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President Barack Obama attends the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting at the ASEAN Summit at Peace Palace in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Nov. 20, 2012. (Official White House photo/Pete Souza)

Gabbard speaks out against fast-tracking of Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Obama administration is negotiating the largest U.S. free-trade agreement in secret and on a fast track

News Report
Hawaii Independent Staff

Washington, DC—Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard joined with 35 other Democratic freshmen to express reservations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP FTA) negotiations and the prospect of delegating Fast Track “trade promotion authority” to the President.  They voiced their concerns in a letter sent to House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and Ranking Ways and Means Member Sander Levin that was spearheaded by Wisconsin Congressman Mark Pocan.

“The administration has yet to release draft texts after more than three years of negotiations, and the few TPP FTA texts that have leaked reveal serious problems,” the letter reads.  “Thus, we are especially concerned about any action that would transfer Congress’s exclusive Constitutional trade authority to the president.”

The TPP is poised to become the largest free trade agreement in U.S. history. The twelve countries currently involved — the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam — already cover approximately 40% of the global economy, and the TPP also includes a “docking mechanism” that could enable other countries to join over time.  The TPP’s seventeenth major round of negotiations concluded in Lima, Peru last month, and negotiators are racing to complete their work by an October deadline set by President Barack Obama and others. 

Under Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Congress possesses exclusive authority to determine the terms of international trade agreements, but the Obama administration wants Congress to transfer that authority to the executive through a new delegation of Fast Track “trade promotion authority.”  The President’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, reiterated that request during his Senate confirmation hearing last Thursday. 

Fast Track delegates Congress’ constitutional trade authority to the executive branch, allowing negotiators to determine the contents of trade agreement and to sign them before Congress has a vote on the matter.  The rarely-used procedure also allows trade agreements to circumvent ordinary Congressional review, with the White House writing lengthy implementing legislation that is not amendable in committee or on the floor and must be voted on within 90 days of submission, leaving Congress with only take-it-or-leave-it approval of a completed package that, in the case of the TPP, is expected to be at least hundreds of pages long and cover some 29 separate chapters, affecting everything from food safety standards and medicine patents to energy regulations and public procurement decisions. 

A copy of the letter and its signatories follows:

The Honorable Sander M. Levin
Ranking Member
Ways and Means Committee
1106 Longworth House Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20515

Cc: The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Dear Ranking Member Levin:

We look forward to working with you to establish United States trade policies that promote the creation of American jobs and support our national economic interests while safeguarding Congress’s prerogatives to determine what domestic policies best promote the public interest.

As the economy continues to recover from the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression, we can all agree that we cannot afford to have American production and American jobs sent offshore because of unfair trade agreements that undermine our economic growth. When jobs and production factories are offshored, American wages are lost, American-made products decline, and our international interests are compromised.

Job offshoring was a major issue in the previous election that unites our constituents - Democrats, Republicans and Independents alike. Polling consistently shows that Americans oppose our past model of “trade” agreements that facilitate offshoring, undermine Buy American policies, and subject American laws to review by foreign tribunals empowered to order payment of unlimited U.S. tax dollars to foreign firms that seek to avoid playing by the same rules as U.S. firms.

Thus, we write with serious concerns about both the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement (TPP FTA) now being negotiated by the Obama administration and the prospect of Congress delegating wide swaths of its Constitutional authority to regulate trade (Article 1, Section 8) to the president through “Fast Track”  or any other open-ended delegation of “trade promotion” authority.

In the last Congress, two-thirds of House Democrats joined together on a letter to President Obama demanding access to the draft TPP FTA texts and raising concerns about how the pact could internationally preempt Congress’s domestic policymaking prerogatives. They wrote:

“Since the United States will be obliged to bring existing and future U.S. policies into compliance with the norms established in the TPP FTA, the negotiations USTR is pursuing will create binding policies on future Congresses in numerous areas. These could include those related to labor, patent and copyright, land use, food, agriculture and product standards, natural resources, the environment, professional licensing, state-owned enterprises and government procurement policies, as well as financial, healthcare, energy, telecommunications and other service sector regulations.”

Unfortunately, today TPP FTA talks continue in extreme secrecy. The administration has yet to release draft texts after more than three years of negotiations, and the few TPP FTA texts that have leaked reveal serious problems. Thus, we are especially concerned about any action that would transfer Congress’s exclusive constitutional trade authority to the president.

Congress needs to work together to get American trade policy back on track - not give away its authority to do so.  Reducing our authority to ensure our trade agreements serve the public interest will undermine our efforts to create American jobs and to reform a misguided trade policy that has devastated our manufacturing base through the offshoring of American production and American jobs.

Indeed, given the vast scope of today’s “trade” agreements, we do not believe that a broad delegation of Congress’s constitutional trade authority is generally appropriate. Negotiations on the TPP FTA delve deeply into many non-trade matters under the authority of Congress and state legislatures. If completed, the TPP FTA would lock in policies on these non-trade matters that could not be altered without consent of all other signatory countries. Thus, ensuring Congress has a robust role in the formative aspects of trade agreements is vital.

We are all deeply committed to creating jobs in our communities and across the country. To do so effectively, we believe it is critical that Congress maintains its authority to ensure American trade agreements are a good deal for the American people.


U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (WI-02), Ron Barber (AZ-02), Joyce Beatty (OH-03), Ami Bera (CA-07), Julia Brownley (CA-26), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Matthew A. Cartwright (PA-17), William L. Enyart (IL-12), Bill Foster (IL-11), Lois Frankel (FL-22), Tulsi Gabbard (HI-02), Pete P. Gallego (TX-23), Joe Garcia (FL-26), Alan Grayson (FL-09), Steven A. Horsford (NV-04), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Hakeem S. Jeffries (NY-08), Joseph Kennedy, III (MA-04), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ-01), Annie McLane Kuster (NH-02), Alan S. Lowenthal (CA-47), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM-01), Daniel B. Maffei (NY-24), Patrick Murphy (FL-18), Gloria Negrete McLeod (CA-35) , Richard M. Nolan (MN-08), Beto O’Rourke (TX-16), Donald M. Payne Jr. (NJ-10), Raul Ruiz (CA-36), Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01), Kyrsten Sinema (AZ-09), Eric Swalwell (CA-15), Mark Takano (CA-41), Dina Titus (NV-01), Juan Vargas (CA-51), and Marc A. Veasey (TX-33)