Congress: Just Say No to Fast Track, TPP

Congress: Just Say No to Fast Track, TPP
Tuesday, September 24, 2013 in the Citrus County Chronicle
Sept. 17 is the 226th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution. As we celebrate, let’s remember one primary feature of the document that spelled out our democracy was a division of power among three independent branches of government.

The framers well understood the likelihood of tyranny, which is why they introduced a system of “checks and balances” to ensure that no branch of government had absolute power over the others. Article 1, Section 8 gives Congress the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations, and when trade measures come to the floor, they are openly debated on their merits before being passed on to the Senate.

In 1974, a process called “fast track” was introduced to expedite trade agreements, and give the president more trade negotiation power. Fast track changed the rules of the game by asking Congress to cede-up front-trade negotiating authority to the president, and in effect, circumvent the spirit of the constitutional provision of separation of powers, as the president and the trade representative hammer out the details of the agreement, and give to Congress with a signed agreement they may only vote up or down.

Actually, fast track authority expired in 2007, and the administration is pushing Congress to renew it so that it can ram through a questionable trade agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP. The TPP has been negotiated in secret for the past three years among some 600 multinational corporations calling themselves “trade advisors.”

Until recently, even Congress had not been allowed to see the text. What little we know comes from documents leaked to Public Citizen in 2012. TPP has been classified “secret,” with a provision that it won’t become public until four years after it is either ratified or voted down. Such intense secrecy has led to widespread speculation that TPP is not about trade at all, but is a corporate “power grab” designed to circumvent laws that protect citizens and hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing. Of TPP’s 29 chapters, only six deal with trade. The other 23 chapters address barriers to corporate profit, called “trade irritants,” including environmental protections, energy regulations, food and drug controls, labor laws, and internet freedom.

Under TPP, corporations would enjoy “investor state” status and could sue countries for lost profits in a global tribunal overseen by corporate lawyers.  Suits are already in play in anticipation of setting precedents. Eli Lilly, for example, is suing Canada under NAFTA over patent revocation on Strattera, a drug Lilly markets for ADHD. NAFTA doesn’t address patents, but TPP does.

Florida residents, especially seniors, rely heavily on the affordability of generics. With TPP, we can kiss generics goodbye. Drug companies are pushing, under TPP to extend patents on brand-name medications to keep profits up — even at the expense of worldwide public health.

Bayer and Syngenta are suing the government of France for banning a pesticide that kills bees, and Monsanto is suing over GMO labeling. The frightening truth is that citizens will be forced to either compromise health and safety, or “compensate” corporations for profits they would have made had regulations not existed.

The TPP is bad for citizens of all countries, but a glimmer of hope does exist:  former trade representative Ron Kirk said that if fast track were voted down, TPP will fail, because, like Dracula, it could never survive the light of day. That’s why we must tell Congress to vote “no” on fast track.

Harriet Heywood, Homosassa

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