So luckily the Democrats defeated the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement fast track authority today. The treaty is being staunchly opposed by damn near everyone left of Rush Limbaugh. I’ve gotten messages from the Feminist Majority Foundation, Noam Chomsky views it as a neo-liberal assault…
I’ve been asked by a few people to explain TPP, and the various positions of supporters and the opposition. This is honestly a daunting challenge.
The full text hasn’t been revealed.
The US Trade Representative claims, in order, that the TPP eliminates tariffs on U.S. products and other trade barriers, that it protects TPP countries’ trade in textiles while also monitoring to make sure non-TPP countries don’t get to benefit from it, that it promotes investment by allowing “liberalized access” and creating methods for arbitration, that it protects labor under ILO standards, that it protects the environment including “New provisions that will address wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal fishing practices”, etc. etc.
Yet the USTR makes all these claims without citing any actual language in the treaty that might make those claims.
Meanwhile, Jane Kelsey notes that the environmental section has some crippling failures, particularly that there’s no actual enforcement. There’s “arbitration”, but no actual ability to force the result of the arbitration. Of course, this article is from 2014. Who knows if there may have been drafting changes since then?
You can review some of the leaked text and some responses to it here . Frankly, it seems pretty clear to me that the USTR’s defense of the environment provision knows full well that it’s toothless: They talk about “strong and enforceable environment obligations”, but don’t actually say what that enforcement is and note that there’s “commitments” in the treaty, which in international relations speech is indistinguishable from “empty promises”.
So I can cite you authority after authority saying that it will harm women, or hurt wages, or impede unionization, or whatever you’d like. Like this article from The Hill about how it will almost definitely harm everyone but the richest earners. And this article from Pete Dolack, which is very careful even if it is leaning left (as far left as I do, for the record).
But at this point, the only thing we can really do for the vast majority of the treaty is just guess.
However, just think for a moment. What would you think if someone told you about something that they insisted would benefit you, but wouldn’t allow you to do any independent research and told you that it had to be signed right now?
You’d think it was a con job.
Even if I had access to the full text of the TPP, it’s a huge treaty. So are most other treaties that are signed constantly, and bills we want to debate. The average citizen can’t possibly keep up with all of it. Even most Senators can’t.
When we’re talking about a huge trade deal between numerous countries that obviously has implications for every single person in those countries, and a lot of people outside of those countries, the democratic thing to do is to slow down, discuss, try to make sure the treaty is at least tolerable.
The undemocratic thing to do is to try to ram it through as fast as possible.
What the President and Congress have repeatedly proven throughout this entire debacle is that they really don’t give two craps about the democratic system. They don’t care about democratic values. This isn’t a Democratic or a Republican problem anymore. It’s an American problem. We’ve come to just accept that the government can only be this distant and unaccountable thing, and our options are to quietly complain or to secede and make empty threats about revolution.
But I can prove to you, quite easily, that the TPP is almost guaranteed to be a nightmare for everyone but a small set of incredibly powerful corporate interests.
How many of you have tried to plan a dinner party without, for whatever reason, consulting even half of the guests?
It’s a nightmare, right?
Even with the best of intentions, it’s just staggeringly difficult to try to figure out what to serve people, when to schedule everything, what entertainment to have, without actually having people being able to discuss.
Even if you can consult every person individually, it can actually be better if you can get people with different opinions to compromise. The guy who wants shrimp cocktail may be willing to compromise on a different hors d’oeuvre if the main course was shrimp scampi.
In political science and economics, we talk about “stakeholders”. Any issue has different people who are impacted by it in different ways, sometimes in multiple different ways at the same time. A black woman working as a maid with an asthmatic son is going to be very concerned about the TPP on at least four different levels: As a black person, as a woman, as a working-class service-providing employee, and as a person with concern about air quality and environmental standards.
When people at WikiLeaks have to offer actual bounties for information about the TPP, can we honestly believe that every person would have been consulted?
Even if the big corporate and governmental interests that overwhelmingly drafted the TPP and formed its negotiation were completely sincere in wanting to provide the best treaty for everyone, how could they?
We are allowing overwhelmingly rich and powerful people, and at least in the United States white and male people to boot, to speak for environmental advocates, labor unions and labor advocates, the working class, women, people of color, economists with varying opinions ad values, and virtually everyone else.
Can anyone honestly claim that this treaty is going to benefit anyone besides the people who wrote it and had all of the input? Can we honestly pretend that corporate lawyers, Prime Ministers and Presidents know a damn thing about what McDonald’s employees and housewives need? Of course not. There’s no way that they could possibly consider what those groups actually want, value and need. Compromise could be possible, if people were at the bargaining table.
No, what the TPP is doing is not creating free trade or prosperity. It’s protecting the rights of investors and corporations. And sure, they may have some rights. But so do the rest of us, and they’ve never been a priority when it comes to treaties like this. Corporations have gotten more and more protections of their intellectual property, their ability to engage in transfer pricing, to move goods around. Consumers, workers, women, people of color.. they’ve all gotten pretty much nada ever since NAFTA.
And even those who may look at the TPP and find that it is in the balance best for America should be appalled by the undemocratic nature of the debate around it. A better treaty could be made for all of us, one which had a real compromise that got all the stakeholders involved. Instead, corporations are going to undercut their own long-term profitability and the survival of the human species.