The Universal Notebook: Trans-Pacific Partnership is terrible public policy

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

The far right sees President Obama as a socialist radical, but from where I sit out here in left field, he looks more and more like a Chamber of Commerce capitalist.

Heck, Obama is one of the best friends Corporate America has ever had in the White House. He saved the auto industry, bailed out the banks, let the oil industry do all the fracking it wants, and now he’s entered into an unholy alliance with Republicans to try to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade and investment agreement that benefits multinational corporations at the expense of the American people.

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is America’s best chance to ensure the United States isn’t stuck on the outside – looking in – as Asia-Pacific nations pursue new trade accords among themselves.”

But according to Public Citizen, the consumer watchdog group founded by Ralph Nader, “The TPP would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement ‘trade’ pact model that has spurred massive U.S. trade deficits and job loss, downward pressure on wages, unprecedented levels of inequality and new floods of agricultural imports.”

“I would not be doing this trade deal if I did not think it was good for the middle class,” Obama has insisted, but few in his own party, myself included, agree with him.

I confess I really know very little about the provisions of TPP, but then that’s one of the major problems with the 800-page document that would establish new trade relations among a dozen Pacific Rim countries – no one knows much about it.

TPP is a secret deal. Members of Congress have been allowed to read parts of it under controlled conditions in a guarded basement room, but Obama has essentially asked them – and us – to buy a pig in a poke.

There are a few things we do know about the provisions of TPP and one of the most troubling is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement mechanism.

“Companies can sue governments for full compensation for any reduction in their future expected profits resulting from regulatory changes,” explains Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a TPP opponent.

Raise the minimum wage, enact stricter environmental regulations, ban a pesticide, require stronger warnings on tobacco products? A corporation can sue a country for loss of potential revenue.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, the leading TPP opponent in the U.S. Senate, describes ISDS as “an obscure process that allows big companies to go to corporate-friendly arbitration panels that sit outside any court system in order to challenge laws they don’t like. These panels can force taxpayers to write huge checks to those big corporations, with no need to file a suit in court, no appeals, and no judicial review.”

In the June issue of New England Journal of Medicine, Yale University law professor Amy Kapczynski warns that the intellectual property provisions of the TPP threaten the lives of millions of people in developing countries because its patent regulations are designed to protect private profits, not public health.

“If the TPP includes robust ISDS provisions and the expansive provisions proposed in the IP chapter and the health care annex,” writes Kapczynski, “the United States could be signing away its authority to regulate critical aspects of health policy for years to come.”

President Bill Clinton’s NAFTA treaty ultimately cost the United States a million jobs without boosting the U.S. economy appreciably. Why Obama would want to go down that road to ruin again is beyond me. Democrats generally represent the public interest, while Republicans generally represent business interests, but in the case of the TPP, Obama has joined the GOP.

The fact that Obama’s closest allies in trying to pass the TPP deal are House Speaker John Boehner and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, both of whom oppose him on just about everything else, and his chief opponent is Warren, who tends to support him on just about everything else, should give the president a clue that he is making a huge mistake.

The Republican-controlled House granted Obama fast-track negotiating authority last week, 218-208, with both Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Maine Democrat, and Rep. Bruce Poliquin, a Maine Republican, opposed.

Let’s hope Obama comes to his senses before his legacy becomes selling out the American people the way Clinton did.

Sidebar Elements

Freelance journalist Edgar Allen Beem lives in Brunswick. The Universal Notebook is his personal, weekly look at the world around him.