Once More: The TPP Agreement Is Not A Free Trade Agreement, It's A Protectionist Anti-Free Trade Agreement

from the get-your-story-straight dept

We’ve pointed out a few times in the past that while everyone refers to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement as a “free trade” agreement, the reality is that there’s very little in there that’s actually about free trade. If it were truly a free trade agreement, then there would be plenty of reasons to support it. But the details show it’s not, and yet, time and time again, we see people supporting the TPP because “well, free trade is good.” The Washington Post, for example, pushed out a ridiculous editorial arguing that the TPP is cause for celebration because it will “slash tariffs and harmonize regulatory regimes.”

But it’s that “harmonizing regulatory regimes” thing where the real nastiness lies, and where you quickly discover that most of the key factors in the TPP are not at all about free trade, but the opposite. It’s about as protectionist as can be. That’s mainly because of the really nasty corprorate sovereignty clauses in the agreement (which are officially called “investor state dispute settlement” or ISDS in an attempt to make it sound so boring you’ll stop paying attention). Those clauses basically allow large incumbents to force the laws of countries to change to their will. Companies who feel that some country’s regulation somehow takes away “expected profits” can convene a tribunal, and force a country to change its laws. Yes, technically a tribunal can only issue monetary sanctions against a country, but countries who wish to avoid such monetary payments will change their laws.

Remember how Eli Lilly is demanding $500 million from Canada after Canada rejected some Eli Lilly patents, noting that the new compound didn’t actually do anything new and useful? Eli Lilly claims that using such a standard to reject patents unfairly attacks its expected future profits, and thus it can demand $500 million from Canadian taxpayers. Now, imagine that on all sorts of other systems.

And, add in a bunch of other rules that have absolutely nothing to do with free trade — like granting more exclusivity on pharmaceuticals or extending copyright terms. As Tim Lee writes in a detailed report on the TPP, what’s really happening here is empowering the elite incumbents:

As the opportunities for trade liberalization have dwindled, the nature of trade agreements has shifted. They’re no longer just about removing barriers to trade. They’ve become a mechanism for setting global economic rules more generally.

This trend is alarming to Simon Lester, a free trader at the Cato Institute. “We’ve added in these new issues that I’m skeptical of,” he says. “It’s not clear what the benefits are, and they cause a lot of controversy.”

And this system for setting global rules has some serious defects. We expect the laws that govern our economic lives will be made in a transparent, representative, and accountable fashion. The TPP negotiation process was none of these ? it was secretive, it was dominated by powerful insiders, and it provided little opportunity for public input.

The Obama administration argues that it’s important for TPP to succeed so that the United States ? not China ? gets to shape the rules that govern trade across the Pacific. But this argument only makes sense if you believe US negotiators have been taking positions that are in the broad interests of the American public. If, as critics contend, USTR’s agenda is heavily tilted toward the interests of a few well-connected interest groups, then the deal may not be good for America at all.

Again, it’s hard to see how this has anything to do with free trade. While it may have begun as a free trade process, the entire “trade agenda” has long since been almost entirely co-opted by special interests who realized that the easy way to pass legislation globally is to sneak it into a “trade agreement” behind closed doors with no public discussion or debate — and then get it approved because it’s under the banner of “free trade,” even if the policies actually are protectionist for large industries.

It would almost be a clever move if it wasn’t so destructive for competition and innovation.

So, remember, any time you see someone saying they support the TPP because they support “free trade,” they’re either lying or totally uninformed. The TPP is not about free trade. It’s about the opposite. It’s about locking in protectionist rules for incumbent providers, which is exactly the kind of thing free trade is supposed to take away.

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Comments on “Once More: The TPP Agreement Is Not A Free Trade Agreement, It's A Protectionist Anti-Free Trade Agreement”

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52 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Hiding the truth

The whole process has been all about hiding the truth of what is happening from the public. These are our rights that are being traded for kickbacks and payoffs. I guess it is time to start working on creating an actual free democratic country since this one no longer meets that description.

Kishin says:

Re: Hiding the truth

We literally never had a free and democratic country. We haven’t had universal suffrage for even 100 years, haven’t REALLY had it for 50 years, and PACs became a thing under Nixon a short while later.

