Fast Track Push for Trans-Pacific Partnership Implies it’s a Raw Deal

New Year’s Day 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of NAFTA’s implementation. The North American Free Trade Agreement became infamous when independent presidential candidate Ross Perot remarked in 1992 that the passage of NAFTA would create a “giant sucking sound” of American jobs lost to Canada and Mexico. NAFTA, however, is hardly in history’s rear-view mirror. It has been augmented all these years by more of the same, and now the Obama administration is about to enact the biggest so-called free trade agreement yet. The Trans-Pacific Trade Partnership represents the most far-reaching agreement in a generation, yet has only recently begun to garner widespread attention.

In spite of over a decade’s worth of negotiations mainstream media has left the Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement largely untouched — in part because negotiations have not been open to the public. Few of our elected representatives have been clued in either, however. Why? Because the TPP flies in the face of the self-determination principles this country was founded upon. It takes the economic aspects of governance of the people, by the people and for the people and hands it over to international authorities on all manner of issue pertinent to our health, welfare and safety — from finance to food. Because the trade agreement has spawned opposition from all sides of the political spectrum, the TPP has been negotiated behind closed doors. Only in these latter stages are the provisions supposed to undergo open debate. The problem? President Obama wants to “fast track” the TPP so that little congressional debate is possible.

Media Matters has this to say:

Congress Is Currently Debating A Bill That Would Grant The President Expedited Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

According to a January 30 Reuters article, President Obama is at odds with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in both houses of Congress concerning reauthorizing a procedure called the “trade promotion authority” (TPA). The TPA is a formal legal authority granted to the president by Congress, which allows the White House to fast-track international treaty negotiations with foreign partners, bypassing most congressional review: A bill before the House and Senate would grant the White House power to submit free trade deals to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendments, something that would give trading partners peace of mind but that raises hackles among some lawmakers.

Recall the financial crisis of 2007~2009? What you might not know is that Canada was among the least scathed by Great Recession fallout because, in part, unlike the U.S. Canadian lawmakers did not strip their financial regulatory laws off the books — that is to deregulate their financial system to the extent the U.S. and others did in the 1980s and ’90s. That could change if and when the TPP is finalized. The TPP sets the stage for international banks, among other transnational corporations, to sue trade partners (nations) for lost revenue (damages) in the event of an attempt to influence their activities.

Remember the pet food scare of 2007 during which time cats and dogs succumbed to melamine contamination linked to Chinese manufacturers? Earlier this month, Petco and Petsmart announced a decision to remove all Chinese-manufactured pet treats from their shelves because of ongoing safety concerns. The TPP opens the door to a country whose revenues are threatened by such an action to sue for damages (lost revenue). This, in turn, may make it difficult for U.S. retailers such as Petsmart and Petco to “discriminate” against imports deemed harmful to their customers! Pet owners aren’t the only ones with cause for concern, however. Doctors without Borders have a bone to pick with the TPP, too. It could make the cost of prescription drugs — medications used to control HIV in the Third World, to cite an example — too costly to obtain.

The TPP, in conjunction with an even broader agreement known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), empowers transnational corporations to sue governments, leaked documents suggest, for attempts to reform markets in a manner perceived to limit not just actual (current) profits but future (unrealized) profits. For all those who have pushed for TORT reform out of concern that insurance premiums, health care costs and other consumer expenses have been driven unnecessarily high by the overly litigious, trade lawsuits waged by even deeper pockets at international tribunals may do far worse to consumer prices. Such agreements give transnational corporations incentive to protect their market dominance with an armada of lawyers, costs that taxpayers and consumers will ultimately foot. Whether it’s pet food, groceries or prescription drugs, notions of consumer independence will be swept out the back door with the fast-track passage of the TPP:

Both the TPP and TTIP will go well beyond the WTO in terms of coverage, addressing such matters as foreign direct investment policies, protection of intellectual property, trade in services, behaviour of state-owned enterprises, opening up of government procurement, and reducing the trade-impeding effects of different product standards. — Europe’s World

The TPP, and agreements like it, challenge the authority of legislators and voters, placing unelected international authorities into the driver’s seat. While this effort is certainly nothing new, what is new some 20 years post NAFTA is the social-media connected world in which we live — a level of digital interconnectedness that did not exist in the late 1980s and 1990s when presidents H.W. Bush and Clinton did their parts to pave the way for the World Trade Organization. The TPP erodes national sovereignty in the sense that we will become wedded, as it were, into a polygamous marriage consisting of the U.S., Canada and 10 pacific rim nations, which collectively account for ~40% of global economic activity (gross domestic product). The fact that the free trade agreements of recent years have put us at a $180B U.S. goods trade deficit — bushwhacked by trade partners a fraction of our size — matters little. We are at the stage where Congress would normally debate the provisions with the option to amend the more damaging elements. Instead, President Obama has petitioned members of Congress to bypass open debate by reviving a fast-track trade authority provision dating to the Nixon era.

