Former USTR Comes Out Against TPP — Though Not Necessarily For The Best Reasons

from the the-tpp-fight-continues dept

People who have worked for the USTR tend to pretty religiously support any and all new trade agreements, so it seems somewhat noteworthy that the former USTR, and now Senator, Rob Portman, has come out against the TPP agreement, saying that he doesn’t think that it’s a good deal. There are, of course, a number of caveats here that potentially make this at least slightly less of a big deal than it might otherwise be. Specifically:

  1. There’s a pretty good chance he’s doing this purely for political reasons. He’s in a tight re-election campaign for the Senate, and his opponent has been quite opposed to basically any trade deal including the TPP — and many Ohio residents (i.e. voters) believe (rightly or wrongly) that trade deals mean fewer manufacturing jobs. Portman was also a big proponent of pushing through “Trade Promotion Authority” or fast track, which was seen as a sort of proxy vote on TPP, because it would bind Congress’s hands to just an up/down vote on the TPP, without any ability to push back on particular aspects of the agreement. And, Portman also made it clear he could change his mind if the TPP was “improved.”
  2. Some of the reasons he’s given seem to track with those of Senator Orrin Hatch, in complaining that the TPP doesn’t go far enough in expanding intellectual property rights, mainly for big pharmaceutical companies (specifically data exclusivity rules around “biologics.”)

So, it could certainly be argued that his speaking out against the TPP are for suspect reasons (and of suspect authenticity). Still, it is rather incredible that a former USTR would proactively say that they don’t support such a major trade agreement, and highlights (at the very least) just how toxic the TPP has become with the voting public. And of course, that should raise some pretty serious questions. If the voting public doesn’t support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

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Comments on “Former USTR Comes Out Against TPP — Though Not Necessarily For The Best Reasons”

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OldMugwump (profile) says:

If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

Because democracy and mob rule are not the same thing. At least, they aren’t meant to be.

In general, the voting public often doesn’t know what’s good for it.

In that case responsible leaders try to educate and convince. (Just for once, let’s not get all cynical and say there are no such people.)

I’m a very strong supporter of free trade. If it weren’t for the IP provisions, I’d be in favor of TPP.

But the IP provisions are there. So I’m not.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

“If it weren’t for the IP provisions, I’d be in favor of TPP.”

How about ISDS, you OK with that? How about all the stuff we don’t know about, because we are not allowed to read it and were excluded from the negotiations, you OK with those?

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

Ya, I’m OK with ISDS.

As for the stuff we don’t know about, I don’t know about that.

There is (and should be) a strong presumption that trade is good and more of it is better.

Unfortunately special interests have taken advantage of that presumption to insert the IP stuff.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

“Ya, I’m OK with ISDS.”

I am sorry to hear that. You do realize that any losses will come from our taxes, not any companies, and while it might not actually change how much is collected it most certainly will change what other benefits are disbursed or allocated or allowed.

I don’t disagree about the strong presumption that trade is good, and more is better, but fair trade is something different, and there is not a whole lot of fair trade around.

Those special interests you speak of; think of them as the perpetrators of TPP. Remember them when the US looses a multi-trillion dollar suit for profits not earned from some scheme that might only have been created to get to the ISDS suit, that will NOT be heard by any court, but by a tribunal made up from lawyers friendly to those bringing the suit.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

I’m no expert on ISDS or TPP.

My understanding is that ISDS is meant to compensate foreign investors if they invest based on existing law, then the government arbitrarily changes the rules afterwards, harming them.

If my understanding is correct, and if it’s done in an open and transparent way (some commenters say it’s not, and if so that’s worrying), then I do support it.

It’s effectively another limitation on the arbitrary powers of government. Which I think we have too few of.

If you think the idea of the Bill of Rights is a good one, then you agree with me that at least some restrictions on what governments are allowed to do – even with majority support – are good.

My view is we need more restrictions on the arbitrary power of governments.

ISDS doesn’t even say governments can’t do what they want – it just says if they do, they have to compensate (some of) the losers.

Every government action has winners and losers. If the gains of the winners are bigger than the losses of the losers, it’s a good thing to do. That doesn’t mean that the losers should pay for the gains of the winners – losers should be compensated.

If the compensation is too much, then that’s a sign that the gains of the winners are not large enough to pay the losses – so it’s bad policy and shouldn’t be implemented.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:2 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

And this doesn’t foster trade, it causes problems and costs us taxpayers if our government loses and has to pay a fine levied by an unaccountable tribunal that has little concern for the public good.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:4 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

In practice, that’s not what happens. What actually happens is that companies get compensation for being made to clean up pollution, or for being made to put plain packs on cigarettes, etc. I can dig up some links if you like.

If it was simply a matter of compensating companies should a country nationalise it, fair enough, but it’s not. It chills legislation in the public interest by making governments afraid of passing laws that might fall foul of the broadly-defined unjust expropriation clauses.

