Trans Pacific Partnership and the Vermont Brand
I was one of nine Vermont State Legislators who joined Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and Rep. Peter Welch this past summer in seeking to pressure the U.S. Congress to ensure full debate on the floor of the House and Senate on the international trade deal called the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Obama administration has quietly and unilaterally negotiated with dozens of foreign governments a plan that very few people know about. Purportedly 600 corporate CEO's and national heads of state, labor unions and officials know what is in this secret document that has not been released to the Senate or Congress. I, along with millions of others, would love to know. We are concerned that the lack of transparency does not bode well for average citizens of the United States and other nations around the world. While we do know very little, it was reported in The Guardian mid-year, that Arizona Senator and former presidential candidate John McCain received $51,700 in the first quarter of 2015 from companies, which are part of the U.S. Coalition for TPP. Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina received $60,000 for his vote for TPP. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa received $35,000 in the run-up to the vote for TPP and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, running for his first full six-year term in 2016 received $67,500 from pro-TPP corporations. These Senators and 56 others, including Senators Ayotte and Shaheen of New Hampshire voted to fast track the TPP. The vote was 60-for and 39 against.
The nine Vermont state legislators (who signed a letter along with a hundred other state legislators from 41 states) to Majority Leader McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Minority Leaders Reid and Pelosi underscored that we are deeply disturbed by the TTP. I for one, am disturbed that some U.S. Congressional delegates are bought by special interest and dark money that secures their jobs as legislators or as future lobbyists. Sadly, while none of us know what is specifically in the TPP document we know that eleven countries that share borders with the Pacific Ocean are involved. We know through Wikileaks.org releases of sealed documents of the TPP since 2013 that environmental laws, intellectual property rights and pharmaceuticals will be affected. For example, the TPP purportedly will raise the cost of medicine and create protections for the pharmaceutical industry. Leaks also indicate that the TPP could be problematic for U.S. workers, small businesses and in Vermont — our brand. The Vermont name is a special name. "Made in Vermont" signifies quality, wholesomeness, and goodness. By having the signage — "Vermont Maple Syrup" our state maple producers are recognized for making the best maple products in the world. The TPP partners could argue that Vermont products could prove to be an unfair advantage and force "Vermont" off our maple products label, to level the playing field. Vermont might then be sued under the TPP agreement if it refused to give up the Vermont brand name. This could happen because a quasi-judicial international economic tribunal put into place by the TPP agreement could allow a corporation to file suit based on claims that "Vermont made" adversely affects their future profits. We need to see the TPP document to verify this outrage. We need to have the Obama Administration and Congress give us the documentation and allow for transparency so America citizens can see whether this secret deal disadvantages our state, our workers and our country. If we see that it does — it needs to be stopped. If it is not deterred the TPP could make NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement of the 1990's, look like it was a sweet deal for the United States. It is not only about tariffs, fees, and taxes. The TPP will impact our middle class taxpayers and our democracy. In Vermont, it will hurt our brand and may overturn Vermont environmental regulations.
In our area the Transition Town Manchester is hosting a November 13, at 7 p.m. in the Hunter Seminar Room at Burr and Burton Academy on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I urge you to get involved.
Steven Berry is a representative to the Vermont Legislature from the district that includes Manchester, Dorset, Sunderland and Sandgate.
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