TPP: Don Beyer (D-VA) Puts “Free Trade” Above National Sovereignty and Democracy

Recently, my wife, Bonnie, sent an e-mail to Don Beyer, our Democratic Representative in the Virginia 8th Congressional District to express her opinion opposing fast-track/TPP and to tell him that she wanted him to vote against it in Congress. In reply, she received a form e-mail which was non-responsive to hers, but also stated his support for all four trade bills and his talking points on the subject.

Congressman Beyer’s e-mail made her angry and she asked that since I’m the writer in the family, I write a reply from both of us for him. Since drafting this reply, I’ve learned that Don Beyer has announced his support for fast-track in a statement on his web site. Below is our reply to him, in talking point/response format, sometimes cast in the first person, for his consideration, and anyone else’s who is interested in “free trade” agreements.

Beyer supports the whole Administration trade package, including the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), (fast-track) the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Trans-atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), and the Trade In Services Agreement (TISA)

Thank you for being in touch regarding the upcoming package of four critical trade bills. This is one of the most important issues facing this Congress, and I have met with many constituents and interest groups about it.

In the coming weeks, I expect to vote in support of this trade package, requested by President Obama and passed through the Senate with significant bipartisan majorities, including both of Virginia’s Democratic Senators. These bills, including Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), will establish historic multilateral negotiations with our international trade partners while securing important worker protections for American jobs and trade support to developing economies, critical to global poverty alleviation efforts.

I’m sorry, Congressman, but since the negotiating texts of the projected treaties are “secret” relative to members of the public like ourselves, unless they’ve been leaked by some brave, public-spirited souls, and are even very difficult for Congresspeople to see, read, understand, and evaluate, my wife and I cannot simply accept on your say-so that these trade agreements, will protect American workers against job losses, resulting in a net of new jobs for Americans at higher pay after they are implemented. In our view we elected you to represent us, not to think for us.

Also, even though my wife and I care a great deal about developing economies and global poverty alleviation efforts, we are far more concerned about the issues of economic development, inequality and poverty alleviation right here at home. In addition, we’d like to remind you that you represent the people in your Congressional District and owe your first loyalty to them and to the national interests of the United States, rather than to the objectives of facilitating developing economies and global poverty alleviation.

It is we with whom you share a social and political contract obligating you to seek the consent of the governed among the people you represent. In supporting TPA “fast-track” authority to facilitate passing the trade package you refer to, while failing to disclose the contents of the negotiating text, you are not fulfilling your obligation to seek the consent of the governed. But, instead, are seeking to impose this package upon us and on the other people in your district, without us being able to express ourselves, or give you our evaluation of these treaties, prior to your giving up, through fast-track, the authority to amend the proposed treaties based on our input about their contents.

This is undemocratic and simply unacceptable. For supporting this alone, you ought to be defeated in the next election. My wife and I did not vote for you in 2014 so you could support what you say you support now. Your support of this package is a betrayal of our trust in you, and we will not forget that betrayal.

Beyer supports the trade bills because they’re about “free trade” and he believes in that. However, these deals are about corporate control and violation of his oath of office, while his view of “free trade” is a fantasy.

I am, by education and political philosophy, a free trade Democrat. I was born overseas, my U.S. Army father stationed in Italy. I worked in Switzerland for four years as U.S. Ambassador. I have sold and serviced international nameplate cars for more than 40 years. I have seen, up close, the enormous impact trade has on our way of life.

A sustainable economy cannot grow from within. The United States has less than five percent of the global population, and we must be able to sell our products and services to the rest of the world.

No one is against trade, least of all my wife and I. And we certainly need and want to enjoy its benefits. However, these needs and desires of ours have nothing to do with the “free trade agreements” you refer to as part of this package. Nor would they necessarily have anything to do with other trade agreements that this President and his successor may be able to railroad through Congress after our representatives gives up their full authority to negotiate, advise and consent on foreign trade as authorized by the Constitution, including their authority to amend what the President has negotiated.

Your view about free trade and its benefits applies to a fantasy world, but not to the world we live in. Simon Johnson and Andrei Levchenko show how the TPP may very likely depart from the principles of free trade that theoretically would benefit all parties to trade.

Joe Stieglitz has called the TPP “managed trade” and not “free trade.” Also, the leaked provisions of the TPP and other “trade agreements” have shown that these agreements are far more about corporate control over the laws national, state and local governments may implement and sustain than they are about international trade that is in the public interest.

This is clear from the leaked provisions on the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) portion of the TPP. These provisions say that multinational corporations will be able to sue governments at all levels and win large judgments against them, in what are basically corporation-run supra-national tribunals.

According to ISDS, there is no appeal to national authorities from decisions of these tribunals. So in agreeing to abide by their decisions, governments are giving up their sovereignty and the sovereignty of the people in their democracies to tribunals that are in no way accountable to the public.

