What would you say the largest free trade agreement in the history of the world is? Perhaps NAFTA? Certainly it would be one you have heard of, right? Not necessarily. Right now, Republican members of Congress have been working behind closed doors on the details of the Trans Pacific Partnership, which will be the largest multilateral trade agreement the world has ever seen. On top of most of the discussions happening in secret, the American media seems to not want to cover it, so few Americans have even heard of it. Even President Obama has endorsed this deal, which he calls a “high priority” for America and the world.
Not everything about the trade agreement is being kept secret, however. According to the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative, the TPP will support made in America exports, enforce fundamental labor rights around the globe, promote stronger environmental protection and help American small businesses. This sounds too good to be true. The website even gives a handy map where you can click on your state and see how the agreement will help your own community. But even that is vague, as it just lists statistics that outline the importance of foreign trade to each state, failing to mention any specific policies. The TPP mostly focuses on the Southeast Asia region, but includes eleven countries from around the world such as Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Mexico and Japan, with a few other countries still negotiating their way in.
Even though this has been kept largely out of the press, what has been written about it in media outlets has been critical for the most part. Just a couple weeks ago, the Editorial Board of the New York Times wrote an Op-Ed advising Congress to take caution in moving forward with this agreement. They state that while a lot of good can come from free trade agreements, there is also the potential for unintended consequences, like the loss of American jobs.
One of the TPP’s most vocal critics, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, also wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times in which she discusses one specific clause she is particularly worried about. She begins by stating that it may not be the citizens of the member countries who benefit from the TPP, but instead the large, multinational corporations it affects. The specific clause that concerns Warren is called the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. According to Warren, the ISDS would not only unfairly benefit multinational corporations, it would undermine US sovereignty by allowing corporations to challenge US laws and regulations “without ever stepping foot in a US court.”
I’m not an economist, so I don’t feel comfortable criticizing the potential economic downfalls of this agreement. What I do feel comfortable criticizing, however, is the complete lack of transparency and coverage around the Trans Pacific Partnership. Given its magnitude, this should be a policy that is debated in public well before any decisions are made, and that’s not happening. The President and the GOP have decided once again that it’s better to leave the American public out of a decision that could potentially affect millions of jobs, just like NAFTA did. We need more members of Congress like Senator Warren to step up and start talking about the details of this agreement, so that the American public can decide what’s best for them and not large multinational corporations.
Thomas Carpenter is a junior in classics. He can be reached at ThomasCarpenter@utk.edu.