This Republic was ALWAYS designed to silence the voice of the people while giving them a small measure of influence.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Because, this is one of those “Facts are facts” type of discussions. My facts are the same as your facts. “Free Trade” has a specific meaning, and the TPP is a force away from that, not towards it.

The TPP is not about Free Trade. It restricts trade. It restricts business. It supports entrenched major businesses. New entrants trying to compete, from anywhere in the world, have FEWER options and MORE restrictions because of the TPP. That is not freer, that is less free.

Since intellectual property expansion is such a big part of the TPP, and IP laws are specifically about limiting the ability of businesses to do things, than is, by definition, against free trade. Back to the same point, the TPP is anti-free trade. There just can’t be any intelligent debate on this fact.

Now, we can have different opinions on whether the deal is good or not. We can argue if helping a few powerful American industries internationally truly benefits the average American. There can be all sorts of opinions on the actual effects of the TPP.

But there cannot be any intelligent debate on whether it is a “Free Trade” deal, or a deal that is against freedom of trade.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

You’re welcome to provide evidence and a reasoned counterpoint here if you wish. In fact, it would be actively encouraged.

After numerous articles on this subject, however, nobody’s offered such a thing. If any opinion rather than an attack on the article is offered, it’s either lacking any evidence or repeating long-debunked talking points about subjects discussed in depth elsewhere (especially on the subjects of how copyright and patent “protection” and the supposed need for their expansion).

Given the lack of any counter argument that doesn’t rely on ignorance or lies, what other assumption are we to make about those who present those arguments?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’d be grateful if they let me have an informed opinion about the trade, you see. That’s only being done by releasing the text that is being negotiated after every round, so us citizens can have a proper and an informed opinion.

Just that it seems that showing the citizens the text will endanger the integrity of the negotiations, that’s why they claim they have to hide it from the public.

Well, what it sounds that might be endangered is the acceptance of the agreement.

I’m not sure about the Free Trade part, but by blocking further attempts of the society enforcing their wishes by making them into laws doesn’t sound like too “Free” for me.

So I’d say that we should drop the “Free” word at least. “Trade Agreement” might be more accurate, and well, I’d have my doubts in the “Trade” part and particularly, in the “Agreement” part.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Fudge! Don’t put this on elites. I’m a elite. This is not about highly educated or rich people. You can shit on us some other time, when we’re to blame.

The TPP is not an elitist move. It’s a douchebag move.

The TPP is from some powerful industries in the USA, with strong lobbies, and the ear of DC. They are not “elites”. The RIAA, MPAA, the drug lobbies are not elite. They are self-interested powerful lobbies.

Other than your word choice of “elitist”, I agree with you.

Moonkey says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

He’s right. Elite doesn’t entirely mean people with money, or education in a certain business.

It’s a small group, usually a group that hold top positions in a bureaucracy that have the power to influence large decisions that affect the world in large ways. (There can definitely be elites in other countries that aren’t bureaucracies. The definition changes per government.)

I’m all for people being rich and educated, but when it’s abused, it’s the most unpleasant thing.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 definition of elite

“It’s a small group, usually a group that hold top positions in a bureaucracy that have the power to influence large decisions that affect the world in large ways. (There can definitely be elites in other countries that aren’t bureaucracies. The definition changes per government.)”

What dictionary are you using? That has got to be the most cack-handed definition ever.
Overthink things much?

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

Except that the #1 dictionary definition of elite is:
“a select part of a group that is superior to the rest in terms of ability or qualities”

“superior” implies better breeding, education, or something. It does NOT imply more poweruful.

Merriam Webster defines elite as:
1 the choice part
2 the best of a class
3 the socially superior part of society
4 a group of persons who by virtue of position or education exercise much power or influence

The insiders of the TPA are NOT the choice part, nor the best in the class, nor socially superior. They are just a bunch of douchbags who have finagled undue influence in policy. That’s definition 1 – 3.

So, are they 4? NO! Because while they do “exercise much power or influence”, they do not do so by virtue of position of education. They do so by courting legislators, and being more focused/involved than the average citizen.

Anonymous Coward says:

From the Washington Post’s ridiculous editorial:

“Republican Donald Trump and Independent-running-as-Democrat Bernie Sanders have been whipping up protectionist sentiment against the TPP even before they knew what would be in it.”

