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Why Democrats Are Fighting Each Other Over The Trans-Pacific Partnership

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Why Democrats Are Fighting Each Other Over The Trans-Pacific Partnership

U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Skepticism surrounding the controversial Trans Pacific Partnership has built up on both sides of the American political spectrum, and indeed around the world, but key differences of opinion are emerging on the left just weeks ahead of the Democratic National Convention.

Representatives of Hillary Clinton and DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the party’s platform committee — which was thrust center stage by the Sanders campaign — led the fight last Friday against incorporating language in the DNC platform specifically opposing the TPP. In a 10-5 vote, split predictably along primary campaign lines, the Sanders camp suffered a setback in their effort to fulfill his pledge to stop the deal, which he has described as one that hurts workers and ultimately benefits the wealthy.

Clinton formerly supported TPP but officially came out against it in October, following pressure from the left wing of the party. She appointed a slew of experienced policy wonks, such as CAP President Neera Tanden and former EPA administrator and White House advisor Carol Browner, to the platform committee.

The decision by Clinton’s appointees to steer clear of a full-throated opposition to TPP could be a matter of simple loyalty to President Obama, who has lauded the partnership as one that is necessary for American business to succeed in a global economy and compete with China. A number of Clinton’s appointees served in the Obama administration, and the presumptive nominee has defended the president’s legacy and her role in creating it.

Paul Booth, a leader in the AFSCME public employee union and a Clinton representative on the committee, said he would prefer the platform plank on TPP to use “general, in-principle language” — providing cover, perhaps, for a greater acceptance of trade in a Clinton administration. During last week’s meeting, Rep. Keith Ellison, who represents the Sanders campaign, said, “I’d love to work with Mr. Booth, but I’m not picking up any spirit of cooperation from him.”

Amid a generational shift on attitudes toward trade and globalization, it’s worth examining Sanders’ reasons for opposing the TPP. According to the Vermont senator, the partnership “would make matters worse by providing special benefits to firms that offshore jobs and by reducing the risks associated with operating in low-cost countries.” He also slammed TPP for exploiting weak labor laws by promoting trade in countries like Vietnam, which he said has been cited by the Department of Labor, Human Rights Watch, and others for its poor human rights record. Sanders also says the TPP would compromise food safety and limit access to generic pharmaceuticals —  the result of a negotiation process that he says was largely carried out in secret.

On Tuesday, Sanders published an op-ed column in the New York Times comparing Americans’ anxiety over trade to British voters’ feelings about the European Union. He demanded that Democrats “wake up” and oppose a deal that does not serve the American working class. “We need to fundamentally reject our ‘free trade’ policies and move to fair trade,” he wrote. “We must defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Meanwhile, President Obama insists that the TPP boasts the “strongest commitments on labor and the environment of any trade agreement in history.” He has broadly praised the agreement’s dedication to leveling the playing field for American workers and businesses. The underlying message in most of Obama’s remarks about TPP, however, is that he wants to ensure the United States stays ahead of China in the global market.

“The prescription of withdrawing from trade deals and focusing solely on your local market, that’s the wrong medicine,” Obama said Wednesday, responding to questions about another presidential candidate who doubts the value of global trade: Donald Trump.

On the surface, the rift within the Democratic Party is summed up by the conflict between Sanders’ progressive, non-establishment appointees to the platform committee, and Clinton’s more moderate, establishment appointees.

But reality is a bit more complicated: Clinton has distanced herself from the TPP, while her supporters at the highest levels of government nearly all support it (with a notable exception, Elizabeth Warren, who came out strongly against the deal a year ago).

Clinton will have to carefully tiptoe around the issue because she is counting on President Obama to make an economic argument for her candidacy in the months ahead. That may make for uncomfortable moments when Trump denounces trade deals while Clinton and Obama stand together on the campaign trail.

That tension, which has flared in Trump’s anti-trade wake, began months ago. Clinton called the TPP the “gold standard of trade” and had positive things to say about it in her book, Hard Choices. Yet, even after her about-face on the issue, her allies are maintaining flexibility on the deal while Democrats seek to lure Sanders supporters to Clinton’s side.

Even now, many American voters know very little about TPP, and those who know about the deal are split: a Morning Consult survey conducted last March revealed that 29 percent opposed it while 26 percent supported it; 45 percent said they did not have an opinion or did not know how to respond.

In the coming weeks and months, Sanders and his supporters will aim to raise enough awareness about the partnership’s downside — and indeed, the downside of global trade deals generally. If the tides of opinion keep turning, Obama may have to face some tough choices of his own.


Photo: U.S. President Barack Obama (2nd R) meets with the leaders of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries in Beijing November 10, 2014. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque  



  1. King 0f America June 29, 2016

    Who cares if Hillary supported TPP? Everyone in my NAMBLA group agrees it’s not important.

    1. Box June 29, 2016

      Why is it not important?

      1. King of America June 30, 2016

        It’s not as important as dismantling laws that restrict love.

