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Notes on the TPP.

22 Oct

The TPP was written in complete secrecy by corporate CEOs and their lawyers, along with official governmental trade negotiators, over a five year period. The trade negotiator for the US is Michael Froman. He served in the Treasury Dept under Bob Rubin within the Clinton administration, during which time the Glass-Steagall Act was overturned, leading directly to the conditions giving rise to the economic meltdown years later.  After that gig, he and Rubin both went to work for Citigroup (big bank and hedge fund a-go-go). In 2013, he became our trade negotiator. I mention this because it’s relevant that our trade negotiator is a big bank guy who worked for one of the banks that helped tank the economy in ’08.

Obama signed the TPP in Feb. this year, as did all the leaders of the 12 signatory nations. None of them, however, has gotten the deal ratified in their countries yet; i.e., the TPP has not been passed through the parliaments or Congresses of any of the 12 nations yet and so has not legally gone into effect.

They have 2 years to ratify the TPP. If it isn’t ratified by Feb 2018, they can put it into force with only 6 countries participating, if the GDP of those 6 countries combined equals 85% of the GDP of the original 12 countries.

The TPP includes an ISDS [investor-state dispute settlement] mechanism. This clause allows a company to sue a treaty-participating country for monetary damages if local laws affect their business. It does not allow them to make changes to local laws, but it does allow them to sue a government for “damages”. The ISDS is run by a tribunal of 3 judges: all of whom are corporate heads, chosen by a panel of big corporations. It has been pointed out that previous trade agreements with an ISDS clause have pushed participating countries to loosen environmental and labor regulations in an effort to preemptively stave off potential lawsuits under ISDS, thus inherently influencing which laws are passed or altered by signatory countries.  It is the ISDS that ensures an end to our national sovereignty, as if the TPP even without it, weren’t bad enough. Any member of Congress that votes yes for this trade agreement and the president that signs it into law is committing treason, in my opinion.

While the ISDS clause cannot forcibly change US laws, some US laws will need to be changed in order to comply with the TPP itself. Obama had the duty (signed into law with the passage of the “Fast-track” bill; aka the Trade Promotion Authority or TPA) of working with the heads of the various US agencies (Dept of Ag, Commerce Dept, Treasury Dept, OSHA, etc.) to create a list of which laws would need to be altered, and to present this list to Congress at the same time the TPP is formally presented to them for vote. Obama signed an executive order in July handing this duty over to Michael Froman (our trade representative). We will find out what laws have been changed if/when Congress votes yes on the TPP. Congress can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the TPP and its attached list of regulatory changes; they are not allowed to amend, filibuster, debate, add to, delete from, or alter any text at all.

Which means that any politician (like Hillary Clinton and Harry Reid) who suggests that the TPP can “be improved” by Congress before it is passed is lying through his teeth. Congress cannot change a word of the TPP. Any improvements that Congress might want to suggest before they would pass the damned thing would necessitate the renegotiation of the agreement with the other countries. (Congress cannot amend the text themselves, but they might, behind the scene so to speak, suggest changes that would ensure passage.) In other words, if Congress says they want x,y, or z clauses to be changed, the TPP has to be re-presented to all the countries with the alterations and the whole negotiation started over again, with the leaders of these countries having to sign a new agreement and presenting that new one to their parliaments for ratification. Obama wants this thing done before he leaves office, so it’s unlikely he would consider any recommendations from Congress that would cause the TPP to have to go into renegotiation. And when Clinton makes breezy promises to “improve” it when she is the president, she is eliding the fact that any improvements she might want will likewise send the agreement into renegotiation. (Remember, the countries only have 2 years to ratify the TPP through their parliaments, so there is little time to negotiate a new treaty.)

The “fast-track” bill that Congress wrote and passed and that Obama signed into law last year has its own stipulations that the media has chosen to completely ignore. This bill governs how Congress votes on any trade agreements for the next 6 years. It reads that Congress can only vote ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on any of these agreements without debate, alterations, or amendments, as I mentioned above. I also mentioned that it made the president responsible for telling Congress of any changes to our existing laws that have to occur to comply to the agreements (a duty that Obama handed off to Froman).

In case you think I am inventing the idea that some of our laws will require alteration or amendment (or, in fact, to be overturned altogether) with passage of the TPP, it is quite obvious that this is the case, as the Fast-track bill includes these paragraphs:

“if changes in existing laws or new statutory authority are required to implement such trade agreement or agreements, only such provisions as are strictly necessary or appropriate to implement such trade agreement or agreements, either repealing or amending existing laws or providing new statutory authority.[…]”

and:

“within 60 days after entering into the agreement, the President submits to Congress a description of those changes to existing laws that the President considers would be required in order to bring the United States into compliance with the agreement.”