It’s signed “By Editorial Board” — which implies that not a single person on the board is aware that numerous parts of the TPP have been leaking out to the public since 2013 — long before Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders even started their campaigns.

One can only wonder what kind of bubble the people on this ‘editorial board’ live in, completely unaware that much of the TPP’s text leaked long ago, and has been widely discussed throughout the internet ever since.

Or are they just pretending to be completey in the dark, while hoping that the Washington Post’s readership won’t discover the truth and form their own opinions about TPP?

Whether these authors are idiots or liars, either way it doesn’t look good for the Washington Post.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: It's hard to tell

Many sincere free traders are in favor of the TPP because they think it really promotes free trade.

Maybe that includes the Washington Post editorial board.

Not everyone has been paying attention to the leaks. Based on those it’s clear there is a lot of special interest thievery in there, esp. regarding “intellectual property”.

Maybe there’s also some genuine free trade stuff in there. Maybe not. It’s a secret what’s in there so we can’t tell.

The secrecy was deemed necessary as a way of end-running protectionist special interests. And the ISDS stuff could, maybe, really promote free trade – there are plenty of places with protectionism disguised as legitimate regulation.

The leaks so far seem to indicate the worst.

Have our nominated delegates negotiated a free trade agreement, or have they faithlessly been corrupted by special interests?

Until we can see what’s in there, I’m assuming the public has been screwed. Because that’s usually what happens when nobody is watching. But I hope I’m wrong.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: The irony is strong in these ones...

“Republican Donald Trump and Independent-running-as-Democrat Bernie Sanders have been whipping up protectionist sentiment against the TPP even before they knew what would be in it.”

Gee, you mean like the various people who have shown support for TPP, ‘even before they knew what would be in it’?

The fact that we don’t know all of what’s in the TPP is a valid reason to be against it, given how large an impact it’s likely to have on the public and the complete secrecy around the entire thing.

However, those showing support for it, despite not knowing what’s in it have nothing to base their support on. It could completely screw them over, they have no idea, so showing support for it simply due to how it’s been described by the ones involved is insane. An arsonist could claim that he’s in the business of ‘stimulating the economy by incentivising the building of new houses’, but that doesn’t mean you should support him.

Jason says:

It doesn't matter...

As far as I’m concerned, we should be against the TPP simply because of the secrecy that has surrounded it from the beginning.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what ends up being in the actual agreement. It’s time we stopped tolerating our laws and policies being written and interpreted in secret.

The Senate boxed themselves in to a corner where “take it or leave it” were the only choices. So, fine, they need to give the TPP a resounding “no thanks” and send it back. Anything else will prove (again?) that Congress has no interest in the people or the democratic principles they claim to represent.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It doesn't matter...

“As far as I’m concerned, we should be against the TPP simply because of the secrecy that has surrounded it from the beginning.

Frankly, it doesn’t matter what ends up being in the actual agreement. It’s time we stopped tolerating our laws and policies being written and interpreted in secret.”

Business as usual.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hV-05TLiiLU

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

Re: It doesn't matter...

I’d be kinda on board with our congresspeople negotiating a deal behind closed doors in secret. So long as they presented their work with adequate time to review it.

These people are our elected representatives, and we [an informed electorate would] have the power to kick them out.

But what really ticks me off is the long list of special interests who WERE allowed to see the sausage being made. And who in fact supplied text, opinion, and objectives to the USTR. These businesses, for example the MPAA, should have no greater access than you or I.

The fact that the @#$# TPP WASN’T a secret to these special interests, but WAS a secret to the citizens, that REALLY pisses me off.

Maxwell (profile) says:

I’m surprised the weapon manufacturers havent used the ISDS yet to sue the hell out of the government for passing countless weapon bans and yearly -1 bullet per mag laws. Would they suddenly reopen it to make an exception like the tobacco industry ?

It feels like the first succesful attempt at using the ISDS will trigger any and all industry to sue the government for every single law passed….

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

They would only have some basis if the laws ar passed after the treaty is signed.

The most worrying thing is the ISDS exclusion of tobacco industry since it shows that they are aware of problems but are unwilling to address them in the treaty.

