Sunday, April 26, 2015

When can we talk about TPP?

Does anyone remember the admittedly weak and stupid but still very public national debate we had over the North American Free Trade Agreement?  At least that was enough to get us a primetime match-up between Al Gore and Ross Perot on the Larry King show. Thanks to Perot's... um... eccentricities, this wasn't the debate we needed at the time but at least it was a debate.

Also, too, Perot was right.

Two decades later, we're on the verge of finalizing a new, even more egregious, major trade agreement designed to suppress labor, consumer, and environmental protections across international borders under the false banner of "free trade."
The basic story here is a very simple one. There are merits to reducing trade barriers, but traditional trade deals will have winners and losers. If this is hard to understand, imagine that we had a free trade deal in physicians' services so that a flood of foreign doctors cut the pay of doctors by 50 percent (@$125,000 a year on average). This would make most of us winners, since we will pay less for health care, but doctors would be big losers. Most traditional trade deals have this character. So people, including economist people, may reasonably oppose them if they think the losers will be hurt so much that it offsets the gains from the deal. (Yes, we can do redistribution, but that is a children's story. We don't.)

But the key point here is that neither the TPP or TTIP is a traditional trade deal. The formal trade barriers between the parties to these deals are already low, which means there is not much room to lower them further. These deals are mostly about putting in place a business friendly structure of regulation. Some of this business friendly regulation involves increasing barriers in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection. (Yes, that is "protection," as in protectionism.)
And yet, outside of the thoroughly marginalized echo chamber of the progressive media and blogosphere, the TPP barely gets any notice. Why? Because, everyone who matters agrees, it's a perfectly bi-partisan and sensible inevitability. 
This is a bipartisan effort if ever there was one; George Will has called the TPP “Obama’s best idea.” Thus we see the administration, along with pro-business Democrats and Republicans, trying to bulletproof the deal. Last week, a bill was introduced that would give the president “fast-track authority” on the TPP. If that passes, Congress could vote only up or down on the deal, not amend it. That’s quite a bit of presidential power for a scheme that would have a striking impact on the global economy — and the food on our table. 
So, because the pro-corporate President and the pro-corporate Republicans in Congress are not at each other's throats about some absurd political side-issue, the MSM threshold for "controversy" has not been met. That's part of the problem right there.  When the contours of a debate range outside of the standard framing, the lazy press quickly loses interest.

But, likely, the chief reason we're not having a public debate about TPP is because the public has been deliberately excluded from the process altogether.
On Saturday, Warren and Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) responded with a letter essentially telling Obama to put up or shut up. If the deal is so great, Warren and Brown wrote, the administration should make the full negotiation texts public before Congress votes on a "fast track" bill that would strip the legislative branch of its authority to amend it.

"Members of Congress should be able to discuss the agreement with our constituents and to participate in a robust public debate, instead of being muzzled by classification rules," Warren and Brown wrote in the letter obtained by The Huffington Post.

Democrats and some Republican critics have been particularly frustrated by Obama's decision to treat the TPP documents as classified information, which prevents them from responding to Obama's claims about the pact in detail.

"Your Administration has deemed the draft text of the agreement classified and kept it hidden from public view, thereby making it a secret deal," the letter reads. "It is currently illegal for the press, experts, advocates, or the general public to review the text of this agreement. And while you noted that Members of Congress may 'walk over ... and read the text of the agreement' -- as we have done -- you neglected to mention that we are prohibited by law from discussing the specifics of that text in public."
Maybe we'll talk about it during the 2016 election.  But by then it will be a done deal and, in all likelihood, yet another Obama policy for "populist" Republicans to rail against.

1 comment:

Clay said...

Just to point out a pet observation: McDermott, which used to employ >3,000 in Morgan City, closed down and now has set up shop in Altamira, Mexico...