  2. Marjorie5847 June 30, 2016

    I make close to 6-8 thousand bucks /every month for freelance jobs i do at home. Those who are prepared to complete basic online jobs for 2h-5h every day at your house and earn decent income in the same time… This is perfect for you… http://self40.com

  3. Dominick Vila June 30, 2016

    Republicans have championed free trade for decades, and have defended the right of American entrepreneurs and corporations to invest abroad to increase profit margins. The rationale they have used is that larger and more prosperous companies are likely to invest more at home and, by default, create jobs in the USA. The recent reversal by Donald Trump, who went as far as citing the AFL-CIO and Sen. Sanders, to justify his opposition to NAFTA, a trade agreement negotiated and written by the George H.W. Bush administration, and the TPP, which has enjoyed the full support of the GOP – and President Obama – is influenced by a desire to attract blue collar workers, who do not understand that the loss of jobs in manufacturing and the service sector are influenced not only by off shoring, but by automation. The days of tens of thousands of high school graduates making a decent living working on an assembly line are gone, and are not coming back regardless of what Trump says. Assembly line workers have been replaced by robots, and many service jobs have been replaced by computer-based systems. The worst part is that those who have been displaced as a result of automation do not have the skills to qualify for the excellent jobs in the high tech sector that are going to foreign professionals from India, Pakistan, China, and other countries entering the USA with H1b visas. They buy Trump’s rhetoric because their desperation is so great, and their chances to get ahead so slim, that they rely on miracles – and cheap rhetoric – rather than doing the hard work required to prepare for the professional challenges of the 21st century.

    1. charleo1 June 30, 2016

      Well put Dom. Leaving as we must the question for which there is as yet no answer. How do progressive, democratic countries, with their higher standards of living, nationalized healthcare, and publicly funded retirement systems, compete in this new global environment? Where too often as we’ve seen, exploitation, worker oppression, and abuse of human rights, means a more malleable workforce. As lower wages, and automation translate to higher profits for investors, but provide few incentives, if any, to usher those new found gains down to the larger economy where most of us live. Or, more to the subject at hand, trade agreements. How can American labor be certain there are safeguards written in the agreement against such practices? And if so, how is it possible to enforce such safeguards in a World where big money influence, and corporate greed rules? Our political leaders for their part, are making promises, urging trust. As they sit with a secretly hashed out corporate written treaty in one hand, (none of our labor unions were allowed at the table.) And a fist full of corporate cash in the other, the American public is rightly skeptical. Especially as such deals in the past have fallen far short of politician’s rosy predictions of jobs, jobs, jobs, with mutual tit for tat prosperity. As our ever growing trade deficits, evaporating tax base, and expanding debt to a Communist China demonstrate. None of these deals so far have been good for America. I think Congress, and our political leadership owe the working class an explanation as to how TTP will be any different.

      1. RED June 30, 2016

        I respect both you and Dom and you both seem to be rational reasonable people. But I would like to suggest that you are limited in your thinking. You are viewing the world and the possibilities only through the lens of capitalism, consumerism, the current status quo. It’s probably time to think outside that box and look for new ways, a different plan. As you both alluded to capitalism always has an interest in lower the cost of wages, in exploiting more resources, in taking from as many as possible for the benefit of the very few. And we’ve been on this constant new market search since at least the end of WWII, because the current capitalism always requires expanding market, increasing shareholder value. Some have suggested to me that we could make this system work if we could incentives and reward companies that promote and pursue good policies beyond just profits. I’m not sure how that could be done, myself. And I certainly don’t have the answers of how to move to a new system or what that system is and how it can work. I recognize the failures of communism and how that system cannot truly succeed. But also recognize the failures of capitalism and how it has lead to just as much destruction, damage, and death as communism.

        1. charleo1 June 30, 2016

          Well, thanks for that. I’m sure it’s not a simple issue, or one for which there is any single solution. But I believe what many would like to see, a point we could start with, is demanding of our elected officials & representatives that they govern on behalf of their entire constituency rather than the small political donor factions that are now getting the lion’s share of their attention. Well, except at election time, when they pretend to care about these things. Just some thoughts..

          1. RED June 30, 2016

            That would most certainly be a step, a very small step in the right direction. But even that step is still just a very small expansion of who counts and who doesn’t. Because what that means is demanding that our elected officials look out for us, Americans, which again is a small step and better than not looking out for us. But it still requires an outlook of us versus them and that’s the system that’s gonna kill us if we don’t eventually change it. I guess I’m in a pensive mood today, I’m going on vacation after today, so I’m imagining grand scales and impossible futures, You are certainly correct in that our leaders must pay attention to their constituents, I’m worried Hillary will not. I just hope for a better day one day, one that doesn’t leave 48 million in poverty in one of the wealthiest country’s in the world, ’cause guess where that leaves the billions who don’t live in the wealthiest countries. There is simply no frigging excuse for the richest 62 people owning half our planet. It’s gotta stop. And it will stop, it’s just a matter of when and how.

