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The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Deal That Sanders, Clinton and Trump All Oppose

Presidential candidates Sanders, Clinton and Trump all see the TPP as a bad trade deal.

Labor organizations protest the Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership in a rally in Washington, DC, on May 7, 2014. (Photo: AFGE)

Part of the Series

While economists stand divided over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the deal faces unanimous disapproval from US presidential candidates Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump.

After years of negotiation, member nations finally signed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which ties together 12 Pacific Rim nations in a common trade agreement, on February 4, 2016. However, the trade deal will still require extensive negotiations to actually come into force. President Obama has listed the TPP as one of his top priorities to pursue before his presidential term ends on January 20, 2017.

Even though the TPP has been extensively discussed by the 2016 presidential candidates, not all US voters know about it. According to a Morning Consult Poll, of more than 10,000 registered voters surveyed, 72 percent responded that they had either not heard of the deal or had heard “not much” about it. Similar polls conducted by CBS/The New York Timesshowed that as many as 48 percent knew nothing about the TPP.

Bernie Sanders has announced that he plans to bring concerns around the trade deal — including the threat it poses to protection of workers and the environment, and the ways in which it would limit access to critically needed prescription drugs — to the 187-member Democratic Platform Committee on July 8-9 in Orlando, Florida.

The Vermont senator has stood against the debated trade deal since the beginning of his campaign and continues to urge the Democrats to oppose the deal during the lame-duck session of Congress, which is to begin on November 8, 2016, after US elections.

Sanders took to Twitter this week and said, “The Democrats must go on record in opposition to holding a vote on the TPP.” He tweeted that trade deals similar to the TPP, like NAFTA and permanent normal trade relations with China, have led to the loss of three quarters of a million and 3 million jobs, respectively. Sanders also advised people to sign a petition in order to fight the trade deal, which, if passed, could “hurt consumers and cost American jobs.”

But while many Democrats feel the pact does not meet the standards, others in the party support the trade deal championed by President Obama. Hillary Clinton’s stance on the TPP had been shifting before she finally chose to oppose the trade deal. In a 2015 CNN Democratic debate, Clinton explainedher changing stance on the trade deal, saying that she absorbed “new information and changed my mind to oppose the TPP.” She added, “And I want to make sure that I can look into the eyes of any middle-class American and say, ‘this will help raise your wages.’ And I concluded I could not.”

Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has condemned the TPP, calling it a “disaster” for the country. In a rally in Ohio, he said that the trade deal is “done and pushed by special interests who want to rape our country.”

What Is the TPP and Why Is It Controversial?

The TPP is one of the largest and also one of the most controversial trade deals; it connects the US to Japan, Brunei, Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Mexico, Vietnam, Canada, Singapore and Peru. The trade deal is deeply criticized because it could increase the gap of economic inequality.

The 12 member nations that signed the trade deal account for 40 percent of the world economy. The pact allows more trade flexibility in nations that are ruled by strict state-driven laws and poor working conditions. But opponents of the TPP have underlined human rights, environmental and sovereignty concerns around the agreement.

Intense Lobbying Efforts

The TPP has received extensive support from various interest groups that would benefit if the deal became official. In 2015, according to Senate Office of Public Records reports reviewed by Reuters, the lobbying expenditures by members of a pro-TPP coalition rose from $118 million in the fourth quarter of 2014 to $135 million in the second quarter of 2015. According to Center for Responsive Politics, “clients who reported lobbying on TPP accounted for nearly 30 percent of all lobby spending.” In a statement, Bernie Sanders added, “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”

A Trade Deal Negotiated Largely in Secret

The TPP claims to write “the rules for global trade,” but its negotiation process has largely been carried out in secret. Raising questionson the confidentiality of TPP, Sanders says, “If TPP was such a good deal for America, the administration should have the courage to show the American people exactly what is in this deal, instead of keeping the content of the TPP a secret.”

While the TPP benefits are mentioned broadly on the website, a leaked classified document posted by WikiLeakshighlights intellectual property concerns. The classified document observes that under the TPP deal, foreign firms will be allowed to “sue” governments for “unlimited compensation.” Such arrangements could raise environmental and legal issues, leading to a conflict between domestic and international interests. Moreover, once adopted, TPP cannot be reversed or amended without the approval of all of its 12 member nations.

Environmental Issues

Rising skepticism around ecological issues has resulted in more than 500,000 anti-TPP petitions from environmental groups. A letter issued by the groups said, “The TPP and [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership] would more than double the number of fossil fuel corporations that could follow TransCanada’s example and challenge US policies in private tribunals.”

The TPP claims to include the “highest environmental standards of any trade agreement in history,” with provisions against wildlife trafficking and illegal logging and fishing. The deal also encourages measures aimed at the preservation of whales, dolphins, rhinos, elephants and other species.

However, the TPP does not mention any binding agreements on the prohibition of shark finning or commercial whaling, nor does it force any member country to lawfully abide by any strict trade-related provisions. TPP members Peru and Mexico are the largest exporters of shark fins, whereas TPP members Malaysia and Vietnam are among the world’s top shark-fin importers. Since the 1985 moratorium on commercial whaling, TPP member Japan has killed more whales than any other nation. The country justified that the killings were for “scientific” purposes and continues to kill hundreds of whales each year, according to a report.

The environmental claims of the TPP have received strong disapproval from many environmentalists who believe that the partnership is far from being a “progressive” deal. Opponents of the TPP say that even if environmental standards were included, they will most likely be wrapped in vague and toothless language.

Threat to Domestic Economy

In a statement, President Obama mentions that the partnership will benefit “farmers, ranchers, and manufacturers by eliminating more than 18,000 taxes that various countries put on our products.” But Bernie Sanders argues that the TPP “follows failed trade deals with Mexico, China and other low-wage countries that have cost millions of jobs and shuttered tens of thousands of factories across the United States.” US corporations will offshore jobs to low-wage countries, accelerating the “race to the bottom” and facilitating exploitation of foreign workers.

After assessing the economic impact in its 792-page report, the US International Trade Commission (ITC) concluded that that the TPP is likely to “have only a small positive effect on US growth.” According to Public Citizen, the commission’s “faulty methodologies led to overtly optimistic projections.”

The ITC report estimates that the trade deficit will increase the US global trade deficit by $21.7 billion by 2032. The deal is likely to worsen the trade balances of 65 percent of 55 US agriculture, manufacturing and services sectors. In a statement, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, points out that the ITC analysis “suggests that if ever implemented, the TPP could really be disastrous.”

The TPP claims to be a “free-trade deal,” but could be far from it, and as Bernie Sanders says, the trade deal “follows in the footsteps of other unfettered free-trade agreements like NAFTA … [which] have forced American workers to compete against desperate and low-wage labor around the world.”

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