By Robert A. Vella
Last year, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren said this about the then-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal being negotiated between the U.S. and several east Asian/western pacific nations:
“I actually have had supporters of the deal say to me ‘They have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.’”
Now that legislative efforts to pass the TPP are underway, concerns about its secrecy are growing not just in America but also in Australia as well. From The Sydney Morning Herald – Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan blasts Trade Minister over secret TPP talks:
Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan has blasted Trade Minister Andrew Robb for conducting Trans-Pacific Partnership talks in secret, preventing a “contest of ideas” that could uncover unintended consequences.
Despite knowing he will get “in trouble” for speaking out, the veteran senator criticised Mr Robb for hiding the “guts” of the soon-to-be-sealed trade pact, which involves 12 Pacific Rim countries covering 40 per cent of the world’s economy.
The Public Health Association, Electronic Frontiers Australia, and consumer advocacy group Choice are among many interest groups who have long protested against the secrecy.
They claim leaked draft chapters from Wikileaks show the TPP could push up the price of medicines, make it harder to restrict tobacco and alcohol sales, and force internet service providers to aggressively enforce copyright rules.
Mr Heffernan said most concerning was the Investor State Dispute Settlement clause, which empowers multinationals to sue governments if new laws such as food safety standards harm their profits.
“I want to be asking these detailed questions, about the capacity for corporations to sue governments,” he said.
Back home, Jared Bernstein – Chief Economist and Economic Adviser to Vice President Joseph Biden in the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2011 – is voicing similar concerns. From his blog – Me and the TPP:
Yes, that lack of knowledge of the deal’s content has led me to pull my punches, but it’s also why I’m quite taken aback by those writing strong endorsements of a deal that to my knowledge they’ve never seen (if they have, I sincerely apologize–but if they’ve seen it, why haven’t I?). If we want to have informed debates in this country, then that of which we do not know, we should not speak. Especially if what we do know is coming solely from sources with major skin in the game (e.g., USTR).
Mr. Bernstein was referring to United States Trade Representative Michael Froman who is spearheading the TPP push for President Obama. So, Bernstein’s second thoughts on this controversial trade deal should be seen as noteworthy since he is politically allied with the President – at least in a general sense.
The current political dynamics of the TPP are not at all straightforward. On the pro side, President Obama is in league with mainstream Republicans, centrist Democrats, and large multinational business interests. On the con side, progressive Democrats are supported by labor and other populist advocacy groups in addition to a smaller number of libertarian Republicans who are ideologically opposed to corporatist practices – precisely what the TPP is.
The poor economic results of recent trade deals regarding middle class workers has caused President Obama to back-off on claims about the TPP’s ability to create jobs. That myth has already been dispelled. Now, he is asserting that the TPP is about maintaining U.S. economic competitiveness with China. I read that as a geopolitical commitment to U.S. hegemony. Regardless, selling out America’s workers – and indeed its national sovereignty – to a democratically-unaccountable cartel of global corporations is an egregiously high price to pay just to perpetuate the illusion of competitive economic balance. Ergo, that’s why the TPP is so secret; and, that’s why people are getting so upset about it.