You, Don Beyer, have no right to participate in such arrangements or even to contemplate legislating them, since you have taken an oath of office to defend the Constitution of the United States. Where does it say, or where is it implied in the Constitution that you have the authority to vote to comply with the decisions of supra-national institutions that are unaccountable to the American people under that Constitution? Supporting the TPP’s ISDS provisions is a violation of your oath of office. You ought to stop it immediately.

If you favor TPP-like arrangements, then you are free to follow proper procedures to try amending the US Constitution in order to allow a gift of quasi-legislative powers to multinational corporations through ISDS-like provisions. That is the proper way to go about passing something like the ISDS.

But to try to get ISDS provisions passed as part of a Congressional-Executive Agreement, negotiated in secret, and confirmed or defeated through an up or down vote in the Congress, is simply beyond the legitimate authority of you and other TPP supporters. The result of these efforts, if successful, will be an agreement that has no legitimacy with the American people and that will never be willingly accepted by them.

You will see this clearly if you are successful, in passing these agreements, when those ISDS judgments begin to hit, and Congresspeople have to face uncomfortable questions about how they’re going to pay for damages awarded by ISDS tribunals to multinational corporations. You will also see it clearly when demonstrations and protests of the TPP never go away. Finally, you will see it clearly when the US Supreme Court someday rules on the constitutionality of the TPP, when plaintiffs who have had to pay higher taxes to cover the costs of TPP awards sue in US Courts on constitutionality grounds.

If they are passed, then popular resistance against the TPP, TTIP, and TISA around the world will never, never stop. People will simply never accept the elevation, in these agreements, of corporate authority over popular sovereignty.

What will you do, when an ISDS tribunal delivers a $20 Billion judgment against the US government, and Paul Ryan or some of his colleagues insist that the award must be paid for by cutting spending for the unemployed, or for social security recipients, or for Medicare and Medicaid recipients? How will you deal with that? Will you tell us it wasn’t your fault? It was the evil Republicans!

You have the chance to eliminate the possibility that something like this will ever happen. Take that opportunity! Beat fast-track now, and kill these agreements.

And before you say such awards will never happen, please keep in mind that little Ecuador has already sustained a $2.3 Billion judgment on behalf of Occidental Petroleum in an ISDS dispute over “expected lost profits” authorized by the bilateral “free trade” agreement between Ecuador and the United States. An award against the United States of similar proportions given the size of our economy compared to Ecuador’s, would be $340 Billion.

How would you handle an award of this size if given to a multinational trading in the United States? How would you pay for it? Do you think you could do that by raising the $340 Billion through taxing the wealthy? If not whose hide would you take the award out of?

Beyer wants us to pay attention to the central goals of the trade agreements and not worry about their specific arrangements and institutions for achieving these goals.

The central goals of the proposed new trade agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership – are to reduce other nations’ high barriers to American trade AND to elevate the environmental and labor regulations in those countries. For example, information technology and communications products face tariffs of up to 35 percent in TPP countries. Malaysia currently taxes U.S. auto imports in favor of their Asian neighbors. Even Australia restricts U.S. turkey imports to protect domestic producers.

I’m sorry, but my wife and I aren’t interested in the stated goals of the TPP, and the other trade agreements. What we are interested in is the specific measures written into these negotiated agreements to achieve the stated goals and to enforce violations of agreed upon standards and regulations.

We are mindful of the history of enforcement of agreements, laws, regulations, and standards, against parties to bilateral trade agreements and relations in so-called “free trade” agreements already in operation. The enforcement of these has been infrequent and ineffective, and the chances of attempts at enforcement of violations going forward are slim and none.

We have seen how past Presidents, both Republicans and Democrats have failed to engage in any serious enforcement of the provisions of trade agreements and have allowed foreign “trade partners” to violate the principles of free and fair trade without any attempt by the Executive Branch to call them to account. We need reciprocity and mutuality in trade and we need mechanisms of enforcement that are beyond politics and the needs of class warfare and campaign financing. Until you can design and include such mechanisms in “free trade” agreements, make these public and submit them to full Congressional consideration long before any up or down vote is called, we demand that you vote against both expedited procedure bills like the TPA and further “free trade” agreements such as the ones you are considering now.

Pay attention to the requirements written into these trade bills, but forget about the track record of lack of enforcement of previous trade agreements and don’t worry about “why this time things will be different.”

Under TPA, the US will require our trading partners to protect the right to form a union and bargain collectively, and to enforce workplace safety rules. We will require our trading partners to enforce rules against overfishing, illegal logging and wildlife trafficking. And if they don’t, they will be subject to American trade sanctions.

That’s a brave and forthright statement. Now make public the provisions of the TPP and the other agreements that would allow these wonderful things to occur, so that we can judge for ourselves whether these promises are likely to be kept.

