Lost in this election’s never-ending barrage of meme unworthy misquotes and rehashed social issue talking points is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement that looks to shape the future of business in burgeoning Asian markets. It has been mentioned exactly zero times by the Presidential candidates as far as we can tell, but if/when it is secretly approved it will become the most significant foreign and domestic policy initiative to come out of the Obama administration. Or, I guess, the Romney administration (writer vomits) since both parties support it.
“NAFTA on steroids” has been negotiated out of public view, with no public input and little-to-no Congressional oversight. Yet, it is likely that this agreement will restructure American foreign relations for generations to come.
The complex and in-depth trade agreement was thoroughly explained in a recent article by Matt Stoller for Salon. We suggest you check out his entire piece, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Biggest Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of,” but here are some clips.
Unlike earlier trade agreements, the TPP would include a “docking” arrangement whereby other countries can simply join the free trade zone it sets up. This means that, rather than negotiating new agreements with different countries bilaterally, countries might simply join the Trans-Pacific Partnership. As Thea Lee of the AFL-CIO told me, the TPP could be the last trade agreement the U.S. negotiates. From now on, other countries can just join the TPP.
The “docking arrangement” makes the TPP one of the more important policy agreements of this generation. The Obama Administration has argued that the TPP is necessary to counter China’s growing leverage in the region. That assertion was question by New America scholar Barry Lynn in Stoller’s piece.
China has a dangerous amount of leverage on our economy. China could at any point choose to shut off the flow of light bulbs, iPhones, critical medicines, food preservatives, or any number of pieces of military hardware. Since the opening of the American marketplace to China in the mid-1990s, American multinational corporations have become dependent on and supplicants to the Chinese government. There is an argument that this agreement, by including countries in the Pacific region and not including China, counters this power. According to Lynn, however, this is not true. The TPP will have no serious impact on U.S. supply chain dependence on China. And, China would be free to dock into TPP. In May, USTR Kirk told Reuters that he “would love nothing more” than for China to join.
Among the many concerns voiced by experts pertaining to the TPP is its continuation of a damning trend toward giving foreign corporations legal rights that trump those passed by legislative bodies made up of elected officials. However, potentially more concerning is that the TPP could actually further America’s economic dependence on China. Barry Lynn lays out a detailed “disaster scenario”:
Barry Lynn spelled this out in a hypothetical disaster scenario, in which American tensions with China cause genuine friction. This isn’t far-fetched, as America is positioning military assets in the region.
“Officials [in China] do not even need to impose some sort of across-the-board trade embargo to achieve their ends. Far more effective would be to put the squeeze on one industrial system or other, or one company or other, day after day, in a systematic fashion, until Washington cried uncle. The Pentagon has sketched out complex plans for how to respond to any use of force by China. Far more useful would be to know how the United States as a nation would respond when, suddenly, grandma can’t get her medicine. Or when, suddenly, the store shelves empty of batteries and lightbulbs. What does the president do when he has General Electric and Wal-Mart both on the phone, demanding the restoration of normal trade? Or when Apple’s stock plummets because the company can’t move any of its iPhones through Chinese ports?
The only real option is to embrace the logic of industrial interdependence, hence to recognize that the only way for the United States to achieve its most vital national aims — indeed, to be taken seriously by China — is no longer to reposition its aircraft carriers, but to force its industrial and trading corporations to reposition the machines on which it depends. The United States does not need to bring all or even any of these systems of production home. But it can no longer continue to live in a world in which many activities remain in one location, under the control of one state, especially a strategic rival.”
The far-reaching impacts of the TPP are currently only hypothetical, but not really kinda sorta since nobody has been able to have a shred of impact in abating its progress. There is something odd about an agreement that will dictate the future of our economy being achieved in secrecy. All we can do is speculate…until it’s too late.