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American Sustainable Business Council’s Richard Eidlin discusses why the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement is far from a win for small business owners

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JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: The trans-Pacific trade agreement, it’s gotten significant backing from President Obama and both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill, as seen here during the president’s State of the Union address this year. BARACK OBAMA, U.S. PRESIDENT: Twenty-first century businesses, including small businesses, need to sell more American products overseas. Today, our businesses export more than ever, and exporters tend to pay their workers higher wages. But as we speak, China wants to write the rules for the world’s fastest-growing region. That would put our workers and our businesses at a disadvantage. Why would we let that happen? We should write those rules. We should level the playing field. And that’s why I’m asking both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers, with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but are also fair. It’s the right thing to do. DESVARIEUX: But is the TTP the right thing to do for mom-and-pop stores and small local manufacturers that most Americans come to understand as small businesses? We spoke to American Sustainable Business Council’s Richard Eidlin to find out. His organization represents some 200,000 small, medium and large enterprises like Ben and Jerry’s and Patagonia. He gave us a breakdown of the three signs that the TPP could be a bad deal for small-business owners. Number one: pro-small business laws might be overturned. RICHARD EIDLIN, VP PUBLIC POLICY, AMERICAN SUSTAINABLE BUSINESS COUNCIL: Any local government ordinance or rule could actually be overturned by the international trade regime, because that local ordinance would become inconsistent with what was decided by national governments. So local governments historically have in fact been sued in the international court by multilateral agencies who feel that a local environmental standard, a local human rights standard, a local procurement standard contradict or contravene what’s been negotiated, whether in Europe or in Asia, would prohibit an emphasis and a preference given to products made in the United States. So municipal governments, even the federal government, wouldn’t be able to, in theory, if this is adopted, maintain that provision and that current statute or that current regulation. DESVARIEUX: Number two: small businesses have not been represented in trade negotiations. EIDLIN: Exactly who gets invited to the table is a bit of a mystery. But the USTR’s office is responsible for convening stakeholders and interested parties. So there are a broad cross section of organizations. As far as transparency goes, the way the negotiations have been conducted is–all we know its what’s been leaked. So we get a missive here about one chapter, some information about another element, but no one has seen the full text. And we think that since a trade agreement has such broad implications to so many sectors of the economy, not only to small business, but, obviously, to large businesses and consumers and communities across the country, that it’s important that we know what’s in the agreement. And what’s currently happening now, as has happened in previous trade agreements, is the White House is asking for what’s called fast track authority. And the way that works is they come to the Congress with a final agreement, and they say, this is what we’ve worked out with our trading partners, and now you have an opportunity to vote yes or vote no. And you can approve it or reject it. And we don’t think that’s really a very prudent, appropriate method of conducting trade policy, because, again, we don’t know the process by which decisions have been made to get to a final document. DESVARIEUX: Number three: potential job loss. EIDLIN: We’re not convinced, based on what we’ve seen, that companies won’t follow the historic precedent of moving a lot of jobs offshore, simply because it’s more financially beneficial to the larger companies who do that. They wouldn’t have gone abroad before as they might now, because there now are more legal protections for them to operate. So it’s more conducive for them to be operating in Vietnam, in Malaysia, elsewhere, because now there are a more defined set of rules by which to operate. DESVARIEUX: For now, many on both sides of the aisle seem prepared to accept a fast-track deal. But an unlikely partnership between some Democrats, like Elizabeth Warren, who’s voiced her concern for fast-track, and members of the Tea Party is pressuring the Obama administration for more transparency. They’re hoping to prolong a fast-track up-or-down vote that could come before the Senate as early as mid April. For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.


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Jessica Desvarieux is a multimedia journalist who serves as the Capitol Hill correspondent for the Real News Network. Most recently, Jessica worked as a producer for the ABC Sunday morning program, This Week with Christianne Amanpour. Before moving to Washington DC, Jessica served as the Haiti corespondent for TIME Magazine and Previously, she was as an on-air reporter for New York tri-state cable outlet Regional News Network, where she worked before the 2010 earthquake struck her native country of Haiti. From March 2008 - September 2009, she lived in Egypt, where her work appeared in various media outlets like the Associated Press, Voice of America, and the International Herald Tribune - Daily News Egypt. She graduated from Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism with a Master of Science degree in journalism. She is proficient in French, Spanish, Haitian Creole, and has a working knowledge of Egyptian Colloquial Arabic. Follow her @Jessica_Reports.