But there are further rules imposed by the fast-track law, and these are overarching requirements for any trade agreement for the next 6 years. Fast-track demands that no trade agreement can discourage or prejudice commercial activity between the US and Israel. It stipulates that trade agreements must discourage movements such as BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) against Israel. This “no-BDS” clause includes everyone; the definition is given thusly:

“Definition.–In this paragraph, the term ‘actions to boycott, divest from, or sanction Israel” means actions by states, non-member states of the United Nations, international organizations, or affiliated agencies of international organizations that are politically motivated and are intended to penalize or otherwise limit commercial relations specifically with Israel or persons doing business in Israel or in Israeli-controlled territories.”

This formal declaration against the BDS movement was included despite the fact that Israel is not a participating country in any of the troika of trade agreements potentially coming up for vote in the near future. [What I call the troika consists of the TTP, the TTIP, and TISA.]

Fast-track also puts an end to any notion that we will ever have the labeling of products like GMOs or nano-technology, as it includes the following, a provision that none of the trade agreements can include:

“unjustified trade restrictions or commercial requirements, such as labeling, that affect new technologies, including biotechnology; […]”

When Obama signed the fast-track bill into law, he also signed the updated TAA (aka the Trade Adjustment Assistance law). This bill acknowledges the fact that trade agreements cost the US millions of jobs and so Congress authorizes funds for the “re-training” of American workers who will need to find new jobs with which to support themselves. The TAA has existed for years, but was set to expire in 2015. Congress reauthorized the bill and increased the funding because they knew that the upcoming TPP would cost jobs. They had to pass the TAA in order to get the fast-track bill passed: Obama demanded both at the same time, as did members of Congress who otherwise opposed the fast-track legislation, specifically because they know the TPP, TTIP, etc. will lead to job losses. Some of them even said so out loud while debating the fast-track and TAA bills – that the TPP will cost the US several million jobs, which is a vast understatement, according to labor experts. In order to pass the TAA re-training bill, Congress scotch-taped it to the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a trade bill supported by the Congressional Black Caucus, to attract more yes votes. In the updated bill, Congress supplied the necessary $950 mm funding (their estimate of the minimum needed for worker re-training if the TPP passes) by cutting Medicare further. They extended the Medicare sequestration reductions – Medicare benefits have been cut repeatedly since Obama took office – through 2024 and reduced reimbursements for Medicare patients who are on dialysis for acute renal failure. If you are one of the Americans qualified to get “re-training” money to help you “upgrade your skills” so you can find a new job at McDonald’s or WalMart after the TPP erases your current job, thank an elderly dialysis patient. Oh, wait, you won’t be able to – they’ll all be dead. And by the way, the amount of money you’ll get from the federal government toward a “re-training” program is $1500. Good luck.

No-one in the media noted that while Congress was talking about how the TPP was a swell idea, so “wonderful” that they wanted (and got) the fast-track bill in order to get the TPP passed as quickly as possible when it comes to a vote, they were admitting within the body of a bill passed at the same exact time as fast-track that the TPP was going to cost US jobs. Obama’s trade-policy advocates say the TPP will create jobs at the same time they say it will cost jobs. Which is it?  According to them (depending on the day of the week and which shill they have talking about it for them that day), it will do both.  Let’s call it the “Vietnam War Theory of Economics and Job Growth”. This new economic theory is that jobs must be lost in order for jobs to be created, and that a “good” trade deal is one that will lead to lost jobs and lower wages, which then must be partially offset by more federal spending for the displaced work force (funded with the tried and true method of simply taking monies from another sector of the public sphere); said pool of “displaced workers” having been created by the government passing the trade agreement in the first place.

And the TPP is what Clinton calls the “gold standard” of trade agreements, at least until she decided she had to lie about her position on it in order to garner votes.  For some reason, we allow our votes to be heavily invested in outright political lies.

The TTIP and TISA, the other two trade agreements currently under negotiation, have the same issues that the TPP does, and while I am not going into the specific details of those two here, if they are signed and brought before Congress, they will also be enacted within the mandates of the fast-track law. Some good information about both can be found on wikipedia, and websites such as publiccitizen.org are doing an outstanding job of reporting on them.

The TPP and the other trade agreements aren’t about trade. Tariffs are already near zero. They are about giving big, multi-national corporations complete control of and power over judicial and legislative decisions in every country, as well as providing unlimited opportunities for corporate cartels to strip money from wages and reduce governmental spending on the commons.

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