It's said all the time — everyone loves small businesses. They're the backbone of our communities, creating jobs and making our country stronger. For an organization like the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council, we take it a step further — our aim is to strengthen and rebuild underserved communities in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. We know how much business owners can do to rebuild our still-weak economy.

So why is Congress considering legislation that could end up driving those companies out of business?


American small business owners have reason to be very concerned about Congress' debate on whether to pass so-called "Fast Track" Trade Promotion Authority. The measure passed the Senate and is due for a vote in the House this month. If enacted, the legislation would allow for a controversial trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be rushed through Congress by limiting time to review the text while requiring an up-or-down vote with no opportunity for amendments.

This deal would support multinational corporations and give them the power to undermine our policies and priorities on the national and local levels, at the expense of our local businesses. This is not the kind of trade policy we need. Congress should block "Fast Track" approval for the TPP.

The TPP is currently being negotiated in secret, with no public engagement or input from anyone but representatives of international corporations. Not only do owners of small or mid-sized businesses have no say in the deal's contents, we are not even able to access any information about it. What we do know about the deal is through leaks and is incredibly troubling.

Particularly concerning is the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, which represents a major threat to our sovereignty and economy. ISDS would allow foreign companies to sue the U.S. government for actions taken on the local level if they can claim those actions hurt their business or lower profits. This would empower an unelected international trade tribunal to overturn our laws or impose fines on municipalities for passing legislation that corporations do not like — simply because that legislation was designed to support local businesses rather than multinational firms.

For example, any "Buy American" or "Buy Maryland" provisions could be thrown out if a foreign company wants to have access to government contracts, with no legal recourse for our government to take. This isn't just a threat to American sovereignty; it's a threat to local businesses as well. TPP backers say the deal will allow our businesses better access to foreign markets. But there simply isn't an equivalent foreign market: the U.S. federal procurement market is approximately double the size of similar markets in the other TPP nations. This means that any new markets American businesses could pursue as a result of the deal would be outweighed by the impact of their new domestic competitors.

In addition to the extremely troubling bits and pieces we've seen from leaks, we can also judge the merits of the TPP by our experience with other major trade agreements, like NAFTA, which have amounted to nothing but broken promises. There's a lot of evidence that trade agreements like NAFTA have historically hurt and even devastated employment and the local economies here in the United States. And as every business owner knows, employees are also customers — without jobs, people can't spend money with local businesses.

Past trade deals like those have caused local industries and jobs to be off-shored and have failed to produce incentives for innovation or investment in local industries, all of which impacts Maryland communities.

While larger corporations may benefit, their profits are so sheltered that our communities never see these benefits. Given the history all of this, how can we justify fast-tracking approval of a trade deal that is essentially NAFTA on steroids?

The information we have, along with the broken promises of past trade deals, make it clear that the TPP is designed by large corporations for their benefit and will do nothing to create jobs or support small business. Congress must look closer and think twice before they fast track this dangerous, short-sighted agreement.

Steve Shaff is the Executive Director of the Chesapeake Sustainable Business Council and founder of Community Vision Partners. steve@csbcouncil.org.