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The Secret Talks

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The secrecy revolving around the Trans-Pacific Partnership continues to disturb those who are interested in fair trade. Noting that this agreement isn’t really even about American exports since the world is already basically fully globalized already, Robert Reich and Richard Trumka express their concerns over the TPP’s secrecy.

In the first three decades after World War II, “free trade” meant other countries opening their borders to American-made products, and the U.S. opening its borders to their goods. The United States chose free trade, and it worked. Living standards rose here and abroad. Jobs were created to take the place of jobs that were lost. Worldwide demand for products made by American workers grew and helped push up U.S. wages.

But American corporations have gone global, and in recent decades the payoffs from trade agreements have mainly gone to those at the top. Now they make many of their products overseas and ship them back to the United States. Recent trade agreements have protected their intellectual property abroad — patents, trademarks and copyrights — along with their overseas factories, equipment and financial assets.

But those deals haven’t protected the incomes of most Americans, whose jobs have been outsourced abroad and whose wages have gone nowhere.

As for the problems with the TPP? What’s been leaked about its proposals reveals, for example, that the pharmaceutical industry would get stronger patent protections, delaying cheaper generic versions of drugs.

Also, in Out of Sight, I argue for international trade law that empowers workers to sue employers in the country of corporate origin. I fully expect some to say that is a ridiculous and unworkable idea. But the TPP would guarantee something similar to this, except strictly to benefit corporations:

The deal also gives global corporations an international tribunal of private attorneys, outside any nation’s legal system, that can order compensation for lost expected profits resulting from a nation’s regulations, including our own. These extraordinary rights for corporations put governments on the defensive over legitimate public health or environmental rules.

The TPP would go far to override international law. Now, I doubt the Vietnamese could realistically attack the U.S. for its environmental legislation. After all, these trade deals do not leave all nations on an equal playing field. More likely is that American corporations go after the environmental and labor laws of the poorer nations. Either way, this is a horrible principle that continues what international trade law has done for a half-century–allow corporations to evade regulatory statues and laws that allow people to live a dignified life.

At the very least, shouldn’t Congress have the right to debate this treaty as it moves forward? I believe Obama is, frankly, completely deluded when he thinks the TPP will counter Chinese influence in the Pacific and it certainly isn’t worth risking American environmental and labor law over. There is no reason to give him fast track authority. This needs to be a public process. Right now, the TPP is as opaque as any corporate executive could desire. That is a very bad thing.

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