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Jan
2015
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US Trade Rep Receives Bipartisan Grilling on Bank-Loving, Job-Killing Trans-Pacific Partnership

Michael Froman is pictured performing his main duty: pretending he doesn't know what's going on.

US Trade Rep Froman is pictured here performing his primary duty: pretending he doesn’t know what’s going on.


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Details of the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remain vague at best as lawmakers question U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about the effects it will have on everything ranging from Wall Street to middle class families.  On Tuesday Froman was grilled by the Senate Finance Committee about how the deal would affect bank regulations.  Following the hearing, news leaked that despite support from congressional conservatives the Senate may not be sufficiently unified for the TPP to advance.  

The global trade accord has been a rare point of agreement between President Obama and the far right. It has drawn tremendous ire from the left, however.  Democratic critics of the TPP include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Sen. Tammy Baldwin, and Sen. Ed Markey.  The negative effect of recent free trade agreements is being ignored, opponents say.  Others simply find the idea of presidential “fast-track authority” to be an abuse of power.

“You say you need fast track from Congress to provide you with marching orders for negotiations and that it puts Congress in the driver’s seat,” Sen. Bob Menendez said, “yet the TPP is almost complete.”

Sen. Ben Cardin echoed Menendez’s sentiments, noting that:

TPP negotiations are advanced to the point that he questioned “whether TPA really will work in the way it was intended to work with congressional input.” He said that it is typically approved before trade negotiations begin.

Republicans on the committee questioned Froman about the Obama administration’s push for “anti-localization requirements.”  Critics of the TPP fear such requirements would hamper the ability of regulators to deal with Wall Street.  From the District Sentinel:

US Trade Representative Michael Froman told committee chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) that the Obama administration is pushing for “protection against data localization requirements.”

The issue, which Hatch brought up specifically with respect to the financial services industry, could hinder governments’ ability to enforce rules, critics fear, though Froman said the USTR is proposing it to obviate the need for “the construction of redundant infrastructure.”

“This is a key part of our TPP negotiations,” he said. “We are making progress in that area. We hope that will set a new standard for bringing trade rules into the digital economy.”

Froman also reiterated the point to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), who said he was worried the TPP would not have any kind of roll-backs for localization requirements. Thune said it was “a serious concern” of his, with respect to “US banks and insurers.”

“We are continuing to pursue our efforts to put disciplines on localization,” Froman commented.

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, focused on the unacceptable secrecy of TPP negotiations during the hearing.

“The concern here is that the the President would sign a TPP deal that would be protected by fast-track and then you’d have middle class families saying ‘we don’t know what’s in it,” he said.

In a letter to Froman earlier this month, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote:

“It is incomprehensible to me that leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP, while at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge of what’s in it.”

Sanders vowed to introduce legislation which would force the administration to reveal the draft deal if it is not provided to lawmakers. Sanders’ aim is to limit corporate malfeasance that could stem from the accord:

Sanders’ office confirmed to International Business Times that congressional lawmakers are permitted to view the text of the agreement only in the Trade Representative’s office, without their own staff members or experts present. They are not allowed to take copies of the agreement back to Capitol Hill for deeper, independent evaluation.

Despite those restrictions, specific details of the agreement’s text have surfaced from unauthorized leaks — some of which appear to contradict the Obama administration’s promises. Froman, for instance, said in Davos that “none of [the trade participants] want to lower our health, safety or environmental standards,” yet one of the leaks showed the U.S. proposing to empower corporations to attempt to overturn domestic regulations, while critics say another leaked provision would help the pharmaceutical industry inflate the price of medicines in poor countries.

Clyde Prestowitz, former counselor to the Secretary of Commerce under Reagan and Vice Chairman of President Clinton’s Commission on Trade and Investment in the Asia-Pacific Region, penned an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times suggesting the deal will not deliver jobs or curb China’s power:

Over the last 35 years, the U.S. has brought China into the World Trade Organization and concluded many free-trade agreements, including one with South Korea three years ago. In advance of each, U.S. leaders promised the deals would create high-paying jobs, reduce the trade deficit, increase GDP and raise living standards. But none of these came true. In fact, the U.S. non-oil trade deficit continued to grow, millions of jobs were offshored and mean household income has hardly risen since 2000. And economists overwhelmingly agree that rising U.S. income inequality is being driven in part by international trade.

Income equality is shaping up to be the defining issue of the 2016 election, so it is difficult to see how a deal such as the TPP, which does nothing to help the American middle class, will gain support or poll more favorably as time goes on. It has thus far survived thanks to public backlash being limited by bottlenecked information regarding its content. If the facts about the TPP come to light thanks to pro-active lawmaker outcry, it’s rightful fate may finally be met.

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