by Scott McLarty
May 4, 2015
The US Congress is preparing to vote on fast-track authority for President Obama, in support of a quick approval for the President to promote the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). On April 22, Senate Finance Committee approved fast-track legislation. The following day, fast track passed in the US House Ways and Means Committee after ten hours of debate. The next step will be a vote in House. (“Fast track” is a mechanism allowing the President to sign trade deals before Congress votes on them; when the vote eventually happens it must be a simple yes or no with no amendments allowed.)
The Green Party of the United States has opposed the TPP, as well as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), ever since plans for these international trade agreements were reported. Greens sharply criticized President Obama’s attempts to keep the text of the TPP secret from Congress and the public, while inviting 600 “trade advisers” from powerful multinational corporations to review drafts.The Green Party joined numerous unions, environmental organizations, and public interest groups in warning that the TPP will outsource jobs, lower labour standards, hurt small businesses and family farms, and override environmental, food safety, and public health protections.
Party members have participated in various protests against the proposed trade pacts and in favour of fair trade policies. On May 19, 2014, former Green presidential nominee Cynthia McKinney (nominated in 2008) and prominent members of the Green Party of England and Wales issued a statement opposing the TTIP (Joint Transatlantic Greens’ Statement).
The TPP would establish a mechanism to override democratically enacted laws by handing over legislative and judicial power to a small panel of corporate lawyers (this is the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism, ISDS). Sections of the deal leaked by Wikileaks confirm these dangers (Wikileaks, January 15, 2014).
Green Party leaders noted that international trade authorities have allowed participating countries to challenge each others’ local and national efforts to implement clean, renewable energy technologies and conservation programs and government subsidies for them, because such ventures violate “free trade” rules and constitute illegal protectionism and trade discrimination. Author Naomi Klein has documented how trade pacts and authorities like the World Trade Organization have obstructed programs and environmental laws that would lower CO2 emissions in many nations (“Hot Money,” Chapter 2 in “This Changes Everything,” 2014). Examples include legislation against fracking in Quebec, phase-out of nuclear plants and conversion to renewable energy in Germany, and attempts by Peru to hold a mining company responsible for pollution — all of which were nullified by trade authorities (Sierra Club 2014). Greens stressed that allowing foreign nations and corporations to challenge nationally and locally enacted environmental, public health and labour laws undermines the principle of democratic sovereignty.
President Obama, in his 2015 State of the Union address, claimed that his administration was committed to action against the global climate crisis. In the same speech, the President said “I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair.” Green Party leaders called this language misleading in light of what is known about the TPP and TTIP and criticized the President’s request for fast-track authority during the party’s “People’s State of the Union” broadcast and advocated the “Green New Deal.” The Green New Deal is a plan promoted by Green candidates that would boost financial security for working people, enact democratic economic policies, and create millions of new jobs by converting to a green-energy economy.
As reports of the TPP’s content became public, many Democrats and a few Republicans in Congress began to oppose it. The debate over fast-track authority has placed President Obama, Republican leaders, and a few conservative Democrats (including Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, co-sponsor of the Wyden-Hatch-Ryan fast-track bill) in an alliance on the side of global corporate oligarchy.
Hillary Clinton, widely expected to win the Democratic nomination in 2016, has opposed some provisions of the TPP. But Ms Clinton has also expressed support for the pact, saying the TPP would “create a new high standard for multilateral free trade” and “Our goal for TPP is to create not just more growth, but better growth. We believe the TPP needs to include strong protections for workers, the environment, intellectual property, and innovation”.
It is likely that many labour, environmental, and public interest groups will remain loyal to Ms Clinton regardless of her position on international trade agreements. Because the US political field is dominated almost exclusively by two corporate-money parties, such organizations have remained loyal to Democrats, often on the basis of “lesser of two evils.” Lesser-evil loyalty has allowed Democratic politicians to take progressive, antiwar and pro-environmental votes for granted and ignore core constituencies, while veering to the right on important issues like international trade.
Greens in the US said the Democratic and Republican parties, despite their differences, have placed themselves on the wrong side of the century’s most urgent crises — plutocratic concentration of wealth and power and the advance of global warming. Greens, offering solutions like the Green New Deal, have called the Green Party an imperative for the 21st century.
Scott McClarty is the media coordinator for the Green Party of the United States