Write Your Senator to Challenge USTR Froman this Thursday and Ask the Questions He Doesn’t Want to Hear
You Have a Unique Opportunity to Make Froman Answer for the Failings of Past U.S. Trade Agreements
This Thursday, May 1, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will attend a hearing with the Senate Finance Committee to promote the President’s trade agenda.
Use the Form <in the link above> to Email Your Senator Today and Send Some Key Questions You Want Asked to Challenge Froman’s Misinformation
Here is the letter that was sent (based on my zipcode) to Senator Casey:
As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, you have an opportunity to ask U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman some important questions at the hearing this Thursday.
The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would be the most significant international commercial agreement since the World Trade Organization. The Obama administration intended to complete it at the end of last year, and now says it will do so as soon as possible this year. But there has been such tight secrecy about the almost-completed pact that most in Congress and everyone they represent do not have critical information about this momentous pact. I am relying on you to stand up for me and ask USTR Froman the critical questions below:
1. Sixty senators and 230 members of the House have called for binding currency disciplines to be included in the TPP. As far as I am aware, U.S. negotiators have not even tabled language related to currency, much less secured its approval from other TPP parties. Does the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative plan to simply ignore this bipartisan, bicameral, majority-supported demand from Congress? If so, how do you square that with the Constitution, which clearly states in Article 1, section 8 that it is Congress that “shall have the power…to regulate commerce with foreign nations”? Congress has been very clear on this question.
2. The draft TPP text indicates that the pact would ban the application of Buy American policies when firms operating in TPP countries bid on U.S. government contracts. This means that the U.S. government would be prohibited from giving preferential treatment to U.S. businesses for U.S. government projects funded by U.S. taxpayers, even when competing against, say, Chinese firms operating in Vietnam. Polls show that nine out of ten Republicans, Democrats and independents support Buy American. Why is USTR negotiating terms in TPP that would gut this popular, job-creating policy?
3. The draft TPP text includes an extraordinary investor-state mechanism that would empower foreign corporations to circumvent our domestic courts and directly challenge the U.S. government over domestic policies they oppose before foreign tribunals and demand unlimited compensation from the U.S. Treasury. There is no mechanism to appeal these foreign tribunals’ orders. And the number of such cases, and the scope of policies being challenged, has increased dramatically in recent years with cases against countries’ domestic court rulings and land use laws, Australia’s cigarette plain packaging law to curb smoking; Canada’s patent law; and more. The United States has not yet lost such a case under existing agreements. But most of those pacts did not include major capital exporters like Japan or the European nations Given that corporations based in TPP and EU countries have more than 40,000 and 24,000 U.S. subsidiaries respectively, the TPP and the Transatlantic agreements would result in an enormous increase in U.S. exposure to such extrajudicial challenges to U.S. policies and billions in compensation demands. The bipartisan National Conference of State Legislatures is among the many opponents of expanding this regime. Congress has been explicit in past trade authority delegations that we should not provide greater rights to foreign firms operating here than those available to domestic firms. Why then is the administration seeking to provide foreign firms access to these extrajudicial tribunals and related rights only available to foreign investors to demand compensation for complying with the same laws as U.S. firms?
4. Healthcare costs continue to rise, diminishing access to affordable care for U.S. consumers while driving up the Medicare and Medicaid costs that are the largest contributor to our long-term national budget deficit. Members of both parties have proposed measures to control health costs, such as through better usage of drug formularies to prioritize the most cost-effective drugs for federal health benefit coverage. But, as the AARP has pointed out, such proposals conflict with draft TPP provisions that appear to bar usage of government negotiating leverage to secure lower prices for beneficiaries of Medicare or other programs. Why are we contemplating a pact that is at odds with the widely-shared goal of lowering healthcare costs?
5. As you know, the Stop Online Piracy Act and related Protect IP Act were widely rejected by both parties and both houses of Congress, and by the American public. But the draft TPP text on intellectual property contains an array of worrisome SOPA-like provisions. For example, a version of the TPP’s IP Chapter text that leaked late last year showed that the U.S. alone was calling for severe copyright liability rules for Internet service providers that, like SOPA, could limit innovation and impinge on Internet users’ free speech. That U.S. TPP proposal would roll back the ISP liability waivers found in U.S. law. Given the debacle of SOPA and PIPA, why does the TPP contain similar overreaching provisions?
6. I am all for expanding U.S. exports. Given the 2012 U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement was used by USTR as the template for the TPP, I am interested in the outcomes of that agreement. I have heard you say that the pact increased U.S. exports. But the official U.S. government trade data provided by the U.S. International Trade Commission shows that in the pact’s first two years, U.S. exports to Korea dropped 11 percent. What data is USTR using as a basis of the statement that our exports have increased? U.S. exports declined in 11 of the 15 sectors representing the largest value of U.S. exports to Korea, so one product’s declining exports – I have heard mention of corn – does not explain what appears to be a falling exports in diverse sectors. And, average monthly exports of all U.S. agricultural products to Korea have fallen 41 percent in comparison to the year before the deal. I have seen the USTR release mentioning some specific ag products with expanding exports, but those sectors are small dollar items while we lost $20 million on average under each month of the FTA in U.S. exports to Korea of meat – one of the sectors that the administration promised would be among the biggest beneficiaries of the deal. And I noted the USTR release mentioning growing auto exports – using a percentage of gains. But we only sold 3,400 more vehicles from 2011 to 2013. Given that pre-FTA exports were also tiny – 8,252 vehicles – USTR can express the small increase of 3,400 cars as a “40 percent” gain. But 125,000 more Korean-produced Hyundais and Kias were imported and sold in the United States after the FTA than before when Hyundai and Kia imports already topped 1.1 million vehicles. USTR’s news release excluded the auto parts sector, but US exports of auto arts dropped 12 percent since the FTA. In January 2014, monthly automotive imports from Korea topped $2 billion for the first time on record. The post-FTA flood of automotive imports has provoked a 19 percent increase in the average monthly U.S. auto trade deficit with Korea. Can you explain why you characterize the Korea FTA, the TPP’s template, as working well for the United States?
Please send me a response and let me know how USTR Froman responds to these questions. If you do not have an opportunity to ask them directly at the hearing, may I please ask you to submit these questions as written follow up inquires to USTR. Thank you.