BY JEFF MACKLER
President Obama was granted “Fast Track” authority by Congress on June 24, thus clearing the way to rapid passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).
The TPPA has been 10 years in the making, including the last six under the aegis of the Obama administration. The agreement, written in secret by some 600 top corporate advisers, will encompass 40 percent of world trade. It is slated to be signed by 12 Pacific-rim countries—United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Despite the Obama administration’s earlier well-orchestrated “failure” to secure Fast Track approval in Congress, Fast Track and the TPPA were quickly resurrected in behind-the-scenes maneuvers, including a bipartisan agreement to separately include the previously disputed Trade Adjustment Assistance program (TAA). The latter includes, at the request of the AFL-CIO, provisions for a government-funded program for some of the thousands of U.S. workers expected to lose their jobs as U.S. corporations offshore production to low-wage and virtual slave-labor nations like Vietnam and China.
The Republicans, joined by their “progressive” Democratic Party cohorts, traded support for this token program when the Obama administration agreed to include in a separate “non-controversial” African trade bill some multi-billion-dollar boons to U.S. oil corporations in exchange for the TAA bone to American labor.
Fast Track grants the president the authority to amend the TPPA at will, with take it or leave it additions or deletions that cannot be altered, negotiated, or filibustered in the halls of Congress. That is, the basic terms of the TPPA have been essentially approved by ruling-class corporate negotiators from all 12 nations. When the corporate elite needs to tweak this or that point, Congress can only vote yes or no.
Fast Track or not, however, big-time trade agreements and other such megadeals, as with the multi-trillion-dollar bailouts immediately following the economic meltdown of 2008, are always negotiated behind the scenes before being entered into the record as law, with the fine print rarely open to public scrutiny.
Fast Track is simply capitalism’s way to make highly lucrative deals quickly, always at the expense of the working class. To be sure, the general TPPA package is nothing less than the product of broad-ranging arrangements between the competing wings of the super-rich and their corporate representatives here and around the world.
In essence, TPPA, like the earlier North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), includes hundreds of thousands of secret provisions—each one aimed at fostering or guaranteeing the profits of one or another U.S. corporate entity at the expense of its international competitors.
As the only world superpower, the U.S. always leverages its economic might at the expense of other nations. Either they comply or they are threatened with being excluded from the world economy through the myriad of devices open almost exclusively to the United States, including control over vast banking and credit markets and the world’s only reserve currency, the U.S. dollar—today printed with abandon and backed by nothing.
Like NAFTA, TPPA has little or nothing to do with “free trade.” It is aimed at promoting the interests of the U.S. corporations that are world-class state-of-the-art competitors (free trade for these monopoly giants), while safeguarding the interests of those sectors of U.S. capitalism that are technologically inferior and therefore less capable of competing in the international marketplace. In these latter instances, U.S. trade and related policies are the opposite of free trade. They are strictly protectionist; they impose restrictions in innumerable forms, including tariffs, against more competitive commodities produced abroad.
Little or nothing was known about TPPA until WikiLeaks in 2013 published some of the basic sections in an eye-opening exposé that shockingly revealed its predatory nature.
The TPPA is touted as an extension and strengthening of NAFTA, the Clinton administration’s gift to corporate America. Like NAFTA, which was limited to the U.S., Mexico, and Canada, the TPPA’s congressional approval is based on the president’s securing the votes of most Republicans plus sufficient numbers of Democrats to ram it through.
Like Bill Clinton, Obama considers his legislation central to his “legacy” to corporate America. Unlike his legacy-burnishing but fake maneuvers to pose as a kind-hearted liberal when “the great deporter” used his executive powers to temporarily diminish the horrendous deportation provisions of current immigrant law, Obama is dead serious about the TPPA. This measure is nothing less than U.S. capitalism’s grand manifesto—an earthshaking and massive conglomeration of largely U.S.-imposed agreements in every critical field of corporate endeavor. All are aimed at protecting and privileging the U.S. elite at the expense of other nations and the broad working class.
The TPPA is a “trade” agreement with only five of its 29 sections dealing with trade! What’s left are sections imposing a massive curtailment of government regulation of environmental policies, the establishment of new “intellectual property rights” (that is, extending copyrights and patents to prevent others from using key products such as life-saving pharmaceuticals), the imposition of restrictions on internet freedom, and innumerable other measures to strengthen corporate prerogatives.
The patent restrictions, for example, will preserve and extend Big Pharma’s monopoly on critical drugs, preventing competitors from manufacturing generic forms for sale at lower prices. Preservation of the power of these monopolies will guarantee price increases. “Buy Local” campaigns will be banned or restricted in the name of “restraint of trade.” Noam Chomsky aptly noted, “It’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”
TPPA includes, as with NAFTA, an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section allowing foreign corporations to sue national governments before extra-judicial three-member international arbitration tribunals composed of corporate attorneys rotating as judges one day and corporate advocates the next.
NAFTA’s ISDS sections, virtually unchanged in the TPPA, give these corporate-appointed “arbitrators” the power “… to issue non-appealable judgments on claims against domestic laws that corporate claimants believe violate their right to do business. If corporations win, they are entitled to financial rewards based upon their projected future profits, payable in taxpayer’s money.”
