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December 06, 2013

An Incomplete Deal: Congress Weighs in on the Trans-Pacific Partnership

CongressThe Trans-Pacific Partnership is about to be finalized. Or is it?

The U.S. Trade Representative and trade ministers from the 11 other nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are about to leave for their weekend meeting in Singapore, where they hope to be able to announce that a final deal on the controversial trade pact has been reached. But how close are countries to actually making a deal? Two days before the high-level meeting is set to begin, Members of Congress have spoken out about their bottom-lines for the pact and its many unresolved issues.

Yesterday, in a telepresser hosted by the Sierra Club, five Members of Congress voiced their concerns over the looming trade pact. And they made one thing very clear: Congress has the final say if a trade deal is approved, and they aren’t prepared to accept just any trade agreement.  

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut addressed currency manipulation, the process by which countries reduce the value of their currency in order to encourage exports.

"Currency manipulation has expanded the U.S. trade deficit and cost us jobs," she said. "Several countries involved in the TPP negotiations have a history of or are currently manipulating their exchange rates to promote their exports at the expense of American workers....Any deal announced that does not address this issue is not a deal in the eyes of Congress, which has the final say when it comes to trade."

Congressman George Miller of California focused on the question of labor protections in the agreement, expressing concern that American workers will be left in the dust if strong and binding labor standards are not included in the trade pact.

"Will labor rights be enforced in the Trans-Pacific Partnership? What will they be? If they are not enforced, that's very bad news for American workers and businesses," he warned.

Rep. Miller also stated that, "If the United States doesn’t insist on stronger, enforceable worker protections in the TPP, American workers will pay the price as more jobs are moved offshore and countries provide ever-fewer protections in a global race to the bottom."

Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren of California addressed issues related to internet freedom and innovation. She noted that the TPP would lock all signatory countries into new copyright terms rather than allowing copyright terms to be determined by each country. She also noted that the TPP is essentially "backdooring" that which could not be obtained through Congress.

“I think we all remember SOPA – the Stop Online Piracy Act,” she said. “It looks like there are some elements of SOPA that are being inserted into this trade agreement, and I don’t think the American people are going to put up with it.”

And, in an issue that is particularly near and dear to our hearts at the Sierra Club, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon added his concerns about environmental protections in the TPP.

"We should not let the Trans-Pacific Partnership slide by without building on previous progress in the environmental chapter," he said.

Rep. Blumenauer later added, "The Trans-Pacific Partnership must include robust and binding environmental provisions that conserve forests, oceans, and wildlife. TPP must build on the 2007 May 10th framework, and that's exactly what USTR has proposed, but they cannot back down. Our forests, oceans and wildlife depend on it."

Lastly, Congressman and DCCC Chairman Steve Israel of New York addressed transparency and the process for negotiating the trade pact.

"A good deal is more important than a final deal, and the only deal that I can support is one that has verifiable standards that Congress can oversee and monitor," he said.

The United States Trade Representative must keep these Congressional warnings in mind as he heads into this high-level meeting this weekend. As Congressman Israel noted, a good deal is more important than a final deal.

--Ilana Solomon, Director, Sierra Club's Responsible Trade Program

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