Update, March 31, 2015: The Seattle City Council approved the resolution opposing the fast-track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Seattle City Council is set to vote on a resolution Monday that takes a stance against fast-track trade promotion authority for the free trade deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.
Critics of the multinational deal say it puts too much power in the hands of business interests, and could potentially threaten labor and environmental protections such as future minimum wage laws or other local decisions.
The TPP trade deal would bind the US in a NAFTA-like treaty with several Pacific Rim nations, including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Activists around the globe have raised concerns the TPP will make corporate supremacy the law of the land, threatening the planet, international labor rights, public health, Internet freedom, and more.
Many local environmental and labor rights groups support the city-level resolution. Groups including the Sierra Club, 350 Seattle, and the King County Labor Council gave public comment supporting the resolution against fast-track authority at a city council committee meeting last week, and voiced their support at a press conference on the steps of City Hall on Thursday.
Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien’s anti-fast track resolution passed in committee and will be put to the full council on Monday.
Both Sawant and Councilmember Mike O’Brien are concerned over the dispute settlement procedures in TPP. The provisions would allow businesses to sue any governmental entity they see as infringing on their future profits.
Selden Prentice of 350 Seattle also worries about dispute settlement.
“So, for example, when Seattle passed its new minimum wage law, if the TPP had already passed, a multinational corporation from a TPP member country that employs workers in Seattle could have sued to challenge that law and could have demanded damages for lost profits,” Prentice said at Thursday’s press conference.
Councilmember Nick Licata noted at the committee meeting that the Seattle City Council opposed another multilateral trade agreement in 1999 on the basis of similar dispute resolution provisions.
“If this resolution passes, it will send a message to our delegation and to other cities considering similar resolutions,” Licata said in the meeting. “It’s important for municipalities to express their concerns about how federal legislation is superceding the ability of citizens to control their own lives in our local regions.”
Council President Tim Burgess was not decided on whether he will support the resolution, but he did feel that it was “a topic worthy of [the council’s] engagement.”
Burgess points out 40 percent of jobs in Washington are directly or indirectly related to international trade, including our city’s largest employers.
President Obama has been negotiating the TPP trade deal. As part of his trade agenda, the president is asking Congress for fast-track trade promotion authority, an authority that began in the Nixon era. If fast-track authority is approved, it would give greater power to the executive branch to negotiate the TPP, and limit the chances for Congress to question aspects of the deal.
Congress is currently debating fast-track, and expected to vote on the TPP within the next couple of months.
To proponents, it makes good business sense. To opponents, it undermines the democratic process, which critics have already called into question.
“The issue is that it hasn’t been transparent and we haven’t been involved,” said Robin Everett, Regional Representative of the Sierra Club, at Tuesday’s committee meeting. “There are over 600 corporations involved in drafting these trade rules – Dow Chemical, Peabody Coal, Exxon Mobil, Monsanto – not the Sierra Club and not our friends. How are we supposed to trust something that we aren’t able to see and be a part of?”
A city’s place to weigh in?
Seattle would be the second city in Washington to pass such a resolution. Bellingham’s city council unanimously passed a very similar resolution against fast-track authority last Monday.
The Seattle Times published an editorial criticizing the city’s move, calling the resolution an “ideological pursuit” and saying the council should “focus on matters closer to home.”
Councilmember O’Brien told The Seattle Globalist that the resolution could inspire more awareness of the issue locally, which may have federal consequences.
“As the citizens of Seattle and Washington learn more about this and their voices are being heard by the Congressional delegation, I think that will have an important impact,” O’Brien said.
Gillian Locascio, the director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, finds the idea that city government shouldn’t worry about the TPP “really patronizing.”
“This is going to impact all of our lives here in Seattle and even the kinds of policies Seattle City Council can make,” she said. “They have every right to scrutinize it and have an opinion.”
When asked for a response to the editorial, Sawant said, “When conservative elected officials and publications say that such and such issue is not relevant to Seattle, I think its our job to read between the lines… That argument really means that we don’t like this proposal because the business interests we represent are not happy with it. The idea that it’s not relevant to the city is simply a red herring – what it’s really about is that the multinational corporations are absolutely going to fight you tooth and nail if you try to stop TPP and fast-track.”
For more details on TPP, see 5 Reasons to Protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Editor’s note: The resolution being considered on Monday March 30 was proposed by Councilmember Mike O’Brien. An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which councilmember introduced the proposal.