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Opponents Say Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Deal Will Impose Defacto Corporate Governance

Posted May 20, 2015

MP3 Interview with Kevin Zeese, co-director of the group Popular Resistance.org, conducted by Scott Harris

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The battle in Congress over Trade Promotion Authority, also known as “fast track,” and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the European Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free trade agreements, is in high gear. President Obama is pressuring lawmakers to pass fast track, which is a mechanism that forces Congress to vote on a trade agreement within 60 to 90 days of receiving it, with only limited debate and no amendments allowed.

While fast track had been stalled in the U.S. Senate, it’s expected to eventually pass there, with the real fight moving to the House of Representatives. There, an unlikely coalition of mostly Democrats and some Republicans are opposed to a free trade deal citing a variety of reasons. Disagreement on the measure between President Obama and Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been very public and has at times turned ugly. Warren maintains that successive U.S. administrations have "broken promises" on trade agreement provisions that are designed to hold trading partners accountable for adhering to high labor, environmental and human rights standards. Another controversial provision, called Investor-State Dispute Settlement, in both the TPP and TTIP, allows multi-national corporations to challenge local, state and federal public health, environmental, consumer and labor laws, as well as court rulings if a claim is made that they impinge on business profits.

Between The Lines' Scott Harris spoke with Kevin Zeese, longtime social justice activist and co-director of the group, PopularResistance.org. Here, he discusses the determined campaign being waged by labor, environmental and civil society groups to block fast track and the proposed free trade agreements.

KEVIN ZEESE: The way we're going to stop fast track is going to be in the House of Representatives. Right now, we have majority support. They are several dozen votes short of a majority in the House, of passing fast track, so that's where we have to really build our majority and protect our majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. The place where fast track is right now is in the U.S. Senate. The Democrats say we have lots of amendments – there are about 12-16 Democrats who want to submit amendments. There are amendments from Republicans as well. We don't expect to stop in the Senate.

The amendment process is very important, though because the amendment process will raise issues that will help us strengthen our case in the House. For example, one amendment that failed in the Finance Committee that's very popular is the amendment that would protect our law that favors "buying American." It's a very popular law and that is something that failed in the Senate to be protected in fast track, and that would be a very strong argument in the House as well, to get more people to support our view.

Another issue is stopping currency manipulation. One of the challenges in trade is that countries can change the value of their currency, lower the value of their currency, make their products cheaper and therefore, they can export more. And that makes it hard for the United States to compete. And so that's an issue that also was rejected in the Senate Finance Committee and will be brought up and challenged and fought, and we'll see how that goes. That'll be another issue that will be very helpful to get more people on our side in the House. The gain is the House. That's where the real fight is; we're seeing a massive opposition – right-left opposition – with environments, food advocates, GMO advocates, almost every issue is represented and we can win this if people mobilize and participate. And you can do it easily at StopFastTrack.com. It will walk you through the process of what you can do to help.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Kevin, you just recently wrote an article that highlights the secrecy surrounding these TPPP negotiations, focusing on a letter that Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions recently wrote, "A Dear Colleague" letter that underscored all the facts that he's read about this trade bill that most of his colleagues don't know, because they haven't read all the text of this proposed treaty.

KEVIN ZEESE: Yeah, well the administration made it very hard even for elected officials to see this treaty. Initially, they didn't allow it. They've classified these document as secret, so only limited people can see it and they've gradually loosened it up slightly, so now if you jump through the hoops, you can go to the basement of the Senate and into a special room and you can read the TPPP there and you are not allowed to bring with you paper or pencil, cameras, phones, computers – anything to record what's in it. And you are told that if you divulge what you've read, you will be violating a criminal law and could face criminal prosecution. Only Senate staff with clearance are able to see it, and they can only see it with the senator. And the same is true in the House as well. And so very few senators have gone through that process, that's a pretty useless process, but Sen. Jeff Sessions is one of two Republicans who did, and he went in there and read it and what he did that was unusual, that no one else who has read these agreements has done, is he told people what he read.

And he did that in a five-page letter to all members of the Senate, both sides of the aisle and that got leaked and the thing that he focused on that bothers him a lot is what he calls the "living treaty" provisions which allows the members of the signers of the treaty, the countries that sign it, for their president or prime minister to agree to additional countries or to change the agreement without review by their legislatures. So Congress would approve the TPP and they could change it. And Congress would have no role. Once again, sovereignty comes up. This is a great slap in the face of one of the three branches of government, taking away their responsibility – that is kind of significant.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Kevin, just in closing here with only about a minute left. Most economists look at these free trade agreements and say they're very destructive to good-paying manufacturing jobs here in the United States. But yet, we have Democrats and Republicans in the White House pushing these free trade bills. Certainly Barack Obama, when he was running for the presidency criticized NAFTA and the provisions there, but here he is pushing a pretty similar agenda. You know, you look at this, and you might assume that there is a permanent government in Washington that is pretty secret in nature and I'm wondering what is being exposed here with this bipartisan effort to push these free trade agreements even though they're not good for the U.S. economy overall.

KEVIN ZEESE: There are Big Business interests that continue, have a life of their own, no matter who's president, no matter who's in the Senate, they have access to them through their money and their wealth. They can promise jobs after they leave office, they can promise board of directors' seats to their spouses, their children. They can give gigantic campaign donations and major money for speeches and such. And so, their corrupting influence is immense. But this is part of a much broader agenda of a global redesign of how we govern ourselves. This, I think, is maybe, the central issue for debate in this century.

We went through periods of serfdom and monarchy. We've gone through periods of issues of major changes on those kinds of issues. We're now in this phase. Now, are we going to see an increase in corporate serfdom for us, or are we going to take control of our own lives and end the power of corporations to dominate how we are governed. And I think this global redesign issue is something that people should understand and review because it is a shocking concept to reduce nation-states, turn the U.N. into a hybrid-corporate institution and give corporations the power to make law that affects every aspect of our lives. We will become corporate serfs in this century if the people don't get organized and develop our own approach to put people and planet before profits.

For more information, visit Popular Resistance at popularresistance.org.

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