By Doug Porter
Over the next few weeks there will be a barrage of opinion on a complicated subject: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a deal in the making between pacific rim nations effectively setting the ground rules for most international trade in the 21st century.
Please, don’t let your eyes glaze over. This is important. Congress is about to be asked to grant the executive branch the authority to present the final version of this agreement on a take it or leave it basis. I believe this deal rewards corporate greed and ignores its role in creating inequality.
Today I’ll try my best to present a primer on the battle already underway. There will be international, national and local events concerning the TPP in the coming days. Your personal economic future is what’s at stake.
A Quick Look Back
Advances in transportation, banking and technology, along with the rise of the multi-national corporation have made negotiating trade agreements more complex over the past century.
What was once a discussion about tariffs and customs regulations has expanded to include concerns about the environment, working conditions, intellectual property and consumer protections. These changes, arising alongside the military alliances formed in the post WWII era, involved multiple trading entities.
In 1974 (blame Nixon, if it makes you feel better) Congress authorized a framework (fast track) allowing the president to negotiate international agreements that Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.
Congressional Republican obstructionism during the Clinton administration (Just Say No) allowed the original (and oft renewed) authority to lapse. GOP objections to fast track evaporated when George W. Bush made it part of his campaign platform in 2000.
What is coming up is a vote by the Congress to extend that authority to cover negotiations for the TPP. Most Republicans have forgotten about their ideological objections (such deals infer a certain loss of state power) and are even willing to grant the this power to the dreaded Kenyan Muslim Overlord.
So to sum up, the issue at hand is whether or not this agreement (and likely a parallel deal with the European Union) will come to a yes or no vote before the Congress.
Why a Yes or No Vote on TPP is Controversial
Negotiating a complex matter, whether it’s a union contract or trade agreement, is not something best done in public. If the legislative bodies of the 12 nations involved were allowed to negotiate the specifics of an agreement, nothing would get done. It would end up like a shouting match at a dysfunctional family reunion.
So it almost seems like a given that you wouldn’t want Malaysia’s version of Congressman Louie Gohmert blocking an agreement.
Opponents of TPP often imply the “secrecy” in the negotiating process is inherently evil. That’s a lazy argument, one that arises out of the need to explain a complicated process in a world where sound bites pass for truth.
The problems with TPP are two-fold.
First, the failures of past agreements to deliver on promises made. The North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is often cited as an example.
Whether the consequences (job loss, etc) are intentional or not, one tangible result of such deals is obvious simply by walking into the produce department of your local supermarket.
The beautiful raspberries on sale ($1.48) at Ralph’s last week are available nearly year round. Not long ago much imported off-season produce was expensive and often on its last legs by the time it made it to market.
The trade environment making that great deal on raspberries is also created a workforce toiling in exploitative and sometimes slave-like conditions. The brand name US corporations and the retailers benefiting from this exploitation are able to evade any responsibility for the suffering of the humans who harvest their products.
Secondly, the negotiations have excluded many groups with a vested interest in the outcome. The Obama administration, like the Clinton administration before it, claims the concerns that unions, environmentalists, consumers and health care advocates are being considered.
Unfortunately for the teams doing the negotiating on TPP, various parts of the deal have been leaked. And those documents suggest that the only winners coming out of the TPP will be corporate concerns.
The Big PR Push on TPP
The onslaught of media hype favoring the Trans Pacific Partnership has reached a crescendo over the past few weeks.
UT-San Diego editorialized about our local congressional representatives speaking with one (pro-TPP) voice.
A faux “progressive” group was created by TPP supporters. Politico ran with the headline “Rift Among Progressives Emerges on TPP” as the “Progressive Coalition for American Jobs ” emailed press releases. It turns out the group was created by 270 Strategies, a public relations firm started by former administration staffers.
Now we’re being spoon fed stories from “environmental groups” implying widespread support for the TPP.
From Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers as published in the LA Progressive:
Indeed, the reality is that scores of major environmental organizations including Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, League of Conservation Voters, Defenders of Wildlife, Union of Concerned Scientists, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, 350.org, and many others oppose fast-track for the TPP. Many recognize the TPP is a backward step for environmental protection that will help push the world over the tipping point for climate change….
…The environmental chapter of the TPP was published by WikiLeaks in January 2014. It was a major setback for the TPP and fast-track because it solidified opposition to the trade agreements among environmental and climate justice advocates. Indeed, the leak showed that the TPP represents a step backward from the Bush-era deals because it provides no environmental enforcement mechanism. A joint analysis of the leaked environment chapter by Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, and NRDC notes, “[T]he leaked text takes a significant step back from the May 2007 agreement…”
…As a result of the environmental community’s strong reaction to the leak, a month later more than 120 members of Congress sent a clear message to U.S. Trade Representative Froman: They could not support the TPP trade pact unless it had a robust, fully enforceable environment chapter addressing the core conservation challenges of the region.
The claim was made in the Los Angeles Times and other publications recently that Hollywood was mobilizing to support the trade agreement.
The U.S. entertainment industry is joining in a last-ditch push to sway wavering Democratic lawmakers to back President Obama’s pro-trade agenda, as his hard-fought Pacific Rim trade deal heads to an uncertain end game.
