Corporate executives have been clamoring for the passage of fast track, saying it provides a needed vehicle to approve trade pacts like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But at a Senate hearing earlier this month, it became apparent that many business leaders either don’t understand, or don’t want to understand, what the TPP is all about.
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) raised the issue of trade provisions that would allow foreign companies to sue governments before international tribunals during the Jan. 16 Senate Finance Committee meeting. The senator said such language could penalize countries who, for example, try to put in place consumer protection regulations that could be seen as limiting sales. He then asked company officials testifying whether such language was wise.
Their responses would make anyone question whether they understand the TPP’s full complexities. Repeatedly, several said they were not qualified to comment on the matter and begged off making any statements of substance.
David Cote, Honeywell International’s chairman and CEO, told Sen. Brown that such language “was a level of complexity” beyond which he could comment. Elena Stegemann, director of International Business at NuStep, Inc. added, “Unfortunately I don’t have any experience with these matters.”
One even agreed with the lawmaker that such language was not in America’s best interest. Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Inc., said, “My gut feeling is no, but that’s only my personal opinion.”
Sen. Brown later told the Huffington Post that he was not surprised by the witnesses’ comments. He said many company executives defend trade deals like the TPP because they always have. But that doesn’t mean they fully understand them.
“They don’t really defend specifics besides ‘We need more trade, it’s capitalism, it’s what we’ve always done in this country,’” he said. “When you dig down though, you find out … that some of these advocates really don’t necessarily argue for or understand” all provisions in these trade pacts.
The U.S. stands at the verge of considering fast track, which would bar lawmakers from fully debating or amending the TPP and other trade agreements. Then, Congress would be forced to give a quick up-or-down vote on these same trade deals both they and the public don’t fully understand? Brilliant … for big business, that is.
Americans deserve better. This country can’t just rubber stamp deals because CEOs think they want them. Lawmakers need to know the facts and then vet it carefully. That only happens if fast track is not part of the deal. Fast track is the wrong track for America.