We believe advocates of these agreements need to frankly acknowledge the failure of previous free trade agreements since the conclusion of NAFTA, to achieve their promised free trade goals due to the previously mentioned lack of enforcement. In view of this history, we approach new deals with a great deal of skepticism and lack of trust.

The only way to overcome this lack of trust is for you to trust us and for advocates of these agreements, including and especially the President, to make the provisions of these agreements public, so we are able to judge for ourselves whether or not “this time will be different.” Quite frankly, the leaks and disclosures we have seen relating to TPP, TTIP, and TISA do not support the view that “this time will be different.” Rather, they support the view that these agreements are the biggest scam of all – a virtual turnover by our government of our democratic policy space to the will of multinational corporations subject to no external authority but each other.

”I’ve been to all the briefings. . . ” and “. . . have carefully read most all of the relevant material.”

There have been many briefings on Capitol Hill this year on the pros and cons of TPA and other possible trade agreements. I have tried to attend every one possible, and have carefully read most all of the relevant material.

Well, I’ll bet you haven’t read any of the material linked to here. However, if your claim to detailed study of these issues is really true, then why is it that you apparently cannot recognize that subjecting our governments to fines from a supra-national authority with no recourse by our governments to their decisions, however unjust, is, in fact, a turnover of our sovereignty, as well as a violation of separation of powers?

And, by the way, as long as we’re on the subject of sovereignty, how is it that you think that Congress has the right to subject the legislative authority of the American States in the spheres reserved for them by the Constitution (the tenth amendment) to international bodies like the ISDS tribunals?

How can Congress give away the rights of States to govern solely in certain spheres when the Constitution did not grant authority over these rights to Congress itself? Have you given any thought to this Federalism issue in the context of ISDS provisions?

The US has a trade surplus with our FTA partners and huge deficits with non-FTA partners such as China, so we need a major free trade agreement with China’s neighbors

The U.S. has a trade surplus in goods with our Free Trade Agreement partners, as compared to huge deficits with countries with whom we do not have trade agreements. Of course, we run a large trade deficit with China, which is all the more reason to negotiate a major agreement with its neighbors.

Sorry, I don’t follow this tenuous argument. First, “the trade partners” with which we have FTAs are in many instances nations that don’t compete with us in manufacturing, so cherry-picked results aggregated from a large group of nations as given by a lobbyist for these deals, aren’t a basis for predicting that large-scale “free trade” agreements will produce lower trade deficits. And when we look at FTAs with more significant nations such as Mexico, Korea, and Canada we see the kinds of problems likely to occur with Japan, and China, as well, if we ever did negotiate a “free trade” deal with them. (The TPP includes Japan of course.)

Second, on China, if its trade deficit with us is such a big problem, then why not negotiate a “free trade” agreement with them? Why should our trade deficit with them decline because the TPP, the TTIP, and TISA exist and because we have agreements with their neighbors?

Of course, we also have a very large trade deficit right now with Japan, so I have to ask you: why should we believe that the provisions of this trade agreement will lead to a decline in that deficit? Please outline for my wife and I, the causal mechanisms that will reduce the trade deficit with Japan, if we have a “free trade” agreement. What’s going to force that to happen?

And incidentally, even if you could explain this, why wouldn’t the same result be achieved with a bilateral agreement with Japan? Why do we need the TPP, and TISA to deal with them?

Don Beyer is convinced that all the objections and concerns about the Trade Agreements and the ISDS provisions in them are insufficient to overcome the powerful benefits of these trade agreements negotiated “. . . on American terms.”

I am convinced that the objections raised – from concern about the ability to enforce the higher standards, to confusion about mediation between investors and states, to fears about net job loss – are well-intentioned, but insufficient to overcome the powerful benefits of moving forward with expanded trade relations on American terms.

I’m glad you feel comfortable making such a broad and general statement. But again without forthrightly facing up to all the problems with these agreements, through a more detailed analysis spelling out just how the benefits of the TPP and the other agreements are so great that they justify taking the risks suggested by the host of likely and possible problems with it, my wife and I can’t take your assurances seriously.

In particular, for you to propose that the United States ought to compromise National, State, and local sovereignty, consent of the governed, our Constitution, the sovereignty of the American people over multinational corporations doing business within our borders, and our democracy, and to identify the ISDS provisions as “American terms,” is particularly egregious. If you continue to support the TPP with the outrageous ISDS provisions, then my wife and I will continue to think that your support for fast-track, along with the three trade agreements, is a violation of your oath of office and your duties to your constituents and to the American people.

We are sorry to have to say that, but we don’t see what other conclusion we can draw when you are willing to negotiate “American terms” agreeing to subject US Governments at all levels to decisions made by foreign tribunals unaccountable to our Government or to the American people. How can you advocate for and vote for a trade agreement giving foreign entities that kind of power over the US and still claim that you are defending our laws and our constitution?

