Our View: Huge trade deal needs congressional and public scrutiny

Vt. Sen. Bernie Sanders is sounding an alarm about the Trans Pacific Partnership, a huge proposed trade deal that has been in process for about 10 years.

This would be a 12-nation trade agreement of countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including the U.S. and Canada but excluding China.

If adopted, the colossal deal would affect 40 percent of the world's economic activity.

A lot more is involved than simply tariffs on goods and quotas for imports. As noted in a 2013 article in the Washington Post explaining the deal,"Modern trade agreements ... encompass a board range of regulatory and legal issues, making them a much more central part of foreign policy and even domestic lawmaking."

Unions, environmentalists and even global health organizations oppose the deal. The international organization Doctors Without Borders, for instance, objects to provisions that would give pharmaceutical companies longer monopolies on brand-name drugs, thus preventing generic companies from producing cheaper alternatives vital to the health of the Third World poor.

On the other hand, business organizations such as the Business Roundtable and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce like the TPP a lot.

President Obama also supports the TPP, which his trade representative, Michael Froman, has been pushing strongly.

Establishment Republicans support the deal; tea party Republicans to a lesser extent. Congressional Democrats generally don't like the TPP at all, with concerns it would cost manufacturing jobs and worsen income inequality. Another criticism is undue secrecy in the negotiating process, though some draft sections have leaked out.

With the Republicans now controlling the Senate along with the House, observers think the president may see this as an opportunity to work with the other party for a legacy-building achievement on international trade. It might also pave the way for other such agreements with other parts of the world.

If he decides to push for a deal, President Obama is expected to seek what is called "fast track" authority, which would allow the president to finalize a deal that then couldn't be changed by Congress, which would lead to the whole enormous package having to be renegotiated. Some observers question whether the GOP would give this authority to a president they dislike.

While generally an ally of the president, Sen. Sanders strongly objects to both the TPP and the process by which it has been developed. "Let's be clear," he said in a Dec. 29 press release, "the TPP is much more than a 'free trade' agreement.

It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system."

On Monday, Sanders sent Froman a letter demanding a complete up-to-date text of the agreement, citing the constitutional authority of Congress "to regulate commerce with foreign nations."

Mr. Obama. speaking to the Business Roundtable last month, cautioned against judging the TPP by free trade agreements of past like NAFTA, seen to have caused massive job losses in the U.S. "We hope to be able to not simply finalize an agreement with the various parties in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, but also to be able to explain it to the public, and to engage in all the stakeholders and to publicly engage with the critics," he said.

While the TPP may not be quite as bad as Sen. Sanders fears, the only way for Congress and the people to know is to release details to Congress and the public.

Congress has already ceded war making power to the executive branch, it shouldn't also cede the power to regulate international trade.