The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Layman’s Dilemma

To the Editor,

I have the TPP’s official government site, https://ustr.gov/tpp/, minimized at the bottom of my computer screen, its vastness all locked up in a little icon that keeps bouncing up and down. And I can’t figure out whether I should keep reading.

The Trans Pacific Partnership is a six-thousand word agreement, on everything, from trade to the environment. It has been written in secret over the last six years and includes 12 countries and 40 percent of the world’s GDP. It is being fast tracked through Congress, which means no filibuster or amendments, and could pass by April.

At about five times the length of War and Peace, I could never read it all, and even if I could, I probably wouldn’t understand most of that legal twaddle.

So they have summaries for people like us, but even those would take hours upon hours to read. And I’m not complaining about those; we should be lucky to have them because the other option -- which probably most people will read -- is ‘Made in America’ rhetoric shamelessly arranged in bulleted lists and catchy one-liners, similar to those ‘Ten Things only Americans Would Know’ type lists on Facebook. They make me feel smiley, bouncy and full of ultrapatriotic cheer.

The TPP motto is “Leveling the playing field for American workers and American businesses.” Okay. What is a playing field anyway and why would we want to level it? If we were on a field playing a game, we would be winning. We have the biggest middle class in the world, a large white-collar sector, and a virile economy.

Seems more like they would be leveling the world so that multi-national corporations -- non national for that matter -- can move around their goods, set up in places for cheap, sell their things for more. That’s the image I’m getting at least, one that feels draconian and scary. It’s like they are taking away all the laws they don’t like, like tariffs and patent procedures, laws that are meant to protect a nation’s sovereignty and their people from economic predators, laws similar to the ones we used to keep European goods more expensive during our nation’s infancy.

The real scary thing said by critics is that only five chapters actually deal with trade, while the others deal with everything from international patents, intellectual property rights, a creation of an unaccountable commission and the ability for companies to sue governments in secret tribunals when those governments do anything to obstruct this all-encompassing agreement.

If the proponent for the bill is big money, then the critic would be the people, concerned with the agreement’s impact on personal rights and the world at large. Right?

Opponents are criticizing provisions that would allow unsafe food to be consumed, for a non-accountable governing body, for possible provisions for jail time for copyright infringement, for taking away the power of local governments.

So I must trust the authority of the media, the critics, and the summaries from the government on this one. I’ve read some of it, and I can understand some things. I’m no expert, but I’ve educated myself enough to take a stance, which is probably the best I can do.

I wrote my two Washington senators and my congressman to tell them not to sign it. And I got a response. Senator Murray told me she voted in favor of the TPA, the bill meant to expedite the TPP passing in congress, “to provide President Obama the authority to negotiate trade agreements that are good for Washington state, create jobs, and help Washington state businesses sell their goods overseas.”

Then in response to the finalization of the TPP agreement, she told me, “In the coming weeks, I will be reviewing the details of this new agreement—and that will guide my decision on whether I believe this deal moves Washington state, and our country, forward.”

If after reading more about the Trans Pacific Partnership we find ourselves asking why we feel so powerless, it’s because when you are really concerned with something and you write letters to your congressmen, two don’t reply and the other sends a canned response -- probably written by an intern.

But maybe, just maybe, if those of us who are against this one big issue fill that intern’s box with enough emails, our Senators won’t be able to ignore our interests and concerns.

Sincerely,

Zach Watson

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