Demers: Congress should assert itself, prevent Trans-Pacific Partnership from becoming finalized trade agreement

Presidents and prime ministers of several countries met at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Bali, Indonesia from Oct. 5 to Oct. 7 to discuss the Trans-Pacific Partnership in hopes of finalizing the trade agreement.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would be the largest international trade agreement since the creation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1995.

The binding provision of the Partnership is that each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic regulations, laws and procedures. Unless amended, the Partnership could handcuff U.S. policy for years to come.

The reason many have probably never heard of the Partnership is because the details of the agreement have been cloaked in secrecy.

One would assume the details of the deal would be transparent to the public, especially if the agreement is intended to help a majority of Americans economically rather than special interests groups.

Until this June, Congress was not even allowed to view the draft texts of the Partnership. Even now, members are not allowed to take detailed notes or speak publicly about what they saw.

Leaked documents provide most of the information known about the Partnership.

The U.S. Constitution affords Congress the authority to write laws and set trade policy. However, this power has been effectively robbed from Congress through a controversial mechanism known as Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority.

“We’re going to need Trade Promotion Authority,” Obama said in remarks to the President’s Export Council, which brings together corporate leaders, cabinet officials and members of Congress.

The Obama administration has arrogantly moved forward as if TPA were still in effect, despite the fact that the legislation expired in 2007 and has yet to be renewed.

Many crucial elements of congressional authority have been delegated to the executive branch via TPA.

These include the power to set terms and sign agreements before Congress votes on them, the unprecedented authority to write legislation and the power to override normal voting procedures.

However, Congress should be unwilling to cede their constitutional authority over U.S. international trade agreements. TPA or not, they are still stuck with the political liability of any negative consequences stemming from such agreements.

Since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, close to five million American manufacturing jobs have been lost. This is in large part due to offshoring to low wage countries such as China.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership includes Vietnam, where wages and standards are even lower than China. The offshoring of jobs to Vietnam is the last thing the U.S. economy needs right now.

Of the Partnership’s 29 chapters, only five are directly related to trade liberalization. The other 24 chapters either restrain domestic governments — limiting the extent to which they can control food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation and energy policy —or establish new powers for corporations.

One such power is known as investor-state enforcement. This would allow foreign firms to directly sue governments for cash damages over alleged violations of the Partnership. Hearings would be staffed by private-sector attorneys rotating between bringing the cases for corporations and acting as “judges.”

The Partnership also strikes at Internet freedom by including features from the extremely unpopular SOPA copyright legislation, which was struck down by Congress last year.

The binding provision of the Partnership is that each country shall ensure the conformity of domestic regulations, laws and procedures. Unless amended, the Partnership could handcuff U.S. policy for years to come.

Obama ran on bringing more transparency to the executive branch. Whether it’s shielding the public from information regarding drone strikes, or now shielding the public from information regarding the content of a massive international trade agreement, the Obama administration has been anything but transparent. It is less than trustworthy.

The more informed citizens become about the Partnership, the more politically contentious it will be for Obama to authorize. Congress needs to assert its constitutional power and stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership in its tracks before it’s too late.

Ethan Demers is a senior political science and history major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at


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