What New-Style Trade Agreements Are Really About (Hint: It's Not Trade)

from the not-in-Kansas-anymore dept

Given the massive impact that new-style trade agreements like TPP and TAFTA/TTIP are likely to have on the lives of hundreds of millions of people, it's surprising how few members of the public know about what's being negotiated in their name. Fortunately, publications are starting to run more articles on the subject, like this great piece by David Brodwin in US News.

It offers a good discussion of the key problems with TPP -- things like the lack of transparency, the absence of meaningful public participation, and the deepening loss of national sovereignty -- before concluding with this excellent analysis of what's really going on with TPP, which also applies to TAFTA/TTIP:

In a global economy, trade policy has sweeping ramifications for every sector of the economy. Decisions on trade policy are really decisions on the relative power of corporations and governments. Trade policy affects employment rates, wage levels, the availability of capital, environmental conditions, public health, and much more. We cannot allow negotiations over these vital things to be conducted by secret bodies, without public oversight, comment, and ultimately the right of the public to affirm or reject these agreements.

The nature of trade pacts has changed significantly. Once upon a time, trade negotiations were largely about countries seeking advantage over other countries, or seeking to dismantle tariffs that prevented fair and open competition. Now the negotiations are about dominant industries seeking to prevent competition rather than encourage it. The negotiations are about dominant global-scale industries seeking to undercut government efforts to regulate them in the public interest. There is no such thing as a simple "trade pact" anymore.
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  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 8:49pm

    IIUYC, leveling the playing field in other countries so that US manufacturers receive the same consideration in those other countries that their manufacturers receive here is simply a manifestation of "corporate" (big, medium and small companies, as well as other exporters of goods and services) greed and should be resoundingly rejected.

    One without tact might say something like "You must live at 101 Utopian Lane." Of course, I would never deign to say such a thing.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 9:16pm

    No, this was a fairy tale:

    "Once upon a time, trade negotiations were largely about countries seeking advantage over other countries, or seeking to dismantle tariffs that prevented fair and open competition. " -- In fact, removing tariffs that prevented US corporations from pitting US workers against MUCH lower-paid workers in other countries was designed to lead us exactly to now with a few "global-scale industries" dominating all.

    The fairy tale of "free trade" only further advantaged The Rich. That was its only purpose.

    Just about everything that uses the word "free" is actually sucker bait. Google's "free" services, for instance.

     

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  3.  
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    Lorpius Prime (profile), Apr 29th, 2013 @ 9:17pm

    Please be careful with this.

    That Brodwin article attacks "special interest giveaways" in one paragraph, and then bemoans the fact that such trade deals would forbid such provisions as the "Buy American" law in the very next. I'm not sure if that's willfull blindness or he truly doesn't realize the hypocrisy.

    I'm sympathetic to Techdirt's concerns with trade deals' promotion of insane IP regulations and the lack of transparency. But I worry that y'all are letting that concern push you into alliance with old-style protectionist populism.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 9:22pm

    Global Economy

    That actually means Corporate economy.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 10:30pm

    Trade agreements aren't just about increasing trade, that is a popular misconception. Often, it's about creating balance in trade between countries, eliminating barriers, or moving the barriers to different places to achieve different goals.

    If you don't understand what trade agreements really do, it's very easy to end up like the author, confused about the whole thing.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 10:57pm

    Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    Google has to be paid somehow so it sells advertising. Their services and products have helped advance the software industry in so many sectors that I believe we get a very good deal.

    Next.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 29th, 2013 @ 11:32pm

    Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    I get a lot of value from "free" service and all I have to do is look at ads, whow am I being suckered?

    Sure there's the fact they scan gmails for keywords but if I as an individual know that going in and decide that's acceptable who are you to say I'v been suckered?

     

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  8.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:22am

    Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    More rich envy, yawn.

     

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  9.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 1:22am

    Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    Also, more attacks on Google, double yawn.

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 2:59am

    Re:

    I think that is the problem most of us have with them. They're negotiated in secret with no oversight. How can anyone be certain of what they're about?

    The only thing we can talk about with certainty is the outcomes of previous pacts, how they've hamstrung elected governments and generally been counter to public opinion. Yeah, not a problem at all.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:10am

    Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    and who pays for the advertising ??

    that's right YOU DO..