On the other hand, after that move I don’t think weapon industry companies are stupid enough to launch legal challenges to any significant degree. Tobacco industry broke the unspoken rules and got punished in TPP. Now the other industries fear similar treatment from their masters in the trade negotiation teams.

The reason trade agreements are done today is to please domestic industries. If the domestic industries “abuse” the privileges given to them, they will get punished in the next trade deal, mostly by other industries who fear the forums gets closed (less/no trade agreements) or worse, the forums gets transparent and thus attract public anger.

The process has some “one big family” and mafia connotations (low transparency to protect the gig and extrajudicial punishment measures).

Anonymous Coward says:

and exactly who were the people most involved in bringing TPP and all other ‘Trade Deals’ into being? yep! good ol’ USA lobbyists who threatened with anything they could think of the other countries that didn’t agree with what the USA wanted! the only business interests that will benefit are those in the USA!
why wasn’t something done by the supposed negotiators when these ‘deals’ first surfaced? if they didn’t sit down at the meetings or got up and left the meetings because of the buckets of shit the US lobbyists were throwing over all the populations, there wouldn’t have been anything like this ever done! as it is, those who sat on the various negotiating tables have thrown their whole populations under the bus, just because they were afraid of the retaliations the USA would take!

ECA (profile) says:

FUNNY...

Where is the trade?

All I see here are ways to TRY and blame others for your lost IDEA of the money you THINK you should be EARNING on a Copyright from the day NOAH, left the Ark..

This is the IDEA, that you create an IDEA(not a product) and that Every person on earth should OWE you $1..and to get that $1…you will charge EVERY person that uses it…$10..
Even tho, 99% of the world has no use for your product, you STILL EXPECT $1 from them ALL..
————-
ISNT there a Clause about a product, that becomes So common of use, that CR is removed??

Vick says:

Sorry but...

“the entire “trade agenda” has long since been almost entirely co-opted by special interests”

No, that’s not it at all sorry. This is a project of empire. They are worried we will wake up and start affecting the profits of big business that is what the NSA is all about.

The (mass surveillance) by the NSA and abuse by law enforcement is just more part and parcel of state suppression of dissent against corporate interests. They’re worried that the more people are going to wake up and corporate centers like the US and canada may be among those who also awaken. See this vid with Zbigniew Brzezinski, former United States National Security Advisor.

https://youtu.be/Ttv6n7PFniY?t=11

Brezinski at a press conference

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0kmUS–QCYY

More on spying and why you should be concerned:

https://www.reddit.com/r/changemyview/comments/1fv4r6/i_believe_the_government_should_be_allowed_to/cd89cqr

The real news:

http://therealnews.com/t2/

http://www.amazon.com/Democracy-Incorporated-Managed-Inverted-Totalitarianism/dp/069114589X/

http://www.amazon.com/Shadow-Government-Surveillance-Security-Single-Superpower/dp/1608463656/

http://www.amazon.com/National-Security-Government-Michael-Glennon/dp/0190206446/

Some history on US imperialism by us corporations.

https://kurukshetra1.wordpress.com/2015/09/27/a-brief-history-of-imperialism-and-state-violence-in-colombia/

From war is a racket: “I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil intersts in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested.” [p. 10]

“War is a racket. …It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.” [p. 23]

“The general public shoulders the bill [for war]. This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all its attendant miseries. Back-breaking taxation for generations and generations.” [p. 24]

General Butler is especially trenchant when he looks at post-war casualties. He writes with great emotion about the thousands of tramautized soldiers, many of who lose their minds and are penned like animals until they die, and he notes that in his time, returning veterans are three times more likely to die prematurely than those who stayed home.

http://www.amazon.com/War-Racket-Antiwar-Americas-Decorated/dp/0922915865/

Truly Anonymous Coward says:

US-centric, as per usual

“The Obama administration argues that it’s important for TPP to succeed so that the United States — not China — gets to shape the rules that govern trade across the Pacific. But this argument only makes sense if you believe US negotiators have been taking positions that are in the broad interests of the American public.”

Or, for the hundreds of millions of us who live in countries other than the US who are potential parties to this treaty, if you believe in the highly doubtful proposition that the American government is more benevolent than the Chinese government.

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