Skip to content

Hirono: TPP Must Be Renegotiated to Prioritize American Workers

Today, Senators Mazie K. Hirono, Sherrod Brown (D-OH), and others told the Obama Administration that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should not be considered by Congress until it is renegotiated. In a letter to the Administration today, the Senators outlined TPP’s fundamental flaws and the need to fix them before Congress votes on the agreement, which is the biggest trade agreement ever negotiated.

“Although we hear that every new trade deal is supposed to ‘level the playing field’ for workers, these agreements end up doing the opposite,” said Senator Hirono. “This is particularly true for Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Company workers who will lose their jobs after illegal subsidies on Mexican sugar irreparably damaged our domestic sugar industry. Congress should not consider an agreement as massive and far-reaching as the TPP until it has been renegotiated to ensure it protects American jobs, raises American wages, and safeguards the environment.”


Click here to download high resolution image 

Senator Hirono holds up a bottle of HC&S sugar as an example of industries negatively affected by trade

The letter was also signed by U.S. Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Al Franken (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA).

Full text of the letter is available below.

Dear President Obama:

We write to underscore the fundamental flaws of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement.  Until these provisions are fixed through renegotiation, it is not appropriate for Congress to consider this trade agreement.  Passing the TPP in its current form will perpetuate a trade policy that advantages corporations at the expense of American workers. 

First and foremost, the agreement includes investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which means our country’s own public health, worker safety, and environmental standards, among others, are vulnerable to corporate challenges.  Recent investigative reporting by BuzzFeed reveals the extent to which ISDS has become an integral part of profit-maximizing strategies for corporations.  ISDS challenges, and even mere threats of ISDS challenges, have been used to secure extractive permits over community objections, to get executives out of criminal convictions, and to exonerate managers connected to a factory’s lead poisoning of children.  Such a corporate handout does not belong in our trade agreements. 

The TPP labor provisions are also unacceptable.  The text does not ban trade in goods made with forced or child labor; it simply requires each party to discourage, in whatever manner it considers appropriate, the importation of goods produced by forced or compulsory child labor.  And the language on acceptable conditions of work with respect to minimum wages will be enforced only in export processing zones, which leaves TPP parties free to reduce worker safety protections and minimum wages provided they do so economy-wide.  The consistency plans for Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei are inadequate and will not ensure full compliance with international labor rights before the TPP enters into force.  Vietnam, for example, will not have to allow free and independent unions at any level greater than a single enterprise for the first five years of the agreement.  And Mexico, which refused to negotiate a consistency plan, has made promises of improvement but presently has no credible plan for protecting workers’ rights once TPP is implemented. 

The TPP countries’ joint declaration on currency is similarly insignificant.  It established a forum for TPP partners to discuss currency manipulation, but there is no enforcement mechanism to ensure our trading partners do not manipulate their exchange rates for export advantages.  The forum will meet annually to consider exchange rate policies and their impact on TPP countries.  They will issue only a report on their findings, leaving U.S. workers and manufacturers, including those in the auto sector, without any recourse if a TPP trading partner intervenes in its currency for economic benefit.

The U.S. auto sector will also be hurt by TPP’s rules of origin for autos, which will undermine the North American Free Trade Agreement’s rules of origin.  Under TPP’s rules of origin, non-TPP countries can contribute more than half the value of a TPP-traded car.  Overnight, the North American supply chain will be changed.  TPP’s weak rules of origin will threaten the hundreds of thousands of American jobs in the U.S. auto supply chain because the components they produce can now be sourced from China or other countries without losing the agreement’s tariff benefits. 

We also want to respond to claims that TPP is important for U.S. national security.  We fear that the agreement would further erode American manufacturing and our defense industrial base.  Empowering multinational corporations, who have allegiance to no country, through ISDS will actually weaken the ability of our TPP partners to govern.  Meaningful government engagement and relationship-building with our allies will advance U.S. national security interests in the Asia Pacific far more effectively than a trade agreement that promotes the interests of corporations at the expense of citizens.

This list of TPP flaws is not exhaustive, but it signifies some of the provisions that need to be renegotiated before the agreement is considered by Congress.  It is simply not accurate to call an agreement progressive if it does not require trading partners to ban trade in goods made with forced labor or includes a special court for corporations to challenge legitimate, democratically developed public policies.  Passing TPP before these and other provisions are fixed will hasten the erosion of U.S. manufacturing and middle class jobs, and accelerate the corporate race to the bottom.  

We urge you to work with our TPP partners to negotiate a trade agreement that stands up for American workers and grows our middle class.