On June 12, as part of a legislative maneuver, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives voted against and defeated part of a package bill that would have given “fast track” authority to President Barack Obama to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The result in the U.S. Congress is still pending. The union and environmental movements in the U.S. have mobilized to defeat the TPP.
The TPP is a so-called free trade agreement, this one with 11 other Pacific Rim nations: Australia, Brunei, Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Japan. Secret negotiations for the TPP have been underway since 2010.
Fast track authority means that the U.S. president is authorized to negotiate secretly to reach an agreement which then must be voted on within two months with a direct up or down vote. No amendments to the agreement are permitted, no filibuster in the Senate will be allowed, and only a simple majority is needed to pass.
The TPP bill has been surrounded by extreme secrecy: members of Congress must view the contents alone with no supporting staff. No smart phones, computers or cameras are allowed, and members are not allowed to take written notes. Drafts of the bill will remain classified for four years after the agreement is adopted!
On the surface, the vote appeared to be an aberration. Right-wing Republicans, who usually profess their hatred for Obama, led the charge to give sweeping authority to him, while the majority of Democrats opposed the bill.
Free trade and imperialism
The TPP is just one of a triad of “free trade” agreements currently being negotiated around the world. The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a proposed agreement between the European Union and the U.S. The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) negotiations cover the U.S., the EU and 23 other countries including Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Pakistan, Taiwan and Israel. The TISA is an attempt to recognize the fact that “services” now account for nearly 80 percent of the U.S and EU economies.
All three of these proposed pacts notably exclude the so-called BRICS countries — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — which have attempted to counter the U.S juggernaut towards world economic hegemony.
All of these agreements are being pushed under the slogan of “free trade,” which, it is claimed, will bring prosperity for all. Nothing could be further from the truth. As Sam Marcy, a former chairperson of Workers World Party, remarked in describing an earlier free trade agreement:
“In the contemporary world struggle, the bourgeoisie still postures as the champion of free trade. But it is not the free trade of the old competitive stage of capitalism. It is the free trade of giant imperialist monopolies.” (“Free trade, monopoly and NAFTA,” Workers World, 1993)
In fact, 95 percent of the TPP is not directly related to trade per se, but to the deregulation of investment by multinational corporations — to their advantage.
The Wikileaks revelations
Despite the extreme measures taken to keep the negotiations secret, a lot of information has leaked out about what the the TPP contains. Since 2013, WikiLeaks, an organization which has in the past revealed secrets about war crimes by the U.S and its allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, has published dozens of secret documents from the TPP negotiations, including the negotiating positions taken by various countries.
Nevertheless, details of the massive treaty, affecting 40 percent of the world’s economy, remain secret. According to Julian Assange, the leader of WikiLeaks, who is still confined in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, “Six hundred U.S companies are part of the negotiation process and have been given access to various parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” (quoted in inquisitr.com, May 31)
Assange warns that the deal could give corporations a massive advantage with environmental and labor laws.
“It’s about regulating labor, what labor conditions can be applied, regulating, whether you can favor local industry, regulating the hospital health care system, privatization of hospitals. So essentially, every aspect of the modern economy, even banking services, are in the TPP.” (inquisitr.com)
An especially pernicious provision of the TPP is the establishment of unaccountable supranational courts that would allow multinational corporations to sue countries outside of their own judicial systems. Although the “Investor-State Dispute Resolution” tribunals mainly target the sovereignty of developing nations, they would also apply within the U.S.
The definitions empowering the ISDR’s are so broad that they could be used to attack everything from regulating hydrofracking and anti-tobacco laws to the regulation of multinational banks.
According to the consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen, the TPP pact could “expose Medicare to pharmaceutical company attacks and constrain future policy reforms, including the ability of the U.S. government to curb rising and unsustainable drug prices.” (citizen.org, June 10)
One target of the new pact appears to be the public health care systems of New Zealand and Australia, which, because of their successful control of drug and medical devices prices, have been touted as models for many countries in the developing world.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership, along with the other so-called free trade pacts being negotiated, is a mortal danger to the laboring masses of the entire planet. These pacts are nothing less than an attempt to make an end run around the fierce resistance which is steadily building among the 99%. That’s why so many popular organizations and unions are demanding: Stop the TPP!