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Will Congress Fast Track Secret Trade Agreement?

In a time when government secrecy is becoming both more prominent and more criticized, it’s no longer hard to believe that Congress would “fast track” a vote on a secret document devised by international corporations. 

On Jan. 9, Republican Sens. Dave Camp and Orrin Hatch together with Democrat Sen. Max Baucus introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014. The bill would grant the White House fast-track authority, meaning the controversial and confidential trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be passed in Congress with a straight up or down vote — no amendments. 

The TPP is a proposed trade bloc between the U.S. and 12 countries in the Asia-Pacific region that make up 40 percent of the global economy. Rep. Peter DeFazio opposes the TPP and the fact that it’s being negotiated in secret by corporations. He also opposes the fast-track authority that would allow President Obama to sign off on the legislation before passing it to Congress for a vote. DeFazio says more people need to know about fast-track authority and the TPP, which he calls “incredibly destructive.” The congressman is hosting two forums on the TPP, in Corvallis and Eugene Jan. 21 and 22, in which he will discuss the issue along with local experts, including Tom Chamberlain of the Oregon AFL-CIO and Gordon Lafer of the UO’s Labor Education and Research Center.

DeFazio says he has only seen the leaked portions of the TPP document, which has copyright and patent provisions that could affect everything from pharmaceutical prices in developing nations to intellectual property laws and the internet. DeFazio says that if he were to see the classified document he would not be allowed to take notes on it or talk about it afterward, yet he says that while Congress, labor and environmental interests can’t see it, more than 600 corporations have access to it. 

DeFazio points to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), which he also voted against, as an example of what could go wrong with the TPP when foreign corporations will be able to undo U.S. environmental laws by claiming they hurt future profits. He uses the example of dolphin-safe tuna. DeFazio says the U.S. essentially pays fines to Mexico to not use dolphin-killing nets while fishing for tuna because Mexico asserts that U.S. dolphin-safe labeling provisions deny Mexican tuna effective access to the U.S. market. DeFazio says the TPP will allow foreign corporations to challenge U.S. law in an international secret tribunal. 

DeFazio says he wants to “stir this up and educate people” because once people know more about the dangers of the TPP and fast-track authority and act on a grassroots level, they will demand that Congress not give in to pressure to sign off on the trade deal. Congress will only have 60 days to vote on the TPP if fast-track goes through, and because Obama has a trip to Asia scheduled in March, DeFazio thinks time is growing short. 

Fast-track authority could also affect the U.S. and European Union’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP). Negotiations over T-TIP launched last summer, according to a White House fact sheet.

The Corvallis forum will be 5 pm Tuesday, Jan. 21, at the Boys and Girls Club, 1112 NW Circle Blvd., and the Eugene forum will be 6 pm Wednesday, Jan. 22, at the UO’s EMU Fir Room.