The Good, The Bad, and The WTF of the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership)
We’ve been hearing the words Trans Pacific Partnership and TPP get thrown around this entire election cycle, but most of us rarely have any clue what this deal is about. It’s commonly known as the international trade agreement that Bernie was against, that Hillary was for, calling it the “Gold Standard of Trade,” before changing her mind and coming out against it. President Obama was always in favor of it, and now says he’ll pass it during the lame duck session after the election. And Donald Trump... he’s against it, but he most likely doesn’t know what it is but will make it great again.
It’s not surprising why so many people are confused, since the details of trade agreements can get complicated, and this one was particularly. So let’s try to make it simple.
The Trans Pacific Partnership is a trade deal between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam, with 6 other nations looking to join. Together, these nations account for more than 40% of the world’s trade.
In short, the TPP creates basic standards and rules governing trade that all member nations must abide by.
And the TPP has the backing of many powerful corporations as well as the corporatist politicians they financially support. It would require nations with previously closed economies to liberalize. Its provision on labor organizing, for example, requires nations to allow workers to unionize for more rights and better treatment. The TPP will also create a framework for expanding and enforcing existing international environmental protection agreements.
There are clear economic benefits to removing tariffs and other barriers that restrict global trade. The TPP would expand American trade opportunities with participating countries and lead to greater efficiency, lower costs, increased variety for consumers and an overall growth in GDP.
A growth that experts estimate could be hundreds of billions of dollars, with smaller and developing economies benefiting the most. Also, by raising regulatory rules and standards for many of China’s key trading partners, the TPP would minimize China’s capacity to manipulate global trade, and deliver greater control to an international governing body ― one that gives greater power to multinational corporations rather than individual nations.
Now these advantages suggest that the TPP might be a good deal overall. But here’s why it’s potentially dangerous.
The biggest criticism lodged at the TPP is that it was negotiated in secret. Now that the negotiations are over, the agreement is available in it’s entirety. However, this wasn’t the case during the crafting of this trade deal where the only publicly available information was released through leaks and suggested that the main beneficiaries of the new TPP rules will be ― who would have guessed ― multinational corporations. While ordinary citizens, and even most elected representatives had no idea what the fuck was going on with the TPP, multinational corporations enjoyed much greater access to the inner workings of the negotiation process.
Just one indication of corporate influence is the so-called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” process, which creates secret tribunals that hear lawsuits brought by corporations over legislation that cuts into projected corporate growth rates. In theory, this seems like a good idea as it protects foreign investment against possible unfair treatment in ordinary courts. In practice however, this will mean that Budweiser could sue Vietnam for requiring that all beer sold in Vietnam include a health warning for pregnant women on the label. When in reality, no one should be drinking Budweiser, let alone pregnant women. A similar lawsuit was filed by Phillip Morris against the Australian government over plain packaging laws that outlawed tobacco company logos using a bi-lateral trade agreement with Hong Kong. Australia won said case, however ― this is indication of what’s to come as far as interference in domestic legislation.
States offering public healthcare could face lawsuits from big pharma and insurance companies claiming that national healthcare systems restrict their investment opportunities. The TPP essentially grants corporate interests veto power over sovereign nations’ domestic economic policy. Or in the very least, demands substantial monetary compensation, as in the case of a trial going on right now with French multinational corporation Veolia after Egypt raised its minimum wage.
Another worrying TPP provision involves patent and copyright restrictions that do not allow for generic drug manufacturing, which will essentially grant big pharma monopolies, leading to higher healthcare costs in nations desperately in need of access to affordable healthcare. Drugs that seek to treat Cancer, Malaria, AIDS among others will be less accessible to individuals.
And lastly, the TPP’s scary relationship to the controversial SOPA and PIPA acts will impose copyright restrictions allowing corporations to pursue all manner of copyright offenders, even those with no intentions of distribution. ISP’s will be tasked with policing and shutting down any matter of copyright infringement. Meaning government and Internet Service Providers can search, pursue, and impose heavy criminal sanctions on you for oversharing your favorite Game of Thrones episode with your friends ― even if HBO itself doesn’t have an issue with it. The vaguely worded clause on fair use will restrict free information distribution in unprecedented ways.
So is the TPP really just about mapping out trade and tariff rules to promote economic growth for all participating nations? Or is it more about pushing pro-corporate restrictions backed by the United States onto all nations surrounding China, in an effort to force the Chinese into abiding by U.S. standards? Because it sure seems like the tariff regulations, environmental and labor protections are just a smokescreen for the true purpose of the TPP, which is to undermine national sovereignty and grant multinational corporations unfettered access to markets across the globe while simultaneously protecting those corporations’ profits from any infringements imposed by the citizens of those nations ― in other words, to inoculate corporate profits from the threat of democracy.