The TPP: A Dangerous Proposal Whose Time Has Gone

By Joe Firestone

A recent, very good post at Naked Capitalism by Clive, suggests:

. . . Dear readers, you may think that writing to your elected representative, commenting negatively on articles you read in the mainstream media about the TPP and generally kicking up a bit of a fuss, making some noise, is a waste of effort. That is not so. The world does watch what goes on in the US. If popular sentiment is against something, the US government has a much harder job of convincing foreigners that it’s just them being awkward and reactionary and not getting the big, progressive, reform-minded, modernising picture.

I agree that this is a good proposal for one way the American public could register its objections to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with foreign leaders. But, I think that such letters ought also to point out that even if the TPP were railroaded successfully in the next few months, then it is unlikely to stick. After all, it is only a Treaty. Wouldn’t an electoral victory here by a movement dedicated to overturning corporate control of the political system, result in withdrawal from the TPP before any concrete legislation likely to conflict with it was passed by Congress?

The TPP is one of those things that would really engender paranoia here in the United States. In turn, this would become a continuing foundation for anti-government and second American Revolution buffs to use in building a much bigger movement.

After all, the TPP clearly compromises US sovereignty and Congress’s ability to pass legislation approved by the heavy majority of Americans. There’s no way for the TPP to avoid perceived sovereignty violations, especially in the medium term.

Each one of these incidents would be played up by nationalists and their protests would make good and continuing fodder for the media. The Treaty, in operation, would be a constant source of outrage. Over time, the anger against politicians and parties that passed the TPP is sure to build, and that anger will burst forth in one or more new nationalist movements that will first rival and then surpass what we’ve seen from the tea party.

So, other nations can legitimately be warned that agreement with the United States on the TPP would be the worst thing they can do if they care about political stability and a reasonable foreign policy emanating from the United States, since the medium term result of any such treaty is likely to be a wave of xenophobia and isolationism in the United States. The last thing that Asian nations need from the United States is that result; and the best thing they can do to get what they need least is to pass the TPP – the perfect political tool for the xenophobes and isolationists to use to build a radical nationalist movement.

Do other nations negotiating the TPP recognize this likely result yet? Do they really want to feed the underlying conditions for that kind of explosion in the United States? I doubt it. So, we need to inform them both of what American public opinion really thinks about the TPP right now, and also about the likely future of the TPP and American and international political stability if they follow the lead of the United States and pass the Treaty.

12 responses to “The TPP: A Dangerous Proposal Whose Time Has Gone

  1. Joe, I don’t see how the considerations you raise are any different than those that apply to any international treaty. They all place restrictions on domestic action. And they are all such that the US government can withdraw from them whenever Congress decides to withdraw.

    It seems to me that opponents of the TPP should focus on facts about the specific content of the TPP rather than general broad-brush concerns about “sovereignty.” The problem is that right now there is no actual document to aim at.

  2. What a dreamer! The TPP is just an expansion of the application of NAFTA. People who understand NAFTA are screaming “violation of sovereignty” but no one is listening. Far from condemning NAFTA, our government and Congress are planning this expansion. The chutzpah of the foreign policy community is breathtaking, except that there is a good chance they will get away with it.

  3. Joe, do you think NAFTA has any relevance to what might happen if TPP were to pass? Ross Perot warned about the giant sucking sound if NAFTA were to pass, which it did, and there were a lot of jobs lost, not all to Mexico and Canada, but the consequences seem to be rather tame by comparison to what you envision for TPP.

  4. The article is as Joe say, “a very good post.” Everyone should read it.

    But this is wrong: After all, it is only a Treaty. Treaty trumps State. A US Treaty trumps internal US laws. This is a serious issue.

  5. The reason that there is no document to aim at is because all the TPP treaty details are deliberately kept so highly secret. That’s not democracy. The treaty seems to also provide a discreet (but clumsy and entirely predicatable) framework or buffer against any natural influence from China over this Asian Pacific region. That’s not democratic — rather it is no more than a direct power play over the region by America (think Kissinger Report — think Washington Consensus from the good old days – nothing has really changed within the US Empire of influence). The TPP treaty itself also seems to allow direct, unreasonable and unencumbered influence, through direct manipulation over the business laws in these underdeveloped regions e. g. such as allowing the big drugs companies to unreasonably extend their drugs patent expiration dates within the treaty region for no other apparent good reason than to provide larger profits for US pharmaceutical companies by any political means possible. When one asks the simple question: How does this sort of TPP policy help the the (poor) people within underdeveloped countries within the treaty — that approach again cannot, in any way, be described as democratic: it’s just plain business greedy.

