What’s wrong with the Trans Pacific Partnership

For the little that it’s worth*, I’m solidly against pending “free trade” agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership.

Curiously, and presumably unintentionally, TPP advocate (and US President) Barack Obama has recently articulated what may be the best reason to oppose these schemes. A new Reuters article quotes Mr. Obama as saying “As we speak, China is trying to write the rules for trade in the 21st century. We can’t let that happen. We should write those rules.”

Now, set aside the childish jingoism. For a moment, let’s even set aside the ambitious sleight-of-hand attempted in the uses of “we.”

I think the real key here is the phrase “write the rules for trade in the 21st century.” In context, Mr. Obama seems to be saying that the TPP and similar treaties, if enacted, will amount to “writing the rules of trade” for the century ahead. Which, as he implies, is a very big deal; in fact it would  probably be at least as accurate to describe these treaties as efforts to (re)write the rules for “any and every kind of economic activity on Earth.” Which I think we might safely also call “most of what we have laws and regulations for.”

Thus I’m extremely troubled by the argument that “the rules for trade in the 21st century” should be written in secret, by corporate lobbyists plus a handful of unelected bureaucrats in the role of moderator, and then “fast tracked” into supranational law with limited debate and no amendments.

I understand the arguments for the secrecy, and the “fast track” vote. I just don’t think that they come close to justifying wholesale exclusion of popular input from writing the rules for economic activity for the next century. I also don’t think that, with or without a Chinese bogeyman to invoke primitive fear of the other, Mr. Obama is credible in implying a shared interest through the term “we.”

Some of the handful of unelected bureaucrats involved in TPP negotations occasionally report to a busy chief executive who, though democratically elected, never made “a vote for me is a vote for big new secretly negotiated trade deals” a significant campaign theme. (Not to mention the fact that said chief executive is now term limited, and might reasonably be less concerned with approval of the general public and more concerned with approval of the corporate elite with whom he will presumably be rubbing shoulders on various boards.) Yeah, um. Sorry but this does not constitute adequate grounds to toss out transparency and robust debate, and simply “trust me, I’m on your side.”

To put it another way, if “we” are on the same side and therefore exceptionally high mutual trust is justified, am I allowed to take Air Force One for a joyride? (If I bring a qualified pilot with me, at least?) No?

Yeah, okay then.

* I’m pretty certain that my total three representatives in the House and Senate will vote 2-1 against, and that their positions are unlikely to move.

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