In his May 16 commentary (“Let’s get this Trans-Pacific treaty done”), Cargill CEO David MacLennan expresses frustration with delays in approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trust us, he argues, the biggest trade agreement in history will produce jobs and economic growth here in Minnesota and around the world.

But if the TPP is such a win-win-win, why is it being “negotiated” under a cloak of secrecy? Public and private parties taking part in the development of the TPP have signed a confidentiality agreement requiring them to share proposals only with “government officials and individuals who are part of the government’s domestic trade advisory process.”

Guess what? That doesn’t include you and me. Even members of Congress and law experts are out of the loop.

Meanwhile, some 600, mostly corporate, “advisers,” including Cargill, have had access to the text. The bottom line: a handful of elite megafirms control the future of a trade agreement that would establish a regime under which corporations acquire an equal status to countries. This would allow them to take legal action against governments at the national and local levels if public policies and citizen safeguards threaten to impede a corporation’s “expected future profits.”

To make matters worse, the Obama administration is pushing hard for “fast-track” authority to develop and finalize the TPP. This gives the president power to make trade deals without consulting Congress, subverting normal processes where the representatives of we the people can bring forth amendments and changes. No wonder MacLennan never mentioned fast track in his commentary.

So the people’s right to have a say is undermined twice by this secretive process: We have limited access to the text of this international agreement, and if fast track is granted, our elected officials could be stripped of any ability to change it.

One thing we have learned about the TPP is that it will contain something called “regulatory coherence.” That’s a benign-sounding term that would have major adverse impacts here in Minnesota.

For example, the TPP may allow countries and even foreign corporations to challenge the use of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL). COOL, passed by Congress 12 years ago, requires identifying the source of meat products, something the majority of consumers and farmers support. Cargill has opposed COOL.

The TPP’s negative impacts could even influence the way we treat our land in places like southeastern Minnesota. In 2012, a U.S. energy firm used the authority it said the North American Free Trade Agreement granted it to justify a $250 million lawsuit against a Quebec town, which had put in place a moratorium on fracking. What if a multinational energy firm decided the moratorium southeastern Minnesota’s Houston County recently placed on frac sand mining threatened its ability to make money?

Minnesotans value local democracy, and the people of this state have fought hard to maintain the right of local control. Fast track and the TPP are a direct attack on this mainstay of Minnesota governance.

Even worse, under the TPP, disputes would be resolved in front of an internationally contrived tribunal. Not the American judicial system or Congress, but another entity where average Americans have absolutely no influence.

MacLennan’s promises that the TPP will bring economic prosperity should be familiar to anyone who has followed the history of trade agreements. If Cargill and similar firms are to be believed, we are constantly just one trade agreement away from a major windfall. Reality paints a different picture.

Consider the Korean Free Trade Agreement signed in 2011. According to a March report from Public Citizen, U.S. exports to Korea are down 11 percent two years after that agreement went into effect. Meanwhile, imports from Korea are up 47 percent. U.S. agriculture has been hit particularly hard, with exports of meat and other products to Korea down 41 percent.

Trade is something most Americans are inclined to support, as long as it’s done in an equitable manner. That’s not what’s going on here. Secret meetings, fast-track authority, pie-in-the-sky promises of prosperity and loophole-filled phrases like “regulatory coherence” aren’t the way to arrive at an agreement that is fair.


Mark Schultz is the associate director of the Minnesota-based Land Stewardship Project.