure companies away from the US? A bipartisan group of 60 Senators thinks that this is a big enough scenario that they’ve actually addressed a letter to Treasury Secretary Jack Lew. One of the 60-Senators, Sen. Kay Hagan (D-NC), in an article on InvestigateDaily out of New Zealand (original out of Winston Salem, NC) that “hundreds of thousands of jobs over the last decade as a result of unfair trade agreements and currency manipulation.”
In an article on the Huffington Post, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) stated, “This, more than anything, shows the abuse of the classified information system. They maintain that the text is classified information. And I get clearance because I’m a member of Congress, but now they tell me that they don’t want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I’d be releasing classified information.” With trade treaty negotiations, as with any treaty negotiations, things are volatile. No one side wants to play its hand. It’s almost a game of poker with the outcome seeming to benefit everyone though it’s probably lop-sided one way or the other. But members of Congress, especially those in the Senate, have a right to know what’s going on. And when it comes to things that could end of influencing our laws, we the people also have a right to know.
The TPP must not be allowed to override (or attempt to override) any part of our Constitution. And the Senate needs to step up and do it’s constitutional job by reviewing and voting on this treaty before the president signs it… not after. There should be no fast-tracking any treaty. That would give the Executive Branch too much authority. The Founding Fathers split up the authority in these matters granting the President the authority to negotiate, but the voice of the people would still be heard through the Senate to confirm it. We also cannot give corporations more power laws in the various nations and allow them the authority to overturn them. We are still dealing with the fallout from the Citizens United decision. This would be far worse. When it comes to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a call for transparency needs to be heard. Every member of Congress, especially every Senator, should be demanding such transparency. Though trade is good, we cannot accept any treaty that hurts the US or the rights of the citizens.
If you’d like to learn more on the TPP, here are some additional links:
Office of the US Trade Representative
Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPSEP)
American University Washington College of Law