Human rights and national security

President Obama has made the strong case that if the United States does not set the rules for international trade, then China will. This is then both a human rights imperative and a strategic national security necessity.

President Obama hasn’t made a strong case at all, and saying that he has won’t make it so. He has just given us all some broad generalities, undocumented promises, and the same kinds of platitudes about “free trade” we have gotten from every President since at least Jimmy Carter.

The President has just asserted that if we don’t make the rules, then China will. He has offered no backup of these assertions to the public which is, incidentally, his normal way of doing things. But the truth is that both China and the US can only negotiate agreements with other nations, and neither can prevent a nation like Australia or Malaysia or Japan from negotiating agreements with both the US and China.

So, the case that either we or China will set the rules alone, or predominantly, is weak. We will all set the rules jointly with other nations, and we are making a big mistake if our policy is one of creating and consolidating a trading bloc that will exclude China and the other BRICS nations.

In any event, if the TPP is about military security, then let’s see the President and yourself justify it on that basis and stop telling the falsehood that it is about free trade. Based on what you’ve just said, the objective of the TPP isn’t “free trade,” driven by economic forces, but trade with other nations managed in such a way that our national security vis-a-vis China is enhanced.

And, by the way, many observers of the politics of fast-track TPP have noticed that Malaysia is being included in the TPP despite its involvement in “human trafficking” – the slave trade. How can the slave trade be about “free trade”?

Clearly, either it can’t, or if it can, then that is a very good reason why we ought not to support “absolute free trade”, which is what you’re advocating. So, it’s obvious to everyone that including Malaysia in the agreement is about the US Navy commanding the Straits of Malacca, one of the choke points for world shipping.

It is very questionable morally whether the US tacitly supporting the slave trade in Malaysia is worth approaching this military goal. But apart from this, including Malaysia in this agreement isn’t about free trade that will enhance the economic well-being of Americans under some far-fetched 19th century economic theory that involves gross over-simplifications of reality. Instead, it is about national security. So we ought to acknowledge that and frankly debate it along with the TPP.

Congressman Beyer looks forward to following his leader and emulating that leader’s false claims

I look forward to standing with our President, and for aggressive job creation and economic growth, in voting for these trade bills, the next step toward expanded trade for America.

“Standing with our President” is an empty shibboleth if our President is wrong in wanting fast-track and in his actions negotiating these terrible corporate control agreements that give away so much of our way of life for unlikely theoretical gains derived from a bankrupt economic ideology. And as far as aggressive job creation and economic growth are concerned, we will not get to either one through the TPP, if economic projections of likely gains from the TPP are anywhere near the mark. These gains are projected to be so low by 2025 that they are attributable to rounding error in projections.

Over this decade here are virtually no additional jobs projected to be created with the TPP, than without the TPP of any significance. Like the Keystone XL pipeline, the TPP is a pipe dream when it comes to job creation. In fact, the claims that we ought to support the TPP due to its job creation benefits make me very angry.

The Great Recession left us with a full-time jobs gap of some 25 – 30 million, and that gap is largely there today in spite of the recent gains in employment, six years after the gap was created. So when someone uses “job creation” as a justification for doing something that has the potential to produce harm to wages, employment, environmental protection, corporate regulation, the climate, sovereignty, democracy, and much more, and can show at most a possible gain of very few jobs, perhaps in the hundreds of thousands over a 10 year period, compared to the many millions needed, then I know I’m being gulled by the person telling me that, and I don’t like that at all.

If Congressman Beyer is serious about job creation then he ought to be supporting Congress quickly defeating it, getting it off the agenda, and then moving to create a Federally-funded local community run and administered Job Guarantee program, at a regionally adjusted for variations in cost-of-living, living wage with full fringe benefits. That will create both full employment and rapid economic growth, and along with an enhanced Medicare for All bill, like HR 676, will go a long way to repairing and enhancing the social safety net that both parties have been trashing for many years now.

Meanwhile, there is no need for these trade deals. Congressman Beyer has to remember that exports are real costs, and imports are real benefits, so that trade deficits are good for us, provided that we don’t lose certain manufacturing capabilities, skills and services we need for our own futures, and provided that we make sure that no Americans who want full-time jobs can’t find them. When other nations tire of sending us real products and services, in return for the electronic bits of information that are our modern money, then they will voluntarily export less, and import more, righting trade balances over time.

International trade can largely take care of itself, except that we need to identify certain manufacturing and skill capabilities we need in our country. And then we need to make sure that we are subsidizing the development of these products and these skills to ensure that our nation is both prosperous happy. That’s called industrial policy. So, no more of this free trade agreement malarkey, Congressman Beyer. And no more advocacy or support for undermining our sovereignty, constitutional order, or democracy. Enough!!!!