Linda Nordquist, quoted immediately above and writing for the Pittsburgh-based newsletter of the Thomas Merton Center, cites some appropriate examples of ISDS decisions under NAFTA in which the sovereignty of nation states is subordinated to global corporations in the name of “free trade.”
Nordquist writes, “2012 Chevron v. Ecuador (Amazonian oil pollution): Chevron seeks to evade payment of a multi-billion-dollar court ruling against the company for widespread pollution of the Amazon rainforest. Ecuadorian courts found that Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic water and dug hundreds of open-air oil sludge pits in Ecuador’s Amazon, poisoning the communities of some 30,000 Amazon residents, including the entire populations of six indigenous groups (one of which is now extinct.) $9.5 billion desperately needed to provide cleanup and healthcare to afflicted indigenous communities.
“The tribunal in this case ordered Ecuador’s government to violate its own Constitution and block enforcement of a ruling upheld on appeal in its independent court system. Pending. To date, several issues decided in Chevron’s favor.
“2015 Bilcon v. Canada (environmental protection): investor win (seeking $300 million.) Corporation sought to expand basalt quarry in Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia. Government rejected on basis of environmental impact report stating blasting and increased shipping would be hazardous to endangered whales and salmon; negative effects on tourism and community values.
“Dissent by third lawyer-judge criticized the decision as challenging the right of government to implement environmental safeguards reflecting community concerns. Further it would have a ‘chilling effect on future environmental policies as governments face possible punishing financial awards.’ He noted, the ruling was a “significant intrusion into domestic jurisdiction,” giving more power to NAFTA than the Canadian legal system.”
Nordquist properly concludes, “Obama’s TPPA elevates corporations from personhood to nationhood.” In truth, it’s always been that way.
Labor bureaucrats lay aside their token opposition to TPPA
A sideshow to the carefully orchestrated ruling-class squabble over TPPA was the subservient role of the AFL-CIO and its president, Richard Trumka. A June 14, 2015, front-page New York Times headline read, “Labor’s Might Seen in Failure of Trade Deal.” The Times credited labor’s powerful lobbying of “progressive Democrats” for the initial congressional defeat of Fast Track approval. Business Day chimed in to tout labor’s power with the headline, “Labor’s Might Seen in Failure of Trade Deal as Unions Allied to Thwart It.” Of course, only the naïve believed that TPPA would be derailed by the tragically impotent AFL-CIO.
Since March, AFL-CIO lobbyists bragged that union members had held 650 events opposing the TPPA; 160,000 phone calls were made to members of Congress along with some 20,000 letters sent. The federation also produced digital ads, which have received more than 30 million views, aimed at several dozen members of Congress.
“We are very grateful for all the activists, families, community leaders and elected officials who worked so tirelessly for transparency and worker rights in international trade deals,” said Richard Trumka. “This was truly democracy in action.” But the “democracy” and praise for “labor’s power” ended abruptly a week later.
Originally, Trumka and Co., along with an extremely broad range of environmental and social justice organizations, had pledged total opposition to the TPPA, even if TAA provisions were included. But when the chips were down, a week later Trumka and his fast track opposition team reversed course and agreed to sign onto Obama’s agenda—providing only that a TAA provision for some labor compensation for lost jobs was included, one way or another.
With barely a shrug, Trumka’s team of hardened class-collaborationist bureaucrats, tied to the Democrats hand and foot, jumped ship, leaving its former environmental (anti-climate crisis/global warming) and social justice allies in the lurch and once again identifying labor’s future “fortunes” with the welfare of the U.S. capitalist state and its plundering corporate institutions.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, a longtime ferocious TPPA and NAFTA advocate, happily engaged in the week-long game of posing as “labor’s friend,” as did virtually all “progressive Democrats.” As with the Democrats’ granting Trumka two minutes speaking time at the last Democratic Party national convention, at a time when virtually no one was present at the convention hall, the Democrats organized to promote “labor’s cause” for a few days before cutting yet another secret deal behind their backs.
The TPPA is the modern-day expression of the needs of a world capitalism in deep crisis. The ruling rich have no solutions other than at the expense of their corporate competitors and the broad working class of every nation. Today’s labor movement stands at a low ebb, with its bureaucratic mis-leaders incapable of offering even the most minimal of challenges to capitalist austerity. That the AFL-CIO tops focused on organizing member phone calls and letter writing to its claimed Democratic Party allies, as opposed to exercising its class power at the point of production, is a testament to its bankruptcy.
A new and fighting labor leadership that operates in the class struggle instead of in the class collaborationist mode, and organizes in the political arena independently of and against all capitalist parties, is an absolute necessity.
Today, the gap is glaring between the pent-up anger and hatred of working people toward the deepening capitalist-imposed austerity and the development of a conscious fightback. But in time, the insults to labor’s dignity and quality of life will inevitably fuel unprecedented struggles that will challenge capitalist rule in all its forms. The precondition for the success of these struggles will depend on revolutionaries’ sinking deep roots in the coming struggles and building a mass working-class socialist party capable of ending capitalist’s inherent horrors once and for all.