from the say-what-now? dept
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is deeply unpopular with Americans for a variety of reasons (some of which we’ll discuss below). Because of its unpopularity, both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton denounced the agreement during their campaign for the Presidency. Trump’s denunciation seemed a lot more genuine — he’s argued against free trade and in favor of protectionism for quite a long time. Clinton’s denunciation was highly suspect, as she had long been a supporter of the TPP, and many people expected that, if elected, she’d flip flop back to support the agreement. Of course, she didn’t get elected… but now it’s apparently, Trump who has flip flopped to now supporting TPP.
President Trump, in a sharp reversal, told a gathering of farm-state lawmakers and governors on Thursday morning that the United States was looking into rejoining a multicountry trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a deal he pulled out of days after assuming the presidency.
Mr. Trump?s reconsideration of an agreement he once denounced as a ?rape of our country? caught even his closest advisers by surprise and came as his administration faces stiff pushback from Republican lawmakers, farmers and other businesses concerned that the president?s threat of tariffs and other trade barriers will hurt them economically.
We spent years explaining the many, many problems associated with TPP. While we tend to be supporters of free trade, the problem with the TPP was that it wasn’t actually a free trade agreement. Yes, a few parts of it included lowering tariffs and opening borders to trade (and those parts were, for the most part, pretty good), but the bigger part of the agreement was that it was an “investment” agreement, rather than a trade agreement. And thus it included two parts that were really problematic.
First, was an intellectual property section which was the exact opposite of “free trade.” Rather it required higher barriers to trade, creating mercantilist barriers to information and ideas, in locking up “intellectual property” under ever more draconian terms. The second part was what we’ve referred to as the “corporate sovereignty” section, which is officially referred to as “Investor State Dispute Settlement” provisions or (ISDS). This is a system by which companies can effectively take governments to a private tribunal, who will determine if their regulations cut into the expected profits of the company. The original idea behind such corporate sovereignty provisions was to deal with the situations in which, say, a big company invested in an economically developing country, and that country’s leadership suddenly decided to seize the factory or whatever. But, as we’ve seen, over the years, is that ISDS/corporate sovereignty has mainly been used as a tool for corruption.
Given all of that, we were happy that one of President Trump’s first moves in office was to drop out of the TPP, even as we noted that he was clearly doing so for the wrong reasons (his stated reasons being wishing for more protectionism, when it was the lowering of trade barriers that we found to be the only good parts of the TPP).
With the US out of the TPP, the remaining countries picked up the ball and ran with it — under the leadership of Canada who agreed to remove the intellectual property section. An agreement was reached earlier this year without the awful copyright and patent provisions, but with corporate sovereignty still in there. It’s ironic that Canada took over the leadership role, since it was actually a late entrant into the TPP after the US bent over backwards to keep Canada out of the agreement, partly in the belief that it would push back on things like the draconian intellectual property section.
So… given all of that it seems doubly ironic that Trump now apparently says he wants back in. His tweet on the subject is, as per usual, somewhat nonsensical.
Claiming he’d only rejoin the TPP if the deal is better than what Obama negotiated is a reasonable enough claim to make, but if that was the case… why did Trump completely drop out of the negotiations and let the other countries conclude all of the negotiations without any US influence at all? Reopening such negotiations at this point seems like a total non-starter, and even if it happened, the US would be at a distinct disadvantage, given that everyone else has already agreed to nearly everything.
And, of course, there’s little to suggest that the attempt to rejoin now is to get rid of things like corporate sovereignty, or to do the actual good stuff around lowering trade barriers (this is coming just weeks after Trump announced plans to put in place tariffs on certain Chinese products) and soon after the dubious claim that winning trade wars is “easy.”
As far as I can tell, this appears to be Trump trying to make a group of people he was talking to happy, and not really understanding the details:
As he often does, the president started to change gears after hearing complaints from important constituents ? in this case, Republican lawmakers who said farmers and other businesses in their states would suffer from his trade approach since they send many of their products abroad.
That, of course, seems like an odd way to lead. Or to negotiate.
Chances are nothing significant comes of this — certainly not a wholescale renegotiation of the TPP. Instead, we’ve just got yet another political mess.
Filed Under: canada, china, copyright, corporate sovereignty, donald trump, free trade, isds, negotiations, patents, tpp, trade agreements