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Est. April 5, 2002
November 19, 2015 - Issue 630

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership
A Near Perfect U.S. Metaphor


"The TPP has been called “NAFTA on steroids,”
because of what it will do to American life, in
general. American production workers will be
in competition with workers in, say, Vietnam,
where the average hourly pay is 35 cents."

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement that most Americans do not understand and probably have no interest in, but it will have a profound effect on their lives, because, first of all, it will determine to what extent the people will be able to affect the way their countries will be governed and, even, how Americans will live.

It’s just a trade agreement, you might say, so how much could such an agreement affect me? First, we need a little history about trade among nations. It used to be that trade by U.S. corporations was guided by treaties that were negotiated and then approved by the Congress. For the powers that be, treaties were kind of messy affairs, because the Congress itself was kind of messy. The debates and discussions were on the floor and in public. The people did have a chance to see what was happening.

Since about the mid-1930s, most trade agreements have been negotiated by the executive branch (the president) and, in recent years, there has been added a trick called “fast track.” Fast track is a technique in which the executive and its representatives negotiate one of these trade deals and they ask the Congress to vote for “fast tracking” the deal which means agreeing to wait until the language is final and then Congress votes for the complete package or it rejects the deal. Up or down. No changes can be made at that point. You can see how the pressure on the members of Congress