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September 10, 2014

No to Fast-Tracking Harmful Trade Pacts; Yes to a New Model of Trade

There’s growing opposition to trade deals that the Obama administration is pushing and to so-called fast-track trade authority, an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations. From national polls showing that a majority of Americans oppose putting the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the fast track to demonstrations across the country against fast tracking such deals, there’s no denying that the tides are turning.

The U.S. is negotiating what could be two of the world’s biggest trade deals -- the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Pacific Rim nations and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union. But the meat of these deals goes beyond traditional trade issues like tariffs -- they deal with important everyday things, like our jobs, the safety of our food, and our access to clean water and air. The dangers of these deals seem endless, yet they’re being rushed through in near complete secrecy.

What is TTIP?
Click image to download full infographic.

Trade negotiators are writing these deals behind closed doors, with little to no involvement of the public and our elected officials. Despite this, there is still a push in the U.S. administration and among some in Congress to even further limit public and Congressional oversight of these massive trade pacts. If fast track were to pass, for example, signed trade pacts like the TPP and TTIP could be rushed through Congress with a guaranteed vote in 90 days, a maximum of 20 hours debate, and no possibility for amendments. In other words, fast track makes it impossible for Congress to ensure that trade pacts actually deliver for workers, communities, and the environment.

That’s why today, nearly 600 national, regional, and local organizations are reiterating their opposition to fast track and calling for a new model of trade. The time is now to fix the flawed model of trade that has cost us jobs and degraded our environment.  

Groups including the Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the AFL-CIO, the Communications Workers of America, the NAACP, and Public Citizen sent a letter to Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) firmly rejecting fast-track trade promotion authority and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements.

The Sierra Club’s executive director Michael Brune said it best: “Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land. We need a new model of trade -- one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

In January, then-Senator Max Baucus and Congressman Dave Camp introduced a fast-track bill, the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014, which would strip Congress of its ability to amend or sufficiently debate trade pacts. Sen. Wyden, the current Senate Finance Chairman, is now drafting a new trade authority bill.

In place of the way-off fast-track method of rushing trade deals, the letter calls for a new model of trade authority that includes a number of key elements, including:

  • A Congressional role in selecting trade partners;

  • A set of mandatory negotiating objectives to ensure trade pacts deliver real benefits;

  • Enhanced transparency, including the release of texts; and

  • Congressional certification that negotiating objectives have been met before trade negotiations can conclude.

Today’s trade agreements affect our daily lives in countless ways. It’s time that the process for negotiating and implementing these trade pacts evolves to reflect that reality. Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms throughout history. Fast track first went into effect under President Nixon in the 1970s. It was last granted during the George W. Bush administration, but that law expired on June 30, 2007. And as our letter to Senator Wyden proves, it’s time for something new.

If this broad coalition of environmental organizations, labor unions, and organizations working at the center of public health, consumer rights, sustainable farming, and more can agree that a new model of trade that supports families and communities is absolutely necessary, then Congress should join with us and bring trade policy into the 21st century.  

Ask your Members of Congress to take action in support of response trade and against fast track by sending them a message here.

--Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program



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