— The Erimtan Angle —

The English-language online current affairs and culture magazine Slate‘s Alison Griswold announced the other that the “full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is finally available to the public after the Obama administration released it early Thursday [, 5 November 2015]”.[1]  The White House released PDF version as well as a “slightly more Internet-friendly” version on the blog-publishing platform Medium. Griswold goes on to explain that the “TPP is a hotly contested deal in the United States that touches 12 countries and about 40 percent of the global economy. Its economic implications are vast. Supporters of TPP tout its ability to open up overseas markets for U.S. companies, while detractors worry that it will cause job losses and depress wages by increasing competition from low-wage workers in other parts of the world. Representatives from the 12 nations in the deal reached an agreement on it last month. Now that the White House has released the full text, it enters into a 90-day review period. That TPP had previously been unavailable to the public was almost as controversial as the deal itself. In lieu of actual documents, the public was left with whatever information could be gleaned from the government and a few drafts published by Wikileaks”.[2]

Barack Obama himself wrote a 3-minute read to introduce the deal: “When we have a level playing field, Americans out-compete anyone in the world. That’s a fundamental truth about our country. But right now, the rules of global trade put our workers, our businesses, and our values at a disadvantage. If you’re an autoworker in Michigan, the cars you build face taxes as high as 70 percent in Vietnam. If you’re a worker in Oregon, you’re forced to compete against workers in other countries that set lower standards and pay lower wages just to cut their costs. If you’re a small business owner in Ohio, you might face customs rules that are confusing, costly, and an unnecessary barrier to selling abroad. The Trans-Pacific Partnership will change that”.[3]  After having set the mood and the tone in this optimistic and rosy-coloured way, the POTUS continues that the TPP is “the highest standard trade agreement in history. It eliminates 18,000 taxes that various countries put on American goods. That will boost Made-in-America exports abroad while supporting higher-paying jobs right here at home. And that’s going to help our economy grow. I know that past trade agreements haven’t always lived up to the hype. That’s what makes this trade agreement so different, and so important. The TPP includes the strongest labor standards in history, from requiring a minimum wage and worker safety regulations to prohibiting child labor and forced labor. It also includes the strongest environmental commitments in history, requiring countries in one of the most biologically diverse areas on Earth to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking, illegal logging, and illegal fishing. These standards are at the core of the agreement and are fully enforceable — which means we can bring trade sanctions against countries that don’t step up their game. And for the first time ever, we’ll have a multilateral trade agreement that reflects the reality of the digital economy by promoting a free and open Internet and by preventing unfair laws that restrict the free flow of data and information. In other words, the TPP means that America will write the rules of the road in the 21st century. When it comes to Asia, one of the world’s fastest-growing regions, the rulebook is up for grabs. And if we don’t pass this agreement — if America doesn’t write those rules — then countries like China will. And that would only threaten American jobs and workers and undermine American leadership around the world”.[4]

President Obama framed the TPP in the context of the upcoming Sino-American rivalry in the further course of the 21st century, presenting the TPP as a means to safeguard American sway across the world and the Pacific Rim region in particular. His language indicates that the U.S. appears willing to sacrifice the fortunes of domestic workers and small-scale entrepreneurs for the sake of solidifying the American Empire on a firm commercial base. As explained by CBC News’ Erin Obourn the “6,000-page, 30-chapter document was first released by New Zealand, and includes deals worked out over five years by the TPP members — Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam . . . Among its provisions, the deal looks to make e-commerce easier by protecting ‘cross-border transfer of information . . . including personal information,” for business purposes’ . . . [leading her to say that s]ome fear that information will be accessible to U.S. or other foreign authorities without suitable oversight. The language ‘fuels uncertainty’ over Canadians’ privacy, says Michael Geist, a University of Ottawa law professor who has raised concerns about the TPP. ‘These are rules that create restrictions on a country’s ability to establish privacy safeguards’. The B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Association also spoke out about the TPP, saying in a release it ‘contradict[s] the domestic data storage provisions in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act'”.[5]

