My Perspective on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement

June 12, 2015

Dear Friend,

As it stands now, I cannot support the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – a proposed trade deal between the United States and 11 other nations. Nor am I willing to grant “Fast-Track Authority” which would put the deal on a glide path to passage. I wanted to take a few moments to share my perspective on these important issues.

Too often, our nation’s trade policy is premised on the assumption that “free trade” is the same as “fair trade.” In the case of the TPP, we appear to be headed down this all too familiar path. That should give us pause. I have serious concerns about the process by which this agreement is being developed as well as about its content.

  • First, negotiations for the TPP deal have been conducted largely behind closed doors, with multinational corporations and other global conglomerates being disproportionately represented at the negotiating table.
  • Second, a substantial portion of the proposed agreement is being shared with members of Congress on a classified and selective basis only. This is extremely troubling. All trade agreements – particularly ones of this size and scope – should be vetted with as much transparency as possible to ensure that the American public’s interests are being protected.
  • Third, I have serious reservations about the substance of the TPP agreement. It appears that protections and enforcement mechanisms necessary to preserve workplace safety, protect the environment and promote human rights are not as robust as they could be. I worry that despite optimistic predictions about how the deal will lead to greater exports for American businesses, the actual effect will be to make overseas manufacturers the winners and unleash a flood of foreign goods into our economy, resulting in the loss of American jobs.

When it comes to granting “Fast-Track Authority” – which would allow the president to negotiate the TPP and other trade agreements without meaningful Congressional input – I am wary of giving the executive branch too much power over our nation’s trade policy at the expense of Congress and the American people. Under fast track, the Congress literally has no ability to change any of the terms of a trade agreement. I believe one of my most important duties in the House of Representatives is to look out for the economic interests of my constituents. I do not believe those interests are being served by TPP, and for that reason, I cannot support fast tracking. 

International trade has an important role to play in boosting U.S. economic growth and global competitiveness, but it must be conducted in a way that is fair to the American worker and does not create a race to the bottom on wages and benefits. For an historic example of the effect that TPP could have on the American worker, we need to look no further than the North American Free Trade Agreement (NATFA), which was signed in 1994 by Canada, Mexico and the United States. Despite some benefits, NAFTA has placed tremendous pressure on American manufacturing, creating a labor market where wages have not kept up with productivity. This lack of wage growth has contributed to the rising level of income inequality across the country.

Whatever else its objectives may be, a well-designed trade agreement should have the effect of diminishing, not growing, the inequality gap. I am not convinced that the proposed TPP Agreement meets that baseline standard or is even being negotiated with that standard as a priority. We can do better. I will continue to work for trade policies that will improve the quality of life for American workers, rather than putting their livelihood at risk. In that effort, I welcome your input. Please do not hesitate to contact me with your thoughts and suggestions.


John P. Sarbanes
Maryland's Third Congressional District