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 HeraldLiberal 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.


8 thoughts on “Secrecy concerns grow amid legislative efforts to pass controversial TPP trade deal

  1. This TPP business is as cynical as it gets. Why would anyone think that this is okay? And other than the reason Warren gives, why does it have to be so secret? These people are thieves.


  2. It bothers me that Carl Schmitt’s writing is so incredibly accurate. This is essentially what he said in “Crisis of Parliamentary Democracy.”

    With the collusion of press, party and capital, politics has become a shadow of economic reality. Instead of exchanging opinions in an attempt to pursued one another of the truth and justice of something, that is, instead of our laws arising out of conflicts of opinion, they arise out of a struggle of interests, which are now invariably decided behind closed doors. Politics has become “a situation in which all public business has become an object of spoils and compromise for the parties and their followers.”


    • Thanks for the great comment.

      It is precisely that “struggle of interests” which impels the acquisition/consolidation of socioeconomic power that marks the death-knell of democracy. Such governments lacking the vigilance necessary to uphold the primacy of the vote, and to keep the people informed and involved, are doomed to fail as history shows. Today, America is a prime example. It is now a democracy in name only, and could be more accurately described as a plutocratic republic.

      Functional democracy is neither easy to achieve nor easy to maintain. However, it is certainly a worthy effort considering the alternative – authoritarianism. Carl Schmitt – a fervent Nazi, anti-Semite, and supporter of dictatorship – was philosophically seduced (like many others) by the allure of efficacious authoritarian rule. That is, that consolidated power is far superior to shared power in terms of achieving specific goals. The inescapable problem with authoritarianism, as we all should know, is that it’s dependent upon the human psychologies of those few in power. The so-called “good king” is but a myth. Megalomania runs rampant in individuals seeking positions of power, and intensifies in proportion to the degree of power attained; or, as Lord Acton put it:

      “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

      This lesson, as insightful as it is, lays beyond the sensibilities of most people today. Ordinary folks simply do not want – and are increasingly rejecting – the responsibility of participating in governance. They would rather place their trust in some charismatic leader who tells them what they want to hear especially during difficult times. The consequences of this civic abrogation can be shockingly horrific (e.g. Hitler). Therefore, I see democracy as flawed in practice rather than in design (as Schmitt did).


  3. How ironic that people who swear by the ideals of democracy, transparency and all the other great ideals, when they are not in power, almost always start seeing merit in ways and means of propagating “me and mine” when they are. Secrecy “for your good” in another argument they don’t seem to tire repeating.


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