A few weeks ago, the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act” was introduced into Congress. With words like “bipartisan” and “accountability” in the name, it sounds like the kind of bill everyone would want. Known by its other name, the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track Bill, it might raise a few more red flags.
Fast Track is the mechanism that would give the President authority to sign international trade agreements without Congressional oversight or input. President Obama has his sights set on signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive agreement involving a dozen countries along the Pacific Rim. Though negotiations have been largely secret, leaked texts reveal this agreement would have similar negative impacts on farmers at home and abroad, working families, and the environment as did NAFTA, but on a much larger scale.
Opposition to Fast Track is fierce, with some concerned that the process is so anti-democratic that the ends will not justify the means. Others are concerned that the TPP will be a disaster for the 99% and that stopping Fast Track is the key to stopping the TPP.
There are still an alarming number of people who have never heard of Fast Track or the TPP, but among those who have is a broad diversity of opponents.
In the days following the bill’s introduction, citizens in at least 50 U.S. cities and others around the world took to the streets for demonstrations opposing Fast Track and unfair trade policies as part of a Global Day of Action.
Mark Bittman, journalist and food writer, recently called the TPP, “a blatant attack on labor, farmers, food safety, public health and even national sovereignty.”
Members of Congress themselves oppose Fast Track. Senator Elizabeth Warren, for example, has a petition demanding the TPP be public.
Last fall, Fair World Project joined over 500 organizations in a letter to Senator Ron Wyden opposing Fast Track. These organizations were national and local labor unions and labor rights activists, environmental organizations, religious organizations, and farmer groups. Another letter to Congress this spring focused on the food and agriculture affects of Fast Track and was signed by over 100 farmer and farmworker groups and their allies.
Within days of the Ryan-Hatch Fast Track bill’s introduction over 1,500 organizations joined together in a letter opposing Fast Track. Signatories this time include businesses as diverse and iconic as Maggie’s Organics (apparel), Equal Exchange (coffee, chocolate, fruit, nuts), Dr. Bronner’s (soap), and Dean’s Beans (coffee). These are all brands that know bad trade agreements will be a disaster for the farmers they partner with to bring products to the market. Fast Track is bad for business at home and it’s bad for farmers everywhere. Ben & Jerry’s has even set up a page on its website explaining why they are worried about Fast Track and the specific trade agreements Fast Track would usher in.
Unfortunately, not all businesses get it. Fair World Project has been asking Starbucks to speak out against Fast Track also. Starbucks has a place on the elite TPP advisory committee. Yet when we’ve asked Starbucks if they will oppose Fast Track and the TPP, they point to their ethical sourcing policy for coffee. After NAFTA, millions of farmers were forced off their land. No ethical sourcing plan can save farmers from unfair trade policy.
Opposition to Fast Track is broad and strong, but as the Starbucks example shows, its proponents are powerful and stubborn. Last year a similar bill stalled in Congress and we can defeat Fast Track again as more and more of us, from all corners of government, business, and citizen, speak up to demand trade policies that work for people.