SOUTH PORTLAND — President Obama’s final State of the Union address Tuesday night included another presidential pitch for Congress to pass the ill-conceived Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, as it is commonly known.

This 12-nation agreement would be a very bad deal for Maine’s working men and women, our environment, our health and our democracy. On the other hand, it would be a great deal for the multinational corporations that were largely responsible for drafting the TPP, a so-called “free trade agreement” that follows the same failed model as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The TPP and other modern trade agreements really don’t have much to do with trade at all. Only six of the 30 TPP chapters deal with traditional trade matters such as tariffs. The rest of the TPP requires binding limits on a dizzying array of financial, environmental, food and other regulations. It also provides big drug companies new monopolies and expanded prescription patents that are likely to drive up prices.

In practice, the TPP is an alternative lawmaking system that bypasses our democracy and undermines our national sovereignty. It’s custom-made for corporations that can’t get what they want from our elected representatives in federal, state and local governments.

The trade agreements, once ratified, are international treaties that bind the signatories to their provisions and can effectively override or prevent laws and regulations designed to protect our jobs, our privacy, our security, our health and our safety. These agreements are designed to ensure the corporations that operate in the countries covered by these agreements have their future profits or potential profits protected – regardless of how everyday people may be affected.

The expanded investor-state dispute settlement provision of the TPP represents a very real threat to our ability to make our own laws and govern our own country. Lawsuits filed under such provisions are argued in extra-judicial secret tribunals that bear little resemblance to American courts and have zero transparency.


During a visit last year to Nike headquarters to push the TPP, Obama addressed critics who have worried that the trade agreement could undermine our environmental and health policies. He said, “They’re making stuff up!”

But just last week, TransCanada filed a lawsuit under the investor-state dispute settlement provision of NAFTA, demanding $15 billion from U.S taxpayers because of the Obama administration’s decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

As Lori Wallach, director of the nonprofit advocacy group Global Trade Watch, told “Democracy Now!” host Amy Goodman, “The ‘making stuff up’ comment is going to have to get shelved,” because “this attack by TransCanada on our domestic, democratic government decision not to have a pipeline is the exact kind of case he said couldn’t possibly happen – well, it just did.”

The expanded investor-state dispute settlement provision in the Trans-Pacific Partnership will also make it even cheaper and less risky to offshore American jobs to low-wage countries. The pro-free-trade Cato Institute considers these investor protections in the TPP to be a subsidy on offshoring.

Maine workers can’t compete with workers in many of the TPP countries who earn just pennies for every dollar we make. The elimination of tariffs on shoes from Vietnam could well lead to the elimination of 900 manufacturing jobs at New Balance here in Maine.

Maine has lost 32,872 manufacturing jobs (or 39.2 percent) since NAFTA was implemented (1994-2015), according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The TPP is a much larger trade agreement than NAFTA and poses an even greater threat to Maine workers.

The TPP is not about the U.S. writing the rules versus China doing so, as Obama suggested. The TPP’s rules were those demanded by the 500 official corporate trade advisers who had special access to the secret trade talks while the rest of us were shut out of the process.

It is time for us to embrace a new model for trade that places the protection of our environment, our health, our democracy and our workers above corporate profits. We’re disappointed that President Obama used a portion of his final State of the Union address to advocate for an agreement that threatens to undermine many of his own policy priorities.

Maine’s congressional delegation was united in voting against the “fast track” trade promotion authority bill last year, which limits debate on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and will prevent them from offering any amendments to it. They should also be united in opposing this disastrous trade agreement whenever it comes up for a final vote.

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