by: Christopher Rockwell
A deal, being crafted in secret and potentially fast-tracked through Congress, may have lasting implications on our safety, our privacy, and on the environment…
Life moves pretty fast, and oftentimes it feels like politics and policy move even faster. Before you know it, another set of regulations is being forced upon us, or a questionable program has been set into motion. But being ignorant of forthcoming policy due to a lack of engrossment is far different than being oblivious because of government clandestineness. And this appears to be the case, an obvious and deliberate attempt by the current administration to enact policy stealthily, with The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Deal.
The Trans Pacific Partnership deal, for those of you not in the know, is a trade agreement involving twelve1 Asian countries along the Pacific Rim and the US. The TPP is one of the most ambitious trade agreements ever attempted, and the economies of the countries involved is estimated to encompass over thirty-five percent of the world’s economy. The agreement’s aim, according to those pushing for the deal, is to deepen economic ties between these twelve nations. It’s goal is to reduce or eliminate tariffs between member countries to help open up trade of goods and services. On top of this, the TPP hopes to foster investment flows between the member countries to further boost economic growth.
Sounds beneficial, right? Well, this is only one side of the story….
The terms of the TPP, it appears, will not be open to debate. Even Congress will not have complete access to the provisions of the TPP before it is signed, and the terms will not be publicly disclosed. The President has placed this proposed deal on a “fast-track,” meaning that he is reserving the authority to negotiate international agreements – that Congress can approve or disapprove – but that they cannot amend or filibuster. Basically, fast-tracking a bill is a temporary, and extremely controversial, authority granted to the President by Congress. And while this is scary enough on its own, the negotiations of this bill involve (hold onto your hats) well over six hundred corporate advisers, including representatives from Monsanto, Halliburton, DuPont, Cargill, and Syngenta. And in this way, it is hard not to look at this TPP deal as a sort of corporate coup, an establishment of monetarily-driven one percenters who will be in a position to enact policy globally with their own agendas in mind.
The lack of transparency with this deal is terrifying. And in a paradoxical about face, the President, who has claimed time and again that he is running the most transparent administration in history, is waging war behind a closed door, a war that could have a lasting impact on the world economy and the environment long after he packs his bags and leaves Washington. President Obama defiantly insists the deal is not secret (“The one [critique] that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a ‘secret’ deal,”), yet the text of the TPP agreement is classified. Members of Congress’ access to the text is severely restricted, and they face criminal prosecution if they pass on to their constituents what they know. In fact, everything we know about the deal comes from document leaks released by Wikileaks. So what do these leaks tell us? What is it that is being hidden from the public? Well, the main concerns – the ones we know about – are threefold. They involve threats to our digital freedom, the environment (and food safety), and to jobs.
From the information we have at hand, it appears that the Obama administration’s United States Trade Representative (USTR), Michael Froman, who is negotiating our interests in the TPP, has included provisions that would incentivize internet service providers to monitor more of their users’ activities, threatening online privacy. Other provisions will prevent whistleblowers and journalists from accessing and disclosing trade secrets through computer systems. And the TPP may be poised to facilitate global internet censorship by setting up a system to remove allegedly “infringing” content from the web without a court order. In other words, what could be at risk is a disruption to and a stranglehold on the most fundamental ways in which we access information via the web. This poses a severe threat to our freedoms of expression, due process, innovation, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities.
From all accounts of the TPP, the deal is being crafted so that corporations, not citizens, have control over food safety regulations. This includes the conditions in which the food is grown, the use of herbicides and pesticides, and the surrendering of domestic food inspections to be outsourced to foreign countries if they assert that their standards are equivalent to the US, whether this is the case or not. Also, the TPP proposes to put limits on the banning of gas for export that was derived from fracking, which in turn diminishes our ability to enact policies to combat the ever-growing climate crisis. And on top of all this, it is reported that the chief agricultural negotiator for the US in the TPP deliberations is the former Monsanto lobbyist, Islam Siddique, who will certainly continue to cultivate Monsanto’s global impact on the environment.
While the point of the TPP appears to be partly aimed at developing job growth, many have compared this deal to NAFTA (signed in 1994 between the US, Canada, and Mexico), and while the limited information available makes it impossible to confirm or deny this comparison, it is worth noting that post-NAFTA the US saw a mass exodus of jobs, with nearly 700,000 being exported, with almost seventy percent of those in manufacturing. Food for thought….
The fact of the matter is this: International agreements like the TPP (and like NAFTA before it), paired with the fast-track (Trade Promotion Authority) process provide the perfect landscape for corporate corruption. Special interest groups are literally buying in for a seat at the table of this international tribunal, with aims to shape the TPP to promote their business and increase their profits with little regard to people’s rights, safety, and the greater good of humankind. So it is no wonder that many who are customarily in favor of opening up markets to free trade oppose the TPP, as the back-room politics and secrecy is just too much to be asked to swallow. Is the TPP truly set to give the largest and most powerful companies on the planet even more of the market share and more capacity to set policies? Is it a sign that Congressional Democrats are lining up in opposition of the TPP, while many Republicans clamor in defense of the deal? Does clandestineness imply wrongdoing? Is there anything we can do? There are so many questions, and unfortunately – and deliberately – there are too few answers to be found.
- The twelve nations currently negotiating the TPP are the US, Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam [↩]