    Google advancing the software industry ??? it's an advertising company... NOT a software company.

    I suppose if Microsoft advertises with Google then you could say Google has helped advance the software industry.

    Like they advance any industry that advertises with them, and it is of course you and me who pays for that advertising.

    We pay a little bit more for everything we buy, because that money is spent on advertising.

    Nothing if free, it is sometimes not clear how you pay for it, but one way or another YOU PAY.

    And yes, it does appear the author of this article has little idea of what trade AGREEMENTS, actually are.

    That without corporations you do not have trade or trade agreements. Big business is big trade.

    it's surprising how few members of the public know about what's being negotiated in their name.

    not in the name of the 'millions' of consumers, consumers are just that, consumers, they are not 'the trade' nor are they 'stakeholders'.

    Trade negations are intended to allow various corporations and governments (who are actually involved in trade) to come to agreements to allow for that trade to continue, and to do so on a fair and equitable basis.

    It is not a 'popular vote', or something you can really participate in if you are simply a consumer, it is something where people who actually conduct trade on a global scale settle on a set of fair rules and conditions to conduct that trade.

    For the people involved there is total transparency the ones actually doing it, the stakeholders, shareholders and traders who want to reach a fair agreement are involved, but it you think it is going to make a big difference to a mere consumer like you or me, then you simply do not understand how commerce works.

     

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  12.  
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    Zakida Paul (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:14am

    Re: Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    "and who pays for the advertising ??

    that's right YOU DO.. "

    Funny I have never paid a penny for such advertising. In fact, thanks to a little thing called Adblock plus I do not even see such advertising.

     

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    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:16am

    Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    I get a lot of value from "free" service and all I have to do is look at ads, whow am I being suckered?

    How?? we'll nothing is free, next time you buy a burger from the Golden arches, or buy a coke a percentage of the cost of those items is to cover the cost of advertising.

    This added cost is on EVERY PRODUCT you buy, regardless of if you have seen adds for that product or not.

    Google makes huge sums of money from companies paying them to run adds, those companies make huge amounts of money selling their products, those companies pass the cost of their advertising (like via Google) to the consumer by charging more for their products.

    No such thing as "free" services, they are services you simply do not pay for directly. You don't for example pay Google for running MacDonald's adds, but you pay MacDonald's who in turn use that money to pay Google.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:19am

    Re: Global Economy

    Corporate economy, is that like 'money banks' ???

    Fancy corporations being involved in (shock) BUSINESS and commerce !!!! and trading !!!! ..

    When will it end !!!

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:23am

    Re: Re:

    The only thing we can talk about with certainty is the outcomes of previous pacts, how they've hamstrung elected governments and generally been counter to public opinion.

    we'll then DO IT !!!!

    tell us what previous pacts have impacted you ?? or others, and how they have hamstrung elected governments. And some examples of how they have been generally counter to public opinion.

    Please back up your claims with pols and stats. And a fact or two would be nice.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:32am

    Re:

    Trade agreements are a minimum standard of protection you are granting to companies. It is getting more and more specific and now they are at times detail-regulation what specific products can and cannot enter countries (through health laws and green laws etc.). The result is that specific companies are extremely involved in the process since these details concern their trade significantly.

    The result of the modern "free trade agreements" is smaller and smaller wiggle-room for politicians to change laws and therefore companies basically forcing through a guarantee from the countries to not change specific laws! Furthermore it can easily be abused by larger companies to avoid competition if they are good at selecting the right protectionism!

    A specific example:
    In Denmark we have some of the most efficient pumps in the world. Danfoss is producing them. When Denmark negotiates trade agreements on specifically pumps, the environmental standard of pumps is a measure they want in there. If they get a high enough environmental standard they can force competition to be minimal since most other companies simply cannot compete! In EU they even had a monopoly for a while because no other company could comply with the efficiency standards the commission put up!

     

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  17.  
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    Akari Mizunashi (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    You may not have paid for a particular product, but everyone pays for advertising.

    Remember that the next time you buy a brand name product. I'm betting you can find an ad for it.

