A Global Race to the Bottom: An Update on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Rebecca Eastwood, Advocacy Associate

Representative Brad Sherman from California speaks at a press conference where he joined a group of Democrat and labor leaders who oppose the agreement.

Last November, President Obama released the long-awaited text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership while simultaneously announcing his intent to sign the expansive trade deal. Since then, advocates, including the faith community, have broadly mobilized in opposition to this deal.

Earlier in 2015, Columbans stood in opposition to the passage of Trade Promotion Authority, a mechanism that allows for extreme secrecy in the negotiation of free trade agreements and limits the ability of Congress to amend any agreements they are presented. Despite the advocacy movements of scores of faith, environmental, and labor groups, Congress eventually passed Trade Promotion Authority.

So where does that leave us?

This is where the TPP timeline becomes a little more complicated. President Obama must give Congress 90 days between announcing his intent to sign the agreement and actually signing it. This puts the earliest possible day for an official signing at February 4.

After this, however, the president must introduce a piece of legislation that Congress can vote on to approve the signing of the deal. There is no specific timeline for this action. Once the president introduces the legislation, Congress must take it up in both chambers and either vote it down or pass it with limited ability for debate and no ability to amend.

What this particular set of regulations means is that the TPP is now occupying a front seat in this year’s legislative agenda.

Columbans around the world have witnessed the devastating effects of free trade agreements. With Columbans in 6 of 12 countries participating in this deal, we are especially concerned with the impacts of the TPP. In order to stand in solidarity with those most negatively impacted by these agreements we have long advocated that any free trade agreement must reflect the voices and the needs of the most vulnerable. As evidenced by the secret negotiations, fast-tracked timeline, and the actual text of the deal, the TPP does not fall in line with this priority.

In areas of labor, environment, access to medicine, and sovereignty, the TPP puts the most vulnerable at risk while offering little to no actionable protections for people and the environment. This is all while in the pursuit of broader markets and cheaper goods.

Just a few weeks ago, a number of large organizations, such as the Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, and the US Chamber of Commerce, announced their support for the deal, signaling the organizing of large-scale business interests in favor of the TPP. Congress’ mixed reaction to the deal may jeopardize its momentum but faith communities will need to continue to raise their voices in support of trade that reflects our values.