TPP? One global business still says, “No thanks.”
By Rose Marcario, Patagonia CEO
It is good to hear that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement has now toned down protections for high pharmaceutical prices and eliminated legal sanctions that help tobacco companies defeat local anti-smoking laws. Better protections for labor, long trumpeted but never delivered in a succession of trade pacts, may well be part of the new language, as well as stronger protections for wildlife from financial exploitation.
Nevertheless, as TPP enters its next phase—ministerial rewrites, a White House push for support from business and the public, an eventual vote in Congress—we remain opposed to TPP, even though we stand to gain financially from potential duty relief within the 12-nation region.
The biggest problem remains the secrecy attendant to the TPP. Its Fast Track authority enables the pact to be negotiated privately, without public comment, until voted by Congress, up or down without amendments, and signed into law. So everything any of us knows about this pact, good news and bad, is second-hand and speculative. That’s the opposite of transparency—and it is weak democracy. We can imagine 20 years from now our children shaking their heads that this practice was once considered acceptable.
We’re still concerned that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism allows foreign multinationals and hedge funds to sue the U.S. for lost profits should the U.S. strengthen environmental protections above the levels specified by the agreement. U.S. taxpayers would foot the bill.
We opposed the NAFTA and GATT agreements of the early 1990s because we suspected they would adversely affect our own business. They did. Before those agreements came into force, more than half of Patagonia’s garments were sourced from U.S. textile mills and sewn in U.S. factories. Before NAFTA and GATT, our designers and production staff could draw on resources in the U.S. as well as around the world. But NAFTA and GATT decimated the U.S. textile industry. Every week we hear from customers asking, almost wistfully, why we can’t make more clothing here at home. We don’t have a great answer: The infrastructure is gone but for all the simplest clothes.
The question, ultimately, isn’t whether trade is free, which it mostly is around the globe, but who benefits from a new trade pact. Does it serve the many, in our country and abroad, or only a few—those who have the economic and political muscle to get their interests written, opaquely and without public oversight, into law? That’s the biggest problem with TPP and the strongest reason to oppose it.