Several times in the past I have made mention of a series of secret international trade deals being negotiated. Best known among them is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which would create a "free trade zone" among 12 Pacific Rim nations which together account for 40 percent of the world economy - making it biggest trade deal since NAFTA, a deal which has been responsible for the loss of millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs in the US in exchange for the creation of millions of low-paid service industry jobs.
Opposition to the TPP among environmental and labor groups, already burned by NAFTA, have lead some nations, including Canada, to have second thoughts about the deal.
But not in the US, where Barack Obama continues to push for it, so much so that he regarded getting fast track authority for the agreement - under which Congress cannot amend the deal, only give it an up or down vote - to be one of the great achievements of his second term and so much so that the State Department upgraded Malaysia's ranking on human trafficking from, in effect, "horrible" to merely "very bad" so that it could stay in the deal.
And in fact, the deal was finalized last October and was signed in February.
So why do I bring this up? For one that, because that is not the end: The deal is signed but not ratified. It still has to be approved by Congress. One reason I haven't pushed this more is that everyone knows the deal is not going to come up before the election because no one in Congress wants to deal with it: They don't want to anger their corporate donors by opposing it or their voters by supporting it.
There has been some concern about the pact's supporters trying to get it rammed through in the lame duck session in December, when there will be less political pressure because it is just after an election when most people won't be paying much attention and some members of Congress won't be coming back so they don't have to care about the voters but they still have campaign debts to pay off and so big donors to please.
That possibility brings up to the hook for today's discussion of it.
Just before the West Virginia primary, Hillary Clinton came out in opposition to a "lame duck" vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This takes her beyond her previous statements mildly opposing TPP and she also made a strong statement criticizing our trade agreements in general.
Remember, Clinton had been in favor of the TPP; in fact she called it "the gold standard" for trade agreements. But in the face of clear opposition among the public and Bernie Sanders making it an issue in the campaign, she has gradually shifted her position from support to opposition. Her latest statement is the strongest expression of opposition yet.
Which is encouraging but unfortunately, there is a question as to how sincere this new-found opposition really is. Her campaign has recently sent up a trial balloon about a VP pick, trying to cement her position as the presumptive nominee. Unhappily, the name hanging from that trial balloon is Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, a moderate Democrat with some degree of progressive cred - but who is also a "free trade" zealot who has been the Senate's most fanatical supporter of the TPP.
Which in turn brings to mind the statement a few months back from Tom Donohue, president of the US Chamber of Commerce, who said not to worry about what Clinton is saying about the TPP now because once she is office she will flip back to supporting it.
The fact is, no matter the outcome in November, coming in January if not in December, this is going to be a big deal and we have to be ready for a fight.
I should also note that the TPP is only one of three massive trade deals being negotiated in secret. Beyond the TPP there is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, which looks to do for North Atlantic trade what the TPP does for the Pacific Rim, and the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, which looks to do for commercial services what the others do for commercially-produced products.
Together they represent the creation of a world economy where the benefit of corporations, especially transnational corporations, is not just standard operating procedure, it is a legal requirement of international treaties.
The TTIP is under strenuous attack in Europe from environmental, labor, and consumer groups. Recently, Greenpeace has warned that European Union, or EU, standards on the environment and public health are at risk of being undermined by the agreement. The charged was based on 248 pages of classified documents from the TTIP trade talks that were leaked to the group.
Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss said the documents
confirm what we have been saying for a long time: TTIP would put corporations at the center of policy-making, to the detriment of environment and public health.A serious particular issue is the proposal to replace the EU's "precautionary principle" - under which manufacturers of potentially harmful products have to show they are sufficiently safe before they can enter the market - with the less strict US "managed risk" approach, under which hazards are dealt with after they arise from a product already in the market, not before.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, there are over 80,000 chemicals now in use in products in the US, most of which haven't been adequately tested for their effects on human health. The TTIP would spread that practice to Europe.
In addition, there have been serious charges the TTIP would be used to protect the megabanks from claims by European investors who allege that they were cheated during the debt crisis. It would so this by deflecting such claims to an "arbitration panel" dominated by the same economic interests that benefitted from the fraud in the first place.
Word is that the negotiators hope to have a deal ready to sign late this year, with the timing related to avoiding it becoming an issue in the US presidential campaign.
It should anyway.
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