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How a New Trade Deal Threatens Your Health

Washington DC Capitol Building

How a New Trade Deal Threatens Your Health


Erin Switalski

Executive Director

What if I told you that everything we’ve been working for to protect our health from toxic chemicals could be jeopardized with a single action of Congress in the coming weeks?

I’m talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade deal being discussed in Congress—and a bill to put this agreement on a fast track for approval. But, if passed, this agreement could lead to a gutting of environmental standards and consumer protections.

The TPP is a massive international trade pact being negotiated between the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. It would be the largest free trade agreement in U.S. history, covering approximately 40 percent of the global economy.

At face value, it makes sense. In order to increase economic activity, we need to remove barriers to trade. Sounds great. But, like any major deal, the devil is in the details. And the details of this proposed agreement are far too secret and risky to accept without great public scrutiny and informed debate in Congress.

So what exactly are supporters of health, the environment, and democracy concerned about?

For starters, the agreement will likely affect everything from labeling of GMO foods and food safety, to access to affordable medications, to invasion of data privacy, to “buy local” campaigns, and of course, chemical regulation. (ie. – that toy full of lead manufactured in China might be allowed into the U.S. after all—even though U.S. law limits lead in toys—because to refuse it could cost the government too much money.)

How is that possible?  Because like so many other trade agreements before it, this proposed pact includes a dispute-resolution system that would allow transnational companies to challenge countries’ domestic laws via an international tribunal. In past tribunals, such challenges have been judged by corporate leaders. In other words, companies could sue governments (meaning taxpayers would be liable for any compensation) over any law that they think will result in reduced profits.

Sounds crazy? It’s happening. In May 2013, Quebec introduced a ban on fracking, an oil and gas extraction method that carries significant environmental and health risks. Now, Lone Pine Resources Inc., a US company that had a contract with the Canadian government, is now asking the government for $250 million dollars in financial compensation for their loss of potential profits.

Sound absurd? We think so too. Right now, Congress is deciding whether or not to approve “fast-track” legislation.   

If they do, they essentially hand over their power to the President and give up their right to negotiate agreement terms that could protect health and the environment. They allow Michael Froman, the (unelected) U.S. Trade Representative, to do all the negotiating, with the 600 corporate lobbyists who are a part of the trade talks.  They give up their right to see versions of the pact in process, the deal will bypass the regular Congressional committee process, and when the final version of the proposed law comes before them, they may only vote it up or down. They cannot propose amendments and debate is extremely limited.

Sound anti-democratic?  It is.

This trade agreement has the potential to undermine everything we are working for.  If this trade deal passes without any public debate—as it’s on track to do—we can kiss the chance for meaningful chemical policy reform goodbye.

Instead, we will put the power of regulating the chemicals in our products directly into the hands of the world’s largest corporations, whose primary interest is rolling back regulations in order to maximize profits.  That will lead to more unsafe chemicals in the products we put onto our bodies and bring into our homes.

In order to stop this, Congress needs to hear from you, now. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are raising serious concerns about fast track.  They just need the backing of their constituents now.  YOU have the power to ensure that your health isn’t traded away.

To learn more about this agreement and oppose “fast-track” legislation, visit our allies at the Citizen Trade Campaign.

3 Responses

  1. Wow! Thank you for informing me about this Erin….it will be terrible if this goes through!
    I urge everyone to click on “take action” to send a letter to your congressional representatives! It only took me a few seconds and could have a big impact!
    Thanks Women’s Voices for the Earth for spreading the word!

  2. Allison Moore

    This is EXTORTION: Threatening to destroy the environment unless they get paid. Destructive companies can come up with all kinds of ways to show how they “wouldn’t make money” by being prevented from abusing the planet. So WRONG in every way.

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