Big business has run roughshod over the world’s working classes, public services, and the environment. You would think at some point its rapacious appetite would be sated, its global dominance secured. Leave that fantasy behind, it’s not how capitalists think. They want it all, and won’t stop until they get it.
The latest in their long string of crimes can be found in the form of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is yet another free trade agreement, which if successfully negotiated will take global capital’s hegemony to an entirely new level.
Drafted in secrecy. The origin of the TPP traces back to a 2005 free trade agreement between Singapore, Chile, New Zealand and Brunei. Since then, eight other countries have joined the pact: Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, the United States and Japan (with “docking provisions” for other nations to join).
If successful, the TPP will be one of the most far-reaching agreements on the planet, affecting 700 million people and $26 trillion in economic activity. That dollar amount will double if China joins.
The TPP isn’t just about tariff and product content issues, which are typical free trade fare. Of 26 chapters in its draft, only two involve classic trade issues.
The Council on Hemispheric Affairs says, “The very breadth of the agreement would require the rewriting of numerous domestic laws in every signatory country, threaten the sovereignty and autonomy of domestic legal systems, enable environmental degradation by transnational corporations, impose harsh regulations, and severely limit access to information around the globe.”
The 19th round of TPP negotiations was just concluded in Brunei without public scrutiny or input. All information known about the TPP is a result of leaks. The U.S. is now in the driver’s seat of talks and is pushing hard to conclude them by year’s end. And despite official reports of a cooperative spirit, individual countries have expressed anger at U.S. bullying.
Corporations dictate the terms. The participation by multinational corporations is particularly conspicuous. This fact, coupled with the complete lock-down on information, leads one to conclude that the TPP is designed by and for the global capitalist class.
Approximately 600 lobbyists from corporations and industry associations, designated as “cleared advisors,” dominate the advisory committees. These committees are structured around various sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, banking or technology. There are some academic, labor and “community” representatives on the advisory board. But as an academic participant in one of the “Stakeholder Engagement Forums” said, “the only thing I knew with certainty was that I didn’t know much about what was happening in the TPP negotiations.”
One of the TPP’s principles, pushed by the U.S., is that trade should be conducted by private multinational enterprises. In its “pivot to Asia” strategy, the U.S. is trying to gain advantage over China, and thus is hesitant to let China in the TPP.
But a sticking point for China’s participation in the TPP is over state run enterprises, which the TPP would designate as unfair trading.
After recent negotiations, the Malaysian trade minister raised concerns of provisions to allow “fair” competition between private and public enterprises to provide goods and services. Malaysia still has large public-sector enterprises making up about one-third of its economy. They include services such as healthcare, but also manufacturing and financial services. While these are not progressive enterprises, and are led by career bureaucrats, they are public property and should be protected as such.
On rules governing “intellectual property,” one might think they would be designed for lawyers and media companies trying to avoid piracy. Think again! A major thrust is about giving pharmaceutical companies a stranglehold on drug production and distribution, thus stopping lower cost medicines from getting to the people who need them.
The TPP would extend the patent protection on drugs to fight HIV/AIDS, preventing member countries such as Vietnam from gaining access to generic and lower cost drugs.
The TPP targets food production and distribution, excluded from most trade agreements. Global agribusiness hopes to make an even greater dent in the Japanese market, one of the most lucrative in the world. Japan’s food self-sufficiency would decline from 39 to 14 percent, moving the island nation further away from its historically healthy diet.
Obama, phony to the core. Fast-track authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade pacts without congressional approval, expired in 2007. But the Obama administration is attempting fast-track anyway. In response, several congressmen have pushed for a slower, more transparent process. But this administration, as political and pro-capitalist as any other, wants a TPP feather in its cap for the mid-term elections.
Despite promises to protect jobs and the environment, Obama has passionately embraced an agreement that does everything but that. The TPP is about expanding profits and markets for the capitalist class, nothing more or less.
Class matters in opposing the TPP. The interests of the most powerful are definitely served by the TPP, but that doesn’t mean support is universal among the ruling class. Parts of the “intellectual property” provisions are opposed by media and tech companies. And different sectors of the capitalist class in each country have something to win or lose with TPP’s enactment. It’s easy to side with the capitalist class in opposing parts of the pact.
Some U.S. reformists and labor officials partner with the U.S. bourgeoisie in raising alarms about TPP’s impact on the U.S. economy and jobs.
This nationalistic approach focuses on foreign corporations in the U.S. It ignores the equal or greater damage that U.S. multinationals could do to the jobs or environments of other signatory nations.
Opposition to the TPP should be built from a perspective of international workingclass solidarity. U.S. workers need to collaborate with the working classes of other TPP countries, to fight privatization and anti-labor provisions everywhere. And to stop any moves that undermine the ability of people to feed themselves with healthy food grown in their country, or to acquire affordable medicine.
Trade and exchange of ideas between peoples is a good thing. All humans share one small planet, and have unique resources to offer each other.
The real question is in whose interest and for what purpose will trade be organized? The TPP is written for a global one percent who cannot even fathom the concept of “enough.” What is needed instead is a trading system that is under the control of the world’s working classes, designed for the benefit of all peoples and preservation of the natural world. That will take nothing less than socialism.
• Stop the TPP!
• No privatization of public services!
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