This week the United States senate voted to grant fast track authority to president Obama for the, Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is the free trade deal including 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. These countries make up about 40% of the world’s GDP. As a general rule I am almost always in favor of free trade. That governments are working towards a free trade deal at all is, in and of itself, an oxymoron. You see, the government itself will not be trading anything. What they are really doing to debating to what extent that they will be able to dictate to business owners whom they would normally have no control, how and under what circumstances they are able to do business with the people who live in other countries and vice versa. Let’s put all that aside for a moment and work within the world we currently live in, and not the world we want, at least for a few minutes.
I can’t really say that I am, or would be for or against the current version of the TPP. I haven’t read it. Nobody except a select few honored, important individuals have read the agreement. The content of the bill is private. Off limits to mere citizens and elected representatives. The same elected representatives that are expected to vote on the agreement. Herein lies my problem. The entirety of the congress has been taken out of the loop…forever. Part of the reasoning for the fast track is that some of the countries would be hesitant to sign the agreement knowing that a future congress could change or eliminate some or all of the agreement. The solution? Easy, just make it impossible for anyone to ever alter the TPP. How could this possibly have happened? Oh yeah, I forgot, multi-national corporations have been lining the pockets of both parties to the tune of millions of dollars over the past few months.
The extremes of both the democrat and republican parties are against the TPP. The progressives were against it because they thought it may weaken unions and harm worker’s rights. The republicans were against it due to the lack of transparency in the bill and the power it gave away to the executive branch. The mainstream of both parties were for it, if not before, certainly after the bribes started rolling in. Remember, all this was purely based on ideology because NONE OF THEM WERE ALLOWED TO READ THE AGREEMENT THAT THEY WERE VOTING FOR! There have been a few details that have come to light, like the fact that Vietnam will have to improve worker conditions, wages and allow them the possibility of unionizing. Other aspects don’t seem so vanilla, like the Investor-to-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which could potentially threaten the sovereignty of every country that agrees to the provision. In essence, an international tribunal could overturn Supreme Court decisions regarding trademark and intellectual property laws if the business decision of one country hurt the profits of a private corporation, that corporation could sue for damages using ISDS, even when the case was lost in local courts.
If there were ever a case to be made that government and business should not mix, it is this one. Every time the government tries to broker deals on behalf of business, they fail. It’s not because they don’t try or they are corrupt. The truth is that there is uneven knowledge. What I mean is that the government, or more accurately, the people who make up the government, do not have the knowledge to run a business, never mind an international conglomerate. Those people tend to look towards the people who do have knowledge on the subject, international conglomerates, to help them write laws that deal with business and trade. Of course those laws and trade deals will favor multi-national corporations. This is exactly how intellectual property laws have gotten so out of hand. This is why big corporations are in favor of things like a minimum wage and regulatory controls. They know it will be harder for a small business to grow into a potential competitor.
In a perfect world a free trade agreement would be very short: You sell me your stuff, and I’ll sell you my stuff. We, unfortunately, do not live in a perfect world. The current version of the TPP is, according to Rand Paul, who was granted 45 minutes with the document, says that it’s about 800 pages. That alone tells me that this agreement is probably not a great deal for anyone except the shadowy, secretive people who write these things anonymously for their own benefit. The silver lining here is that this is an issue that transcends identity politics. When the tea party and the progressive socialists agree on an issue there must be a reason. To be very honest, the TPP was not even on my radar until the last couple weeks. It has been in the works for 10 years! Just scratching the surface enough to write this blog compels me to dig a little further and ask everyone else to do the same.