Free-Trade Critics Target Coffman, Polis on TransPacific Deal

February 24, 2014
Opponents of Trans-Pacific Partnership are hoping to sway some in Colorado delegation.

Opponents of Trans-Pacific Partnership are hoping to sway some in Colorado delegation.

WASHINGTON — With more grit than elan or brute strength, liberal activists have petitioned Republican Rep. Mike Coffman and Democratic Rep. Jared Polis to sink a major trade deal with a dozen Pacific-Rim countries.

Although their efforts have not convinced the two lawmakers to vote against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), opponents of the deal have helped put free-trade supporters, including the Obama administration, on the defensive.

Union supporters and members of Occupy Boulder recently demonstrated outside of Polis’s Boulder office holding hand-painted signs that read “No TPP” and “Oppose Fast Track.”

A handful of representatives from showed up at Coffman’s office in Aurora last week to present a nine-page petition opposing the trade pact. The petition contained typed names of 75 Coloradoans, many of who live outside of Coffman’s district, that oppose the trade pact, a Coffman staffer said.

“They came, they expressed their opinion, and they left,” the Coffman staffer said.

At issue is the Trans-Pacific Partnership that would create a virtual free-trade zone in the Pacific region. The 12 signatory countries are the United States, Canada, Japan, Mexico, Singapore, Australia, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, Chile, Peru, and New Zealand.

Contentious elements of the deal requires Congress to grant fast track authority to President Obama – a power not granted since 2002 – and forbids Congress from amending the deal before the up-or-down vote.

For supporters, eliminating tariffs would make consumer and electronic goods cheaper and increase exports for producers.

“Through this agreement, the Obama administration is seeking to increase exports in a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economics and that represents more than 40 percent of global trade,” said a statement from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

As happens often on trade deals, the list of supporters includes odd bedfellows.

In addition to the Obama administration, Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and the leader of the New Democratic Coalition, a free-trade minded group of House Democrats, support the deal. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, and the National Association of Manufacturing also back the agreement.

Opponents say that moving toward a more globalized trade system would threaten jobs and harm the environment.

“We will show we want (Coffman) to represent us by taking a stand against multinational corporations — the destructive TPP,” the West Denver chapter of wrote in an email to supporters.

“This is a very critical issue that would negatively affect our economy, environment, workers rights, prescription drug availability, Internet freedom, and much more,” said.

The list of opponents includes the AFL-CIO, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Sierra Club. Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid signaled that he might not bring the deal up for a vote this year because of opposition within his caucus.

Opponents view both Coffman and Polis as fence-sitters on the issue, whose support they are hoping to swing to the “no” column.

Coffman has not signaled which way his is leaning, but in an August letter to Trade Representative Michael Froman Polis suggested he would back the proposal if the secretive deal-making were more transparent and balanced toward the interests of the Internet economy.

Both opponents and supporters are cautious that conservative Republicans might nix the deal out of opposition to the singular issue of giving fast-track power to Obama.

Last month, Hart Research Associates released a poll of nearly 900 voters that found only eight percent of conservatives would approve giving fast-track authority to Obama. The poll had a plus-or-minus margin of 3.5 percent.

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