    American politicians always tip their hats and grovel to their business and financial influences. After all, that’s how US government politicians reward their influential paypals in the US corporate and financial sectors. And that’s how US politicians, for no apparent or visible reason, always suddenly seem to become millionaires when they finally retire from US politics.

  6. Glenn Greenwald has this tidbit from a TPP doc (January 9, 2014) with a link to a Senate doc.

  7. The TPP is NOT meant to be a treaty, but a trade agreement. Use of the TPA (“Fast Track”) submits the agreement to both the Senate and House, and it can be passed by a majority vote in both houses. A treaty is submitted only to the Senate, where it must receive 2/3 of the votes cast, when it then becomes the “supreme law of the land” defined in the constitution. A trade agreement can be overturned by a bill approved by a majority vote of the Senate and House. A treaty is a much more serious matter, and we should not speak as though “it’s only a treaty”.

    • Why is this an important difference? If TPP is a treaty, then the dispute tribunals will trump the constitution and any conflicting acts of congress. If, however, TPP is a trade agreement, then dispute tribunal decisions will be subject to review by the Supreme Court. This is where the concerns about loss of sovereignty arise.

      Under GATT, the administration abandoned the regulation prohibiting imports or tuna caught in purse-seign nets, after a suit brought by the Mexican fishing industry resulted in a trade tribunal finding that the US regulation against purse-seign fishing violated the profit-first values of GATT.

      So the administration bowed to pressure from GATT, and allowed it to trump legal US regulations, even though GATT is not a treaty, but a trade agreement.

      So we have a history of the administration acting as though these trade agreement have “supreme law of the land” status, even though under the constitution they do NOT have such status.

      • Dispute tribunals don’t trump the Constitution. Under the Constitution the US can participate in an international dispute tribunal system if they so choose. And the same Constitutional authority that allows them to enter an agreement to participate in such a system allows them to withdraw from such a system at any time.

        • Perhaps I have not made my concerns clear enough.

          The US has occasionally abandoned treaties in the past, as the Bush administration abandoned the ABM Treaty in 2001, under terms embodied in the treaty itself, by presidential order. No action was required by Congress.
          If the TPP were to be considered as a treaty, we should look for abandonment and severability clauses in the text of the treaty. If there are no such clauses, then it might require a 2/3 vote in the Senate to abandon a treaty. This hasn’t happened, so we don’t know.

          If the TPP is a simple trade agreement, then a simple act of Congress can amend it. If, however, Congress suspends its own rules by granting TPA, then Congress may be giving up its rights to amend later by a simple majority, as long as the TPA remains in effect. It might be that Congress can revoke a TPA grant at any time, but it is not clear to me that the Senate alone could do that without House concurrence.

          Certainly the president could refuse to abide by terms of a trade agreement, and the Supreme Court would then have automatic jurisdiction if a corporation were to bring a complaint for non-compliance with a dispute tribunal order. In that case I agree with your point.

    • Yes, the preamble to the fast track bill to promote this agreement says:
      “To establish congressional trade negotiating objectives and enhanced consultation requirements for trade negotiations, to provide for consideration of trade agreements, and for other purposes.
      1 Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
      4 This Act may be cited as the ‘‘Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities Act of 2014’’.”

      So, it’s an Act, not a Treaty. As such, it is subject to review by our Supreme Court, so maybe, just maybe, SCOTUS will scuttle this even if it passes (where are those so-called America-first Republicans now that we actually need to put America first?). I would rather see it soundly defeated in Congress though.

  8. Always arguing about what’s best for America. Nothing changes !!

    Well how’s this — Let’s hope that all the rest of the more primitive countries that are involved in the TPP also have sufficient in their constitutions to easily opt out of the TPP if they so wish. Remember that what benefits America, does not necessarily (in my own experience) benefit these underdeveloped countries. America now has the habit, for a number of decades, of taking huge advantage of the more primitive mercantilists in order to assure the cheapest resources and cheap labor for her own industry. If you don’t believe me, then checkout the Kissinger Report or the Washington Consensus (America’s biased rules for trade participation). Or just read Michael Hudson’s “Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire” which I fully support.