Counting the Votes on the TPP Trade Agreement with Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

Larry Cohen

New Orleans   Larry Cohen may have recently stepped down as President of the Communications Workers’ of America, but, if anything, he has stepped up his fight with the coalition of labor, environmental, and community groups opposing the passage in Congress of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. In a visit to Wade’s World, he was furious with facts and figures and unwilling to give an inch to the Administration or the President on the weaknesses of the agreements so-called protections, and, he reminded us that he didn’t tell us anything he hadn’t told President Obama personally.

Cohen, who is also spending his alleged retirement, as a volunteer and stand-in for Democratic presidential candidate, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, indicated he was pleased to see former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, long an advocate of the treaty in her old job, announce her opposition recently in her quest for her new job. He was clear though that her support was just politics-as-usual unless she also stepped up to help persuade the twenty-eight Democrats in the House of Representatives who voted earlier for “fast track” status for the TPP to now vote to reject it. That was an easier fight and this one is harder since it is an up-or-down vote on the whole agreement. The Senate he believes is a lost cause and firmly behind the agreement. Cohen sees the House as the battleground.

Cohen in a rare look behind the curtains had detailed the TPP fast track lessons for progressives in a fascinating checklist on the votes in the current issue of the journal, Social Policy.  His key takeaway is where the broad community-labor coalition actually mobilized into action, it made a difference. Where the endorsements were not matched with the same fervor on the ground, it didn’t. His best examples of where it worked involve the Congressional Black Caucus and North Carolina. The President personally had lobbied the CBC arguing to them that they were his people and his base and they needed to stand with him on this. Instead they said, “Sorry,” this doesn’t work for our people and of the 43 members only 3 broke ranks, including surprisingly Congressman Meeks from Queens who common sense and Cohen indicate now faces electoral challenges in his district. In North Carolina working with Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday’s, the NAACP, labor, and many, many others three blue-dog Democrats had voted against fast track. Shocking on the other hand, as Cohen whipped the votes, was the loss of about the same number of votes in the blue-to-the-bone state of Oregon, where the US Senator and others have seemingly jumped into the shoes provided by Nike, headquartered in the state, and a huge supporter of the TPP.

Cohen fires off objections to the pact. He totally dismisses the labor protections for workers and wages in Vietnam and Malaysia. Talking about labor violations and the double-standards of the protections for multinationals, Cohen had a great one-liner: “Multinationals get reparations, we get reports.” Cohen is particularly offended by the fact the multinationals are using their special access to sue countries over trade restrictions to collect damages for what might have been future profits. He cites a verdict for Occidental Petroleum against Ecuador for $3 billion for denial of offshore drilling rights and another claim against Germany’s banning of nuclear power for $6 billion for that industry, meanwhile for violations for labor infractions in Honduras, which he also reported on for Social Policy, dust is collecting on a report that received no action.

For Cohen this is all part of a pattern of what he calls NAFTA, CAFTA, and now with TPP, SHAFTA. This fight is a long way from over, and he and many others will be counting the votes carefully when it comes before Congress early in 2016.

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Special Multinational Court in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

1439533698362New Orleans     President Obama sees the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement as a legacy marker. News reports refer to the announcement of an agreement with the Pacific Rim countries including Japan, Canada, Peru, Mexico and many others as a “capstone” agreement for the president. The White House says that there are labor and environmental protections that are unprecedented for a trade agreement. Malaysia, Vietnam, and other countries had to agree to protect labor rights in a major announcement. Many big national environmental organizations are touting the agreement as a breakthrough including the World Wildlife Federation. Australia supposedly pushed hard enough that big Pharma can’t run roughshod over generics and cheaper access to drugs in developing countries.

Sounds good, huh, but what do we have here?

The Organizers’ Forum delegation met with a researcher and campaigner in Warsaw recently named Roland Zarzycki working with the Institute for Global Responsibility. In the course of the dialogue we touched on the troubling elements in the likely TTP agreement. One that was especially worrisome had to do with the special court provisions that would allow transnational companies to sue countries over restrictions on trade in their products, but would not allow countries to sue the multinationals nor provide access to any other parties to adjudicate their concerns. Such special provisions for multinational companies paint a picture of a world of particular privilege and provision for globalization that is worrisome.

Is this some imagined problem for the paranoid? Hardly. The proof seems to be in the last minute jostling that indicated that there would be special provisions in the TPP to prevent tobacco companies from being able to sue countries that are trying to put in place health protections for the many diseases advanced by tobacco. Under some agreements Big Tobacco has already tried to take countries like India and others to such international courts. So, this door was reportedly locked for tobacco in the TPP, and that’s good, but what about other ugly, unhealthy multinational products and practices that will continue to be able to access these special courts in order to try to circumvent country by country provisions and protections?

We really don’t know of course. The negotiations are conducted in secret and the agreements reached will not be public until such time that President Obama starts the 90-day clock for Congressional review and an up or down vote to approve or disprove the trade treaty as negotiated. It’s hard to dispute the need for some quiet and confidentiality in negotiations, but the lack of information about vital pieces of the agreement privileges insiders and multinationals as well, compared to all of us biscuit-cookers out there trying to figure out what’s up.

Maybe this is as good as they are spinning, but until we know the whole story, it’s worth a lot of worry, and in the wake of countless agreements like this in the past, it’s hard to be optimistic that this is going to be as good for all of us as it is for big companies and special interests who clearly already have the inside track.

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