Editorial: Lack of transparency on trade deals means no to fast-track

Congress has begun debating whether to give President Barack Obama fast-track trade authorization, the process that gave us NAFTA, just as two major deals lie on the horizon.

These historic trade pacts could have a huge impact on U.S. wages, jobs, the environment, immigration, finance, intellectual property, medicine, and food safety and prices. But while corporations have had input on the deals, the public has not. More troubling, members of Congress are barred from discussing the details. Rather than speeding this process along, we urge Florida’s congressional delegation to demand transparency and take a go-slow approach until they get it.

International trade is hugely important to Florida’s economy. Indeed, Florida’s international agricultural exports hit $4.2 billion last year, a new record, according to reporting by The Post’s Susan Salisbury.

Two pacts are being negotiated now, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam; and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, with the European Union. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is furthest along. These should be good for Florida ag, yet the state’s elected agriculture commissioner, Adam Putnam, is hesitant about the TPP. Why? The secrecy.

“Florida businesses and consumers stand to gain or lose more than most states from an Asian trade agreement,” Putnam said in response to emailed questions from The Post Editorial Board. “It is unfortunate that the Obama administration’s lack of transparency has undermined confidence in these negotiations … the American people deserve to see the deal first.”

We agree.

We contacted both of Florida’s senators to ask their views. Sen. Marco Rubio’s staff didn’t respond, though Rubio enthusiastically supported the TPP in a recent Wall Street Journal commentary.

“It will advance economic liberty and unleash free-market forces in the world’s most dynamic region,” Rubio wrote.

Sen. Bill Nelson’s staff said he was, so far, comfortable with the language in the Pacific pact. So was Nelson, a Senate Finance Committee member, one of the seven Democrats who voted in favor of fast-track authorization last month? Silence. So he voted “yes” then?

“In the end, Sen. Nelson won’t vote for a bad deal,” his staff answered. He did vote “yes.”

As details emerge, opposition is rising across both parties.

Doctors Without Borders warned the trade pact’s intellectual property language will restrict generics and hinder global access to medications. A letter from 14 members of Congress warned it could limit already slim U.S. food safety inspections, noting that Vietnamese and Malaysian seafood has contained banned antibiotics.

And then there are natural gas exports and hydraulic fracturing, also know as “fracking.” The trade group America’s Natural Gas Alliance enthusiastically supports fast-track trade approval, saying it will “better enable us to export our abundant energy to allies overseas while strengthening our energy security here at home.”

That might help the trade deficit. But would it weaken environmental protections? The Sierra Club thinks so. Reports suggest the pacts contain a”dispute resolution” clause that allow corporations to sue governments in secret tribunals if their profits are infringed.

According to Public Citizen, “These tribunals are empowered to impose trade sanctions until laws are changed — and in some agreements corporations can privately enforce the rules and demand payments from governments.”

This raises the question: If Palm Beach County passed an ordinance banning fracking around our sensitive aquifers, could the ban be attacked in a tribunal? It appears so. Another concern: Sen. Elizabeth Warren warns the Wall Street regulations in Dodd-Frank could be challenged in a tribunal, something Obama strongly denies.

If the Obama administration wants support for the trade pact and fast-track authority, it should be willing to show the public what’s in the trade deals before the fast-track vote. This is, after all, a government of the people. Otherwise, Floridians should say, “no deal.”

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