The Pacific Northwest last week briefly became ground zero in the battle over a proposed far-reaching trade pact known innocently enough as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Obama administration, which has made approval of the deal a priority in the next year, sent both Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet to Tacoma to meet with business interests and to promote the trade deal.
To counter the administration’s trade deal push, detractors mounted a mobile campaign that toured the Interstate 5 corridor Tuesday and Wednesday holding press conferences, public demonstrations and legislative briefings raising red flags about the dangers posed by the quick passage of the partnership. Among those in the anti-TPP campaign were prominent labor leaders, environmentalists and economic equality advocates.
To many voters, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is an unknown quantity. Negotiated among 12 nations in secret for more than a decade, the deal’s provisions aren’t well known. Here are the basics as portrayed by the pact’s advocates and its detractors:
What: The TPP is a far-reaching proposed multinational agreement among a dozen Pacific Rim countries (but not including China) designed to lower or eliminate tariff and trade barriers among the subscribing nations. The pact deals with monetary tariffs, intellectual property rights, trade regulations and quotas imposed by the signatory nations with a goal of reducing those to a minimum to allow trade to flow freely among countries. The countries involved include Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, the U.S., Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada and Japan.
Why: Advocates note that domestic markets alone aren’t sufficient to create the sales, the return on investment and the innovation needed to advance the production of goods and services efficiently among Pacific Rim nations.
Why not: The trade agreement has been characterized as “NAFTA on steroids,” a deal that will easily allow foreign competitors in low-wage nations or multinational companies with overseas operations to pay extremely low wages to workers and to ignore pollution and worker and consumer safety rules that prevail in the more developed countries when producing goods in less-regulated environments.
What particularly alarms TPP critics on both sides of the political aisle is that the partnership’s advocates are pushing for Congress to give the president fast-track authority to finish negotiating the deal, to limit debate on the pact’s provisions and prohibit Congress from amending the deal, giving elected representatives the power only to reject or approve the deal as a package.