The text of the document opens in this ominous or merely disingenuous way: the “Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) levels the playing field for American workers and American businesses, leading to more Made-in-America exports and more higher-paying American jobs here at home. By cutting over 18,000 taxes different countries put on Made-in-America products, TPP makes sure our farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, service suppliers, and small businesses can compete — and win — in some of the fastest growing markets in the world. With more than 95 percent of the world’s consumers living outside our borders, TPP will significantly expand the export of Made-in-America goods and services and support American jobs”.[6]  Chapter 2, “Natural Treatment and Market Access for Goods” or the Goodsa chapter explains that “the Asia-Pacific region [that b]y 2030 it will be home to 3.2 billion middle-class consumers, who will be the world’s largest buyers of staple grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy, meats and other farm products. The United States is one of a few countries, but not the only one, with the potential to provide these goods efficiently, safely, and economically. This market has the potential to be the foundation of American rural growth for a generation, bringing wealth and supporting jobs in rural areas, and encouraging rural young people to see their future in agriculture”.[7]  In other words, the TPP will be highly beneficial to U.S.-based agro-businesses and their dependents, but not necessarily for small farmers and their dependents. Still, about a month ago in the Guardian Jeffrey Frankel argues that “the TPP that has emerged is a pleasant surprise. The agreement gives pharmaceutical firms, tobacco companies, and other corporations substantially less than they had asked for – so much so that the US senator Orrin Hatch and some other Republicans now threaten to oppose ratification. Likewise, the deal gives environmentalists more than they had bothered to ask for. Perhaps some of these outcomes were the result of hard bargaining by other trading partners (such as Australia). Regardless, the TPP’s critics should now read the specifics that they have so long said they wanted to see and reconsider their opposition to the deal”.[8]  As a professor of capital formation and growth at Harvard University, it stands to reason that Frankel would welcome the deal. Or, does he have a point???

And there is also the issue of ISDS or Investor-State Dispute Settlements . . . On the Medium-provided website’s FAQ section, this can be read: ” Question. “Is it true that Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) would allow corporations to override laws, including environmental and public health regulations? Answer. No. ISDS cannot change law in the United States or any other country. No government measure (federal, state, or local) can be blocked or reversed under the ISDS provisions or any other part of TPP. The United States would never negotiate away its right to regulate in the public interest, and we don’t ask other countries to do so either. This is true with regard to public health and safety, the financial sector, the environment, and any other area where governments seek to regulate. Put simply, ISDS is a mechanism to promote good governance and the rule of law. ISDS protects basic rights — such as protection against discrimination and expropriation without compensation — akin to those enshrined in U.S. law and the Constitution. We already provide these protections at home to foreign and domestic investors under U.S. law. That’s why — although we are party to 51 agreements with ISDS — the U.S. has never lost an ISDS case. Our trade agreements ensure the same kinds of protections to U.S. businesses and investors operating abroad, where they face a heightened risk of discrimination and bias. TPP includes a number of enhancements that strengthen the transparency and integrity of the dispute settlement process under ISDS. These include making hearings open to the public, allowing the public and public interest groups to file amicus curiae submissions, ensuring that all ISDS awards are subject to review by domestic courts or international review panels, ensuring that governments have a way to dismiss claims that are without merit on an expedited basis, and more. In addition, after consultations with Members of Congress, the United States pushed for and secured additional safeguards that will establish a code of conduct for ISDS arbitrators and facilitate the dismissal of frivolous claims, among other first-of-their-kind provisions. ISDS ensures that a wide range of American businesses — including small businesses — are protected against unfair discrimination when investing abroad. This will benefit the millions of American workers employed by these companies, as outside analysis shows that about half of ISDS cases are initiated by small- and medium-sized businesses, or individual investors”.[9]

[1] Alison Griswold, “The Full Text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Finally Online” Slate (05 November 2015). http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2015/11/05/full_text_of_the_tpp_trade_deal_is_finally_live_online.html.

[2] Alison Griswold, “The Full Text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Finally Online”.

[3] Barack Obama, “Published in The Trans-Pacific Partnership” TPP (05 Nov 2015). https://medium.com/the-trans-pacific-partnership/here-s-the-deal-the-text-of-the-trans-pacific-partnership-103adc324500. .

[4] Barack Obama, “Published in The Trans-Pacific Partnership”.

[5] Erin Obourn, “Critics cry foul as new Trans-Pacific Partnership details emerge” CBC News (06 Nov 2015). http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/trans-pacific-partnership-details-1.3308248.

[6] U.S. Trade Representative, “Chapter 1. Initial Provisions and General Definitions” TPP (05 Nov 2015). https://medium.com/the-trans-pacific-partnership/initial-provisions-and-general-definitions-aec6d5031f1b.

[7] U.S. Trade Representative, “Chapter 2. Natural Treatment and Market Access for Goods” TPP (05 Nov 2015). https://medium.com/the-trans-pacific-partnership/national-treatment-and-market-access-for-goods-741f0639c2de.

[8] Jeffrey Frankel, “Why support TPP? Critics should read the agreement and keep an open mind ” The Guardian (11 Oct 2015). http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/oct/11/why-support-tpp-critics-read-agreement-keep-open-mind.

[9] “Frequently Asked Questions”. TPP (05 Nov 2015). https://medium.com/the-trans-pacific-partnership/frequently-asked-questions-on-the-trans-pacific-partnership-eddc8d87ac73.

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