As TPP Sails Forth, It Drags the West Into Uncharted Waters

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Free trade’ isn’t what Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship would deliv­er … Think the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship is a free trade agree­ment? Think again. In prin­ci­ple, almost everyone’s in favor of free trade. It pro­motes inter­na­tion­al har­mo­ny, rais­es wages, helps economies grow. It’s an arti­cle of his­tor­i­cal faith that the enact­ment of harsh pro­tec­tive U.S. tar­iffs in 1930 con­tributed to the Great Depres­sion. And who wants that? – LA Times

Dom­i­nant Social Theme: Some sort of free trade pact is nec­es­sary.

Free-Mar­ket Analy­sis: There are two free trade pacts being nego­ti­at­ed cur­rent­ly, one in the “Pacif­ic” and the oth­er in the “Atlantic.” The Pacif­ic one seems to get most of the atten­tion and there is good news for those who want the treaty can­celled or rad­i­cal­ly recon­fig­ured.

The good news is that the US Con­gress is increas­ing­ly at odds with the way the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship is being han­dled. The fast track author­i­ty being demand­ed by Barack Oba­ma is run­ning into increased resis­tance because the treaty itself is a fair­ly rad­i­cal – author­i­tar­i­an – doc­u­ment.

What has brought the issue to the front again is twofold: One, com­ments from nego­tia­tors indi­cate the treaty may be final­ized in a few weeks. Two, recent trade data seemed showed [sic] a widen­ing trade gap. recent­ly report­ed on the trade sta­tis­tics, com­ment­ing, “The Com­merce Depart­ment report … [showed] that the U.S. trade deficit widened to $505.05 bil­lion in 2014—the nation’s largest gap since 2008.”

US demand for for­eign goods and ser­vices is going up accord­ing to this report, in part because of the strong US dol­lar – strong rel­a­tive to oth­er cur­ren­cies any­way. Those against the treaty believe that lan­guage should be strength­ened that for­bids cer­tain kinds of for­eign cur­ren­cy manip­u­la­tion.

But con­cerns may run deep­er than lan­guage. Accord­ing to the LA Times arti­cle, “The pact — which has been under nego­ti­a­tion vir­tu­al­ly since the turn of the cen­tu­ry — is in trou­ble on Capi­tol Hill, where its ene­mies include con­ser­v­a­tives and lib­er­als.”

The Times arti­cle tells us that TPP has “become a sym­bol of every­thing that’s wrong with free trade agree­ments today.” Here’s more:

But “free trade” has lit­tle to do with the trade deal that Pres­i­dent Oba­ma hopes will be a high-water mark for his administration’s for­eign pol­i­cy: the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship talks, which now involve the U.S. and 11 Pacif­ic Rim coun­tries — Aus­tralia, Brunei, Cana­da, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mex­i­co, New Zealand, Peru, Sin­ga­pore and Viet­nam.

The pact is being nego­ti­at­ed in secret, although U.S. trade nego­tia­tors have giv­en big indus­tries nice long looks behind the cur­tain. The White House is demand­ing “fast-track” approval from Con­gress, which lim­its the say law­mak­ers will have and requires them to rat­i­fy in haste. And pub­lic inter­est advo­cates say it could under­mine rules and reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing the envi­ron­ment, health, intel­lec­tu­al prop­er­ty and finan­cial mar­kets (to name only a few top­ics).

The arti­cle offers three major doubts regard­ing TPP:

• Over­reach. It’s a big mer­can­tilist mess, basi­cal­ly. Some phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies are direct­ly shield­ed from com­pe­ti­tion by treaty lan­guage, while it also deals specif­i­cal­ly with “food safe­ty, prod­uct safe­ty and access to drugs.” Issues, in oth­er words, that are only tan­gen­tial­ly relat­ed to “free trade.”

Even worse, cor­po­ra­tions can seek rul­ings from inter­na­tion­al “arbi­tra­tion courts” regard­ing sov­er­eign laws and reg­u­la­tions. This is already tak­ing place in areas regard­ing work­place regs and envi­ron­men­tal issues. Sov­er­eign­ty is erod­ed by such treaties, which take the pow­er of law away from the nation-state and pro­vide it instead to a new class of glob­al judges.

• Secre­cy. Like too many oth­er mod­ern-day nego­ti­a­tions, the TPP is being con­duct­ed in secret. U.S. Trade Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Michael Fro­man has tried to main­tain tight con­trol over the lan­guage and who sees it. But there are coun­ter­cur­rents. In 2012, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) intro­duced a bill requir­ing “that all law­mak­ers with over­sight on trade pol­i­cy be giv­en access to key doc­u­ments.”

• “Fast-track­ing.” The White House wants the treaty signed under fast-track­ing pro­vi­sions that man­date law­mak­ers vote up or down on the treaty – as is – with­in 90 days. No fil­i­busters allowed.

The arti­cle con­cludes that “oppo­si­tion is grow­ing from con­ser­v­a­tive Repub­li­cans and pro­gres­sive Democ­rats alike.” It calls the com­bi­na­tion of secre­cy and fast-track­ing “over­reach” and claims this sort of com­bi­na­tion is increas­ing­ly seen as dan­ger­ous.

That sen­ti­ment is prob­a­bly wide­spread. About a year ago, pub­lished an arti­cle enti­tled, “Demand the Harp­er gov­ern­ment pub­lish the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship.”

Across Cana­da and around the world, peo­ple are speak­ing out about the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship trade agree­ment (TPP). They are ral­ly­ing against the secre­cy of the 12-coun­try nego­ti­a­tions and the cor­po­rate agen­da behind the deal.

On Feb­ru­ary 12, leg­is­la­tors in sev­en of the 12 TPP coun­tries issued the fol­low­ing joint state­ment about the nego­ti­a­tions:

We, the under­signed leg­is­la­tors from coun­tries involved in the nego­ti­a­tion of the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship Agree­ment, call on the Par­ties to the nego­ti­a­tion to pub­lish the draft text of the Agree­ment before any final agree­ment is signed with suf­fi­cient time to enable effec­tive leg­isla­tive scruti­ny and pub­lic debate

We can see from this that oppo­si­tion to the treaty is both con­sis­tent and expand­ing. It is impor­tant to note that in the 20th cen­tu­ry there would have been lit­tle or no way to oppose a treaty like this. One could write a let­ter or lob­by in per­son but orga­niz­ing a sig­nif­i­cant pop­u­lar oppo­si­tion was almost impos­si­ble.

But the Inter­net has changed more than a few leg­isla­tive inter­ac­tions. The oppo­si­tion of so many peo­ple in Cana­da, the US and else­where seems to be hav­ing an impact. And even if the treaty does go through, it will have gen­er­at­ed sig­nif­i­cant oppo­si­tion. This is, in fact, what makes the cur­rent era both dan­ger­ous and promis­ing.

The promise is that the Inter­net Ref­or­ma­tion is mak­ing all sorts of glob­al­ist pro­mo­tions increas­ing­ly irrel­e­vant. The dan­ger is that these pro­mo­tions are insist­ed on any­way and that as a result gov­ern­ment los­es more and more legit­i­ma­cy. Polls bear this out.

Con­clu­sion: The end result is social chaos. As we often – clear­ly and strong sug­gest – pro­tect your­self and your fam­i­ly as best you can. The West (the world) is mov­ing into unchart­ed waters.