If you read down into the story, here’s the extent of the push:
In a letter last month, Christopher J. Dodd, the former senator from Connecticut who heads the Motion Picture Assn. of America, signed on with six other former Democratic National Committee chairs to urge fellow Democrats to support trade-promotion, or fast-track, authority for Obama.
One letter from one executive last month constitutes a push and is newsworthy all of a sudden? Really?
Also, now we’re being told the TPP is vital to our national defense. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter made the rounds this week, telling an audience at the McCain Institute of Arizona State University the agreement is “as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”
The Opposition to TPP
The watchdog organization Public Citizen has long been a leader in the criticism of TPP. They call it NAFTA on steroids.
Here’s their critique in a nutshell, via Common Dreams:
The TPP would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) “trade” pact model that has spurred massive U.S. trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports. The TPP not only replicates, but expands NAFTA’s special protections for firms that offshore U.S. jobs. And U.S. TPP negotiators literally used the 2011 Korea FTA – under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged – as the template for the TPP.
In one fell swoop, this secretive deal could:offshore American jobs and increase income inequality,
Digital rights groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation have exposed the deals potential threats to an open internet, while environmental organizations like Friends of the Earth have called it “a potential danger to the planet, subverting environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology.”
As with all listicle-type arguments, a lot of nuance gets lost. There are a lot of “potential” problems. Things “may” occur. TPP “could” be a disaster.
So let’s take a look at a tangible, real world, result of a trade agreement with much the same language as appears in the TPP. One element of modern trade agreements is something called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Ostensibly this is an instrument of public international law, granting investors the right to use extra judicial dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign government.
From Daily Kos:
Of course the White House, who has consistently supported the trade deal and the ISDS, has come out to sell this mechanism as an instrument used to help family-owned businesses against big bad foreign governments who take over the investments without compensation. “Under the Trans-Pacific Partnership, ISDS is specifically designed to protect American investors abroad from discrimination and denial of justice,” writes the White House, and brings up how before the ISDS, countries would have to deploy “gunboat diplomacy” to protect investments.
Lets take a look at one of the “family-owned businesses” that has used the ISDS previously. The Renco Group, owned by New York billionaire Ira Rennert, filed a suit against Peru under the U.S. — Peru Free Trade Agreement a few years ago, after the Peruvian government ordered a pollution clean up at its metal smelter in La Oroya, which is one of the most polluted towns in the world. Around 99% of the children have high levels of lead in their blood; eight times what the U.S. government considers cause for action. The Peruvian government shut down the metal smelter after Renco delayed environmental improvements, and it is now being sued for $800 million for protecting its citizens.
If you feel the need for more bad examples, like the tobacco companies beating up on countries like Uruguay for trying to discourage smoking, here’s a link.
The Battle Lines are Drawn
The AFL-CIO has played a major role in galvanizing opposition to the TPP. A recent press release from their DC office makes the claim of “over 86,000 Calls, 40,000 petitioners and 400 events against bad trade deals.” And that’s just since the first of the year.
More to the point, organized labor has made future financial support for congressional races conditional on how things play out.
From the Wall Street Journal:
Dozens of major labor unions plan to freeze campaign contributions to members of Congress to pressure them to oppose fast-track trade legislation sought by President Barack Obama, according to labor officials.
The move is part of the unions’ campaign against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which the Obama administration is negotiating with 11 nations around the Pacific Ocean. The unions worry the trade agreement could send more jobs to low-wage countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia.
Unions have opposed the TPP through demonstrations, letters to lawmakers and political ads, but withholding political contributions is a more forceful way of flexing their muscle. In the 2014 midterm elections, unions—the lifeblood of the Democratic Party—contributed about $65 million from their political-action committee, or PACs, to candidates, nearly all Democrats.
Local and National Activism on TPP
As this issue comes to the fore, there are teach-ins, forums and other forms of activism occurring globally.
Activists with the Citizens Trade Campaign have organized coast-to-coast activities around the April 18th Global Day of Action Against Unfair Trade.
Locally there are “Drop-in and Hang Out” events aimed at Reps Scott Peters and Susan Davis, the two area congress members who have not yet taken a stance on TPP.
Congressman Scott Peters
Thursday April 9 9am-5pm
4350 Executive Drive, Suite 105
San Diego, CA 92121
Congresswoman Susan Davis
Friday April 10 9am-5pm
2700 Adams Avenue, Suite 102
San Diego, CA 92116
“What are Fast Track, TPA and TPP?” San Diego Community Forum
Saturday April 18 2pm – 4pm
Machinist Union Hall
5150 Kearny Mesa Rd
San Diego, California 92111
For More Perspective
Two links (one pro, one anti TPP):
The Origins and Evolution of the Trans Pacific Partnership (Global Research)
Why Obama is Spurning Liberals with a Massive Trade Deal (New Republic)
On This Day: 1930– The IWW organizes the 1,700-member crew of the Leviathan, then the world’s largest vessel. 1939 – Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC. She had been denied the use of Constitution Hall by the Daughters of the American Revolution because she was black. 1968 – Murdered civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., was buried.
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