WASHINGTON, June 11, 2015 – Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who is taking a lead role in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), makes a case that the Obama administration could have avoided a civil war among Democrats if it had been more willing to accommodate her and others in Congress who sought a voice in the development of negotiating objectives.
Her description of several years of interaction with the White House, USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is consistent with the conventional wisdom in political Washington that President Obama has lagged in his relationship with congressional Democrats.
In a sometimes passionate talk to the Washington Agricultural Roundtable Tuesday, DeLauro held the floor for an hour and four minutes, answering questions from an audience of 40 that included representatives from many farm and agricultural business interests that are strong supporters of TPP and Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the so-called fast-track legislation that would ease completion of TPP negotiations. Roundtable luncheons are traditionally off the record, but DeLauro agreed to be quoted.
Her criticism comes days before Friday’s expected House vote on TPP, with Republican leaders needing support from perhaps dozens of Democrats, who are being pressured to oppose the bill by organized labor.
Asked why she and others were unable to convince the administration that it needed Democratic allies in Congress to move TPA forward, DeLauro said, “We have tried over and over and over and over and over again to do just that. I made it clear on food safety issues in 2011 I wanted to be involved. We gave them suggestions how to deal with a Vietnam or a Malaysia. We talked about being engaged in the fast track process. We gave them information that goes back years, very specifically about negotiating objectives,” DeLauro said.
“In 2011, I wrote Ambassador (Ron) Kirk (then the U.S. Trade Representative) and asked to be involved in the negotiations in regard to food safety. No response,” she said. “For years, I have been trying to address this particular issue. Stonewalled. I asked Secretary (of Agriculture Tom) Vilsack at a hearing before our committee about what role was USDA playing in this effort. Again, no answers. No returned calls.
“I did not want to write the treaty,” she added. “I wanted to have input. By not sharing anything with us and taking suggestions about what we could do . . . It goes back six years. It’s not like we haven’t tried. The answer has been no.”
DeLauro ticked off several familiar criticisms of the TPP negotiations: that they are conducted in secret; that the agreement would exacerbate the loss of U.S. manufacturing jobs; that even the enhanced labor and environmental provisions in the proposed treaty lack any meaningful enforcement apparatus, and that negotiators have refused to address currency manipulation.
“Trade agreements have created a regulatory environment that encourages some corporations to export jobs to countries where wages are low,” she said. In the three years since implementation of a trade agreement with Korea, “our trade deficit with South Korea has risen approximately 71 percent and that translates into a loss of 70,000 to 75,000 thousand jobs.”
The TPP, she argued, is “built on the same model. If you just project forward you can expect the same results. By intensifying competition with a number of developing countries, the TPP may have even more dramatic consequences for jobs and wages. It could raise the U.S. trade deficit to unprecedented levels.”
But her most pointed criticism concerned what DeLauro considers a threat to U.S. food safety regulations. “I believe we need to strengthen our food safety systems,” she said, adding that harmonizing regulations under the TPP “may well open the door to further challenge to our food safety laws.
DeLauro said a group of international veterinary experts recently found that “every single catfish in Vietnam was using antibiotics banned in the United States.”