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Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

My Objections to the TPP
distributed 4/17/15 - ©2015

A fight brewing in the US Congress scrambles the partisan boundaries that have seemed so rigid in recent years. This week, legislation was introduced that would give "fast-track" processing to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. (If those are foreign terms to you, definitions are coming!) Many -- but not all -- Republican legislators are lining up with the Democratic president, and the Dems in Congress are sharply split.

The fight is emotionally and ideologically loaded. All of the multitudinous groups that send me action alerts are coming out with passionate calls to block fast-track. I know that many other advocacy groups with contrary leanings are equally strong in their support of the proposal. Clearly, there's more going on here than the technical details of a trade agreement.

As I read through the alarmist political alerts, I think of the words spoken to me by a psychiatrist who was a member of our congregation during a nasty church fight. He quoted Joseph Heller from Catch 22: "Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you."

I admit to strong philosophical bias (bordering on paranoia?) on this issue, but I also believe that there are legitimate matters of great concern from an eco-justice perspective. Without any attempt to be comprehensive, I lift up a few of the reasons why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and the fast-track process.

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AlJazeera has a concise summary at the start of a helpful "explainer" article: "the United States has been engaged in extensive talks with 11 countries, most of which are in the Asia-Pacific region, to cement the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- a trade agreement that would lower tariffs and ease investment restrictions. Together these 12 countries account for 40 percent of the global economy." With the fast track process, says Associated Press, "Congress gets and up-or-down vote on any such deals, but in exchange cannot make any changes -- a concern for labor, environmental and other interest groups."

A bit over a year ago, I wrote about the TPP, Trade Deal is an Eco-Justice Failure, naming four points of concern: (1) Negotiated in secret, (2) Gives enormous power to non-elected bodies, (3) Increases income inequality, and (4) Weakens environmental standards. Most of what I wrote in 2014 still holds, so I'll build on it.

Secrecy and corporate dominance
The text of the still-being-negotiated TPP "is considered classified because they are working documents of sensitive international negotiations that provide the 11 other nations involved an expectation of confidentiality." It is only within the last month that members of Congress have been able to show the text to their staff members who specialize in such matters.

That secrecy, though, is not at all absolute. Katrina vanden Heuvel opined in the Washington Post: "The TPP is a classic expression of the way the rules are fixed to benefit the few and not the many. It has been negotiated in secret, but 500 corporations and banks sit on advisory committees with access to various chapters. So remember, when the president argues that it is vital that 'we' write the rules, 'we' means not the American people, but corporate and financial interests."

Under fast-track, Congress will be given a document that they have had little opportunity to review, that has had essentially no input from local communities, indigenous groups, labor or environmental organizations. It is the ultimate "back room deal" where insiders draft agreements on their own terms. Senator Sherrod Brown said, "This continues the great American tradition of corporations writing trade agreements, sharing them with almost nobody, so often at the expense of consumers, public health and workers."

Ms. vanden Heuvel wrote, "With tariffs already low, current trade treaties are focused less on tariffs and trade than on 'harmonizing regulations' for investors. But these regulations concern worker rights, consumer and environmental protections, economic policies that are the expression of our democracy. Too often, 'harmonization' is simply an excuse for corporations to institute a race to the bottom."

As indicated by the length of this section, a dominant concern about the TPP is the way that corporate interests have been able to draft agreements that reflect their values and serve their interests without oversight or debate from other perspectives.

Corporations can sue governments
A highly controversial element of the TPP is a provision that "would allow foreign corporations to sue the United States government for actions that undermine their investment 'expectations' and hurt their business" [http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/26/business/trans-pacific-partnership-seen-as-door-for-foreign-suits-against-us.html]. The New York Times says that "Such 'Investor-State Dispute Settlement' accords exist already in more than 3,000 trade agreements across the globe. The United States is party to 51, including the North American Free Trade Agreement."

The trade tribunals are established by the World Bank or the UN, the judges are appointed on a rotating basis from the same lawyers who argue cases on behalf of corporations, the proceedings are largely in secret, and decisions cannot be appealed to national courts. So far, there have not been many cases of outlandish decisions, although TPP opponents are concerned that disputes between wealthier countries and higher-stakes contracts might lead to more dangerous verdicts.

350.org points out why these provisions might be of immensely greater significance in coming years. "Why would a trade agreement make it harder to fix climate change? Here's the shortest, simplest explanation: To stop climate change, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground. The Trans-Pacific Partnership would let fossil fuel companies sue governments to dig them up."

Production-Consumption mindset
The opponents of the TPP are not a unified group. Unions fear the loss of jobs and a weakening of their power. Environmental groups object to weakened safeguards. Doctors Without Borders argues against "dangerous provisions that would dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law."

But a Washington Post editorial made a sweeping generalization: "It seems that the opponents' real beef is with the administration's view that the United States and its trading partners should encourage private investment in one another's economies."

And, yes, I'll admit to that beef. I'm concerned that the TPP and similar trade deals lock our country, and the global society, into a materialist, commercialized, business-oriented society. It is a mode of relationships that disregards sustainability, diminishes community, and measures value in monetary terms. I'm deeply concerned about long-term, multi-lateral agreements that define progress and "the good life" in the wrong way.

I recently watched a 2006 talk by Walter Brueggemann which connected the biblical story of the Exodus to modern economics. The wise biblical scholar said, "Pharaoh's world is all about commodity production and commodity consumption. And Sinai is about love of God and love of neighbor and communion." The TPP is all about commodity production and commodity consumption, and it has nothing to do with love of neighbor and communion.

I am opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- and the fast-track process that makes its approval more likely -- because the TPP is an embodiment of "Pharaoh's world", of wealthy and powerful interests who act without appropriate regard for the less powerful and for creation. From my eco-justice perspective, it is a large step in the wrong direction.

I have contacted my Senators and my Representative, calling on them to reject the fast-track process on this trade partnership. I encourage you to let your representatives know where you stand. (The Western Organization of Resource Councils has a well-stated letter letter that you can edit and send to your Senators and Representative. )

Shalom!

Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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