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Thiese: Beware of secrecy surrounding TPP talks

Published November 26, 2013 5:22 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

As reported in The Salt Lake Tribune this past week, leaders from the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries met in Salt Lake City for another round of negotiations regarding a trade deal that's now more than three years in the making. Called the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP), this deal will affect millions of workers and their families, including those here in Utah.

This massive trade pact encompasses more than just traditional trade issues like tariffs. It deals with workers' rights, access to medicine, environmental policies and many more variables that the U.S. and participating countries — Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore — must agree upon.

Despite the fact that the pact has been negotiated in near complete secrecy, what has been revealed is deeply troubling. It seems clear that, behind this veil of secrecy, the TPP deals with not only free trade, but bigger government, stricter laws and less accountability. As a result, the land, water and air in these 12 countries, along their borders, and across the oceans will all suffer.

Through a little-known provision called "investor-state dispute settlement," the TPP will elevate foreign corporations to the nation status. This gives corporations the unbridled power to challenge virtually any policy, including environmental protections, which they think will harm their profits. The TPP then allows these businesses to sue governments in private trade tribunals for unlimited compensation.

That greedy corporations will take full advantage of these powers is a no-brainer. ExxonMobil and Chevron have already used similar rules in other trade deals to initiate more than 500 lawsuits against 95 governments. One such case currently under way involves a U.S. oil company suing Canada, under the North American Free Trade Agreement, for $250 million because the province's reasonable moratorium on fracking might hurt their ability to rake in more profits.

Utahns, and all Americans, should be concerned that TPP may also increase fracking — the dirty, dangerous petroleum extraction technique that brings along its own set of environmental hazards — in Utah. Thanks to TPP, for example, the U.S. would have to automatically approve all exports of fracked gas to countries in the agreement, thus opening the floodgates for fracking in our state and country and sacrificing our air and water quality. Utahns have already seen how fracking threatens our air, contaminates precious water, and spoils special places like the San Rafael Swell. Frankly, Americans can't afford to see any more.

As trade negotiators meet and craft the terms of the trade pact, they must keep these significant risks in mind.

Recently, watchdog organization Wikileaks released the full draft text of TPP that deals with intellectual property. This draft revealed that the pact is expected to reduce access to critical, life-saving medicines for those in need. But almost the entire pact, including its chapters on the environment, is still kept under lock and key.

Utahns, and all Americans, are right to voice their displeasure about TPP. This treaty must be unveiled so that the American public has meaningful input on the terms of this pact that will have a severe and long-lasting impact on American families' food, water and air, and the stability of our climate.

Steven M. Thiese, Salt Lake City, serves on the executive committee of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club.






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