Instead of unifying the United States and Pacific Rim nations behind an aggressive greenhouse-gas-reduction plan, the proposed Trans-Pacific Parternership (TTP) trade agreement could threaten our forests, wildlife, oceans, climate, public health and middle-class jobs. It would spur natural gas exports and increase fracking, putting our water at risk and further cementing our addiction to fossil fuel.
The TPP, like previous bad trade deals, allows corporations to challenge local, state and even national laws they don't like. Last month, the World Trade Organization (WTO) sided with foreign beef producers in a complaint challenging a U.S. law that requires beef and pork to include country-of-origin labeling. The WTO held that this law violates trade rules, and thus our trading "partners" may soon impose massive sanctions on American wine and other products unless the labeling law is repealed.
This is nothing new. It's how a foreign corporation challenged California's law protecting groundwater from the volatile gasoline additive MTBE, how the tobacco industry pressured New Zealand into repealing a law against underage smoking and how NAFTA was used to challenge Quebec's fracking ban.
Worse, the public has no opportunity to read or analyze the TPP. The text is a complete mystery except to those writing the deal and a few "cleared advisers" and corporate executives who, like me and my colleagues in Congress, are prohibited from telling the public what the document says.
The House of Representatives will soon vote on "fast track" authority to grease the skids for a vote on the TPP. But it's not just President Obama who would receive this authority; it will last six years, meaning the next presidents, whoever they are, could use it to jam new trade deals through Congress. I am not comfortable with the WTO deciding whether the Clean Water Act or Dodd-Frank financial reforms constitute restraints of trade under a trade deal cut by, say, President Scott Walker.
Some dismiss this as speculation, but congressional Republicans could easily fix the problem by narrowing the "fast track" bill to one year and limiting it to the TPP. Their refusal suggests to me that the warnings have real merit, and I will be opposing "fast track" status for the trade agreement.
Jared Huffman represents the 2nd Congressional District. We welcome your contributions. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write firstname.lastname@example.org.