That’s how raising the minimum wage got Egypt’s government sued by Veolia. That’s how getting rid of nuclear power in the wake of Fukushima got Germany into trouble with Vattenfall. I could go on…

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

If (hypotheically) raising the minimum wage benefits the public more than than it costs employers (in the case of ISDS, only foreign employers), then there should be no problem paying the damages – the public is ahead of the game after paying them, and the employers are no worse off than before.

Same for nuclear power – if the benefit to the public exceeds the losses to private parties then the public is ahead even after paying compensation.

To me it’s simple fairness – particular private parties should be compensated when they suffer losses for the benefit of the public as a whole.

In my view it ought to apply to everyone (not just foreign investors), but reducing injustice a little at a time is still progress.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:6 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

Why shouldn’t those private parties be responsible for messes they make, like pollution? The issue in Ecuador shows us that the original perpetrators, Texaco, failed to clean up their mess, then bribed a corrupt administration to give it an OK, it’s clean enough. Later, Texaco is bought by Chevron and a new Ecuadorian administration says the old one was corrupt and their OK should not stand up since it isn’t clean enough.

The pollution causes everybody harm, and for generations to come, and is a direct result of actions by the private party who took profit rather than uphold responsibility to the community in which they operated. Now, I am not against profit, but profit at the cost of poisoning the people around the place the profit is produced goes more than a bit far.

If a country decides to privatize some company simply because they want the profits, then I think that company should be compensated. But it really appears that the way these rules are written, compensation is going to be demanded for every nickel of perceived loss, whatever the reason, and the payee will be the taxpayers of the purported denier of profit.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:7 If the voting public doesn't support the TPP at all, why are we continuing to pursue it?

They should – I agree.

But investors who follow the rules shouldn’t have the rug pulled out from under them.

It’s fine to change the rules and say “new factories, starting today, must pay for their pollution”. I support that.

But if somebody follows the rules, then the rules change after they’ve invested, they should be compensated.

Suppose I build a fancy pool in my backyard. I get all the permits, follow all the code, etc. I do things by the book. I invest a lot of money.

Then, afterward, the city decides to ban pools because mosquitoes breed there.

This is for the public good. I accept that. The city should have that power – I accept that. But the homeowner, who followed all the rules, should be compensated for their loss.

I don’t see it as fair that the pool builder gets to pay a “tax” for the public good that everyone else doesn’t have to pay – why should that unlucky guy be the only one who loses?

If it’s for the public good, it should be paid for out of general tax revenue – the pool-builder should be compensated out of that.

Anonymous Coward says:

Democracy and “mob rule” aren’t the same things? That sounds like another attack on “populism”. So tell me, if democracy isn’t “majority rules”, then what is it?

I’ve suspected that the word “democracy” has had dual meanings. One for the public, which most of us understand, and another for the ruling class.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: if democracy isn't "majority rules", then what is it?

Democracy is part of a larger system that includes inviolate rights (rights that can’t be overridden by a majority), limits on the power of governments, and mechanisms (like representative government) meant to cool passions and allow time for reason and debate.

Wendy Cockcroft says:

Re: Re: Re:2 if democracy isn't "majority rules", then what is it?

I’m like that with everyone. 🙂

I often agree with you, OldMugwump, but on the whole FTA thing I’m skeptical of anything that is not answerable to a democratically elected body. I fear corporatocracy because it’s unaccountable, that’s what’s behind my opposition to ISDS. I think some kind of insurance would be better than forcing small countries to put up with pollution, etc.

The trouble with being the little guy is that we can’t always vote with our wallets or our feet if we don’t like something.

OldMugwump (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 if democracy isn't "majority rules", then what is it?

Courts are not answerable to a democratically elected body.

If a court finds my guilt or innocent, the legislature can’t overrule them.

I don’t have a problem with that – IF, that is, the court is setup in an open and transparent way, with avenues for appeal, etc., such that we can reasonably expect to get justice out of the system.

As often as humanly possible, anyway.

Corporations, like Soylent Green, are made of people. [Old Charlton Heston joke…nevermind]. My wife and I own and run a corporation. It employs 11 people.

Corporations are just groups of people who get together to do things that are too big for one person to do. I don’t see any reason that people in groups shouldn’t have the same rights that people have one-by-one.

One of the purposes of law is to make life more predictable.

So people can know what will and won’t be punished.

So people can make plans about the future.

Including, very importantly, investments.

Anonymous Coward says:

So the public don,t want ttp ,
the only ones that want it are drug companys,
big corporations,groups like the riaa,companys that want
more patent protection,rent seekers ,
lawyers. who will benefit from more isds ,patent cases .

The public knows it means more jobs sent abroad plus
more power for the big corporations ,
less consumer rights .

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