  4. Theodora30 June 30, 2016

    “Even now many American voters know very little about TPP” and this article does nothing to correct that huge problem. People are hotly debating womethung they know little about which is beyond ridiculous. How about trying provide some info on the complicated issue. At the very least a few links would be nice. Maybe some to an objective analysis of NAFTA, too.

      1. Theodora30 June 30, 2016


    1. RED June 30, 2016

      Yeah, I’ll admit I don’t know a huge amount about the details. But it was written in secret by corporate trade lobbyists, so that tells me pretty much all I need to know.

  5. Jerry Schull June 30, 2016

    If American voters knew more about the TPP they would all oppose it, period. Obama/Hillary are neoliberals, much like Trump is a neoconservative. They are all fakes. To a high degree I’m starting to like at least the Trump stance on trade. Redo all trade deals where the trade imbalance is onerous. AND If we do any further trade deals, there must be a provision where IF every 3-5 years we don’t see a benefit, we walk.

  6. bdirnbac June 30, 2016

    You omit maybe the most egregious flaw in all these (so-called) trade deals, ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement) provisions that allow foreign transnational corporations to sue governments in private courts if new regulations impose a burden on future profits.For example, TransCanada is suing the US in a private court composed of lawyers (not judges) for $15Bn because Obama nixed the XL pipeline, and this suit is under NAFTA. Future trade deals, TPP/TTIP/TiSA continue the right of corporations to threaten local, state & federal sovereignty. Public Citizen has 23 pages of examples on these corporate abuses. http://www.citizen.org/documents/egregious-investor-state-attacks-case-studies.pdf

    1. charleo1 June 30, 2016

      On what Right, or theory of law do corporations assert they have the standing to sue sovereign states for supposed lost profits? That they [corporations] are people, they would probably remind me. To which I would submit that is the most preposterous mangling, and twisting of the Constitution, at least since Dred Scott V. Sandford,
      placed white property Rights above human dignity.

  7. The lucky one June 30, 2016

    “Representatives of Hillary Clinton and her lapdog DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz on the party’s platform … led the fight last Friday against incorporating language in the DNC platform specifically opposing the TPP”

    Just as I suspected. Hilary’s “opposition” to this disastrous deal was all posturing.

  8. Moderate Black Woman June 30, 2016

    I’d like to recommend Sebastian Junger’s new book: Tribe. We really must stop all this hateful language toward one another. (Unless, you’re looking forward to a Trump Administration. ) Please take a look at a recent TED TALK for a preview of the book:

  9. Billabob Johnson June 30, 2016

    Trade is about a deal. Core to a deal is a trade of promises, services, goods or access between parties. Time and politics drive desired objectives. For example, China sacrificed its environment and radically altered how its people lived to upgrade its standard of living and drive industrialization throughout the country. The US sacrificed less skilled jobs in favor of higher profits and stronger stock values that directly impact retiree 401ks.

    If I am a middle age, mid-west factory worker with a high school education, I see directly how free trade agreements hurt me and those of similar backgrounds. If I am a retiree however, my pension, social security and 401K earnings depend on continued strong stock performance and trade has pushed markets to record highs over the past decade. And this is one of the fastest growing cohorts.

    As a Chinese worker I see the growth in development and transformation of my country from the late 18th century economic erosion to the global economic powerhouse I used to be for over a millennia. Now, I take pride that average Chinese standard of living is improving and our economy has eclipsed that of the US, but am increasingly aware of the environmental calamity, government corruption and lack of social safety net that imperil my future.

    It is clear that trade is a major benefit. I wince at what the British people did to themselves with the vote to exit the EU. But that was not about trade per se – but about EU efforts to grow itself into a global governmental body. I was on the fence with NAFTA, but we have adapted over the 25 years and our markets and standard of living have expanded for a net gain.

    Trade shapes how countries interact and their relationships evolve. We have three major global problems facing humanity over the next 20 years. Global climate change, workforce automation and global pollution – particularly for our limited fresh water supplies. All of these issues are global and require human behaviors to change and adapt. At the core of those efforts are changes in trade relationships that force change to auto efficiency and safety, education, infrastructure investments, cyber security and conflict resolution in an era where asymmetrical warfare (terrorists) is a major national concern.

    Trade agreements do not alter the underlying forces radically altering the world of work. They can cushion the blow, and more far-sighted teams building the pacts set up their sides for generally better outcomes over time. To get on the plus side of the ledger you need to embrace those changes and aim ahead of the duck. Seeking a white knight to come along and wave his magic wand to open up high paying factory jobs that require little or no education is the faith of fools. One word…robots. And you should look carefully at other promises made by that white knight to people attending his university and small contractors still waiting for payment after building his Taj Mahal.

  10. Mike Kisselstein July 5, 2016

    Fossil fuel, big Pharma and Job outscourcers early Clinton winners

    As Democrats write the party platform, it’s clear that Bernie Sanders is having a token impact on the process. On key issues, however, such as fracking, climate change, Medicare for all and the biggest corporate power grab in American history, establishment pimps prevail. So for the record in a Clinton presidency, you lose and the fossil fuel industry, big Pharma and manufacturers win. For the sake of your children and grandchildren, stay awake!



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