At the face of it, the TPP sounds so antithetical to the notion of self-governance that it may be difficult to imagine how such an agreement could possibly come to pass — to get off the ground in the first place. But it’s not so outlandish in view of the Supreme Court decision, Citzens United, which affirms that corporations are “people” with a First Amendment right to speak out (monetarily) in support of politicians and political objectives without giving “rise to corruption or the appearance of corruption”. The Court’s 2010 decision opened the floodgates to unfettered corporate finance of political campaigns, spawning the so-called super-PACs. Because of the high cost of running for elected office, just about every politician from every party who has ever risen to the national level owes his/her success to corporate-backed donors and the lobbyists these larger-than-life “people” hire. So how does an agreement like the TPP come to fruition even as it puts taxpayers on the hook for trade lawsuits that threaten to obliterate the right to set our own internal health and safety standards?

Follow the money.

If there was ever a time to exercise your option as a citizen — to make your thoughts on the TPP fast-track proposal known to your elected representatives — that time is now.

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RESOURCES

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Fast Track to Job Losses | Huffington Post

Regional Scheme for the Pacific Rim | The New American

Fact-Checking Obama’s Top Trade Official: Ten Tall Tales on Trade | counterpunch

Exporting Financial Instability | The American Prospect

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: Warnings from NAFTA | Huffington Post

WTO Protesters Were Right | Seattle Times

What the Ukraine/Russia, US/Mexico & Israel/Palestine Conflicts Have in Common

Some years after the G. W. Bush administration’s entry into the Iraq war, American news outlets admitted to dropping the ball. Mainstream media acknowledged they did too little to question the purported evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, whereas challenges to the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq and the 9/11 tragedy were linked aired only belatedly. Over a decade later, the U.S. media has again dropped the ball. This time, though, the actors are different: Ukraine vs. Russia.

To hear mainstream U.S. media tell it, one could be forgiven for the belief that any and all claims of a Neo Nazi presence in Ukraine are propagandist fragments of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s imagination. The tragic shoot-down of Malaysian flight MH 17 — on the anniversary of World War I — has only added to the pressure that the West intervene. Still, media fails to recognize its role in perpetuating conflict.

Shortly before the U.S. began trotting out the interim Ukrainian prime minister following the overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elected president earlier this year, The Guardian published profiles of Ukrainian parliament members. Putin, it turns out, was not lying. Historically, elements within the region sympathized with fascist Germany and some fought on Hitler’s side during World War II, prompting animosities that exist to this day.

Why does this matter? Because failure to appreciate our present — and to grasp our past — may doom us to repeat history.

In an apparent effort to turn down the heat, journalist and Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication dean, DeWayne Wickham, argues in a March USA Today piece that U.S. hegemony in the creation of Panama and Russia’s hegemony with respect to Ukraine are not terribly different.

Judging from the response the piece drew, Wickham’s point was lost on many readers. Accusations mounted: Wickham had attempted to excuse Putin’s audacity in Crimea. Wickham had cited an passé example, irrelevant because the creation of Panama took place over 100 years ago.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the events of the past — or, conversely, latch onto the tragedy of the moment (flight MH 17) — to justify an existing conclusion. But this time getting the facts right matters because the wrong response may very well provoke another Great War.

Wickham concludes that neither the U.S. or Russia has the moral high ground within a historic context. So what’s the point in comparing U.S. and Russian hegemony if it is not for the purpose of excusing anyone? Perhaps this: As Americans better appreciate our role in history, it becomes apparent that escalating international tensions often travel a well-worn path. If keeping history alive to tell the tale of hubris past gives pause to the drums of war, so be it. The alternative is to take two, three, four, even five geopolitical wrongs and to make-believe might makes right.

Haven’t we been down this road before?

 

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