     

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  18.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:54am

    Re: Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    Google advancing the software industry

    They employ various Linus kernel developers as development of it is important to their operations.

     

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  19.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Apr 30th, 2013 @ 5:22am

    Re: Re: Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    Google advancing the software industry ??? it's an advertising company... NOT a software company.
    Google, like the company or not, has spurred a number of software developments. Many of them are web based products, but still software none the less. To name just a very few.

    Google Picasa
    Google Desktop
    Google Docs
    Google Chrome (OS)
    Google Chrome (Browser)
    Google Gears
    Google SketchUp
    Google Earth

    Oh and let us not forget the number 1 Smartphone OS (aka SOFTWARE) Android. Google also provides software developers to various linux projects including kernel development.

    You can like Google, or hate Google, but Google, via many of the above software (and other un-listed ones) it developed spurred other companies to move forward. One example would be the 'Notification Shade' in Android, which was later mimicked by iOS. Another example would be 'Google Desktop' which spurred Microsoft to build a better search tool, or Google Chrome which forced Microsoft to innovate it's browsers.
    That without corporations you do not have trade or trade agreements. Big business is big trade.

    it's surprising how few members of the public know about what's being negotiated in their name.

    not in the name of the 'millions' of consumers, consumers are just that, consumers, they are not 'the trade' nor are they 'stakeholders'.
    I must beg to differ. I may not be directly involved with international trade, but I most certainly am a stake holder. Any decisions made regarding trade will most certainly affect me directly! It will affect how much goods cost, my wage, my stocks, my mortgage (interest rates), my savings...

    In the good old USA the government is supposed to represent its people, and that includes me. When some multi-national corporation wants to devalue the dollar, that affects me. When we agree to remove tariffs and allow goods that are made with wage costs 1/20th of US Minimum Wage into the country with no 'markup' that directly affects millions of Americans (putting many of them out of work and reducing the wage of many, many more). Trade agreements have more or less gutted the middle class in America.
    but it you think it is going to make a big difference to a mere consumer like you or me, then you simply do not understand how commerce works.
    Don't say I don't have a stake in it. My stake is much larger! Companies may gain or lose 1 or 2% (which could be millions or billions of dollars) but the same decision may affect 20% or more of my income. I, as an individual have far more 'at stake' than any huge, multi-national corporation. Not in terms of raw dollars, but in terms of a percentage of net worth.

    If that company makes millions on a trade deal and at the same time kills 20,000 US jobs while putting all that money in the hands of 10 VPs and Cxx types that hurts the entire country in order to pad the pockets of the already overpaid corporate execs. Great plan.

    I submit it is you who doesn't understand how commerce works.

     

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  20.  
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    John Fenderson (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 10:35am

    Re: No, this was a fairy tale:

    I agree with you here, blue.

     

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  21.  
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    cosmicrat (profile), Apr 30th, 2013 @ 3:33pm

    Nailed it, Mr Applegate

    He did.

     

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  22.  
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    Liberati (profile), May 5th, 2013 @ 12:49am

    Trade negotiations??

    Big Gov and Big Corp are not so different entities if you really Think about it. They are not enemies, they are cronies. They are also (neo)mercantlists, corporatists and protectionists. Howīs that for a democratic pudding pie?
    Todays soft-socialistic Welfare states is Fascisms new face. Hitler and Mussolini would be green of envy if they knew what the World has morphed into.

    Trade really donīt need any deals or negotiations, period!

     

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  23.  
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    Liberati (profile), May 5th, 2013 @ 1:13am

    Fairness in trade

    And, please, donīt talk about fairness when it comes to trade. All parties involved in trade benefits. It is only in a modern day protectionistic, mercantilistic trade system that the ruling parties conjure up these Spectres of inequality and injustice when nations trade with each other.

    James Bovard at the Cato institute, says in "The Myth of Fair trade", that:
    "Economic xenophobia is the core of the U.S. anti-dumping law. The Commerce Department acts as if every sale of a foreign product at a low price is a Trojan Horse--an insidious attempt to undermine the American economy. While American politicians lecture the world on fair trade, our antidumping laws are an inquisitorial nightmare for foreign companies, a mockery of due process and justice.(9)"

     

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