Perhaps the politicians were hoping that Americans were too busy taking in “news” about the Polar Vortex and the great George Washington Bridge distraction, but last week they tried to sneak the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP, onto the legislative fast track. A few people in the alternative media noticed however, including Future Tense’s Ariel Bogle, via Slate:
It seems wrong to hate something that you’ve never read. Yet the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a globally significant free trade agreement being worked out in secret, is rewriting the rules in more ways than one.
The TPP is already being negotiated behind closed doors, but the situation could get worse. Late on Thursday afternoon, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp, R-Mich., Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014. The bill would grant the White House fast-track authority, sometimes known as the “trade promotion authority,” to ratify trade deals.
If the bill passes, it would allow agreements like TPP to be ratified by a straight up-and-down vote, with no amendments allowed from the floor, and lawmakers would have to forgo procedural stalling tactics like the filibuster. That’s a great deal of oversight power for Congress to abdicate over a deal that not many people have even read.
Apart from a few corporations, most stakeholders and public interest groups have been unable to read the TPP drafts in full. Even those in government have complained that their staff cannot access the negotiating text. As Wisconsin Republican Mark Pocan said in reponse to the new bill: “Blindly approving or disapproving agreements that have largely been negotiated in secret would represent a derelict of duty for Congress. If there is nothing to hide in these agreements, we should be allowed to debate and amend these deals in the open.”
The introduction of fast-track authority is of particular concern for technology companies, digital rights groups, and even public health advocates, who are all concerned about the treaty’s copyright and patent provisions. Leaked versions of the TPP indicate that it moves negotiating countries toward stricter and extended intellectual property laws—for instance, greater criminalization of copyright breaches and regulations that might force Internet service providers to censor content.
When introducing the bill, the three U.S. lawmakers said in a statement: “The TPA [trade promotion authority] legislation we are introducing today will make sure that these trade deals get done, and get done right.” They argued that the fast-track authority would support a robust trade agenda that would benefit American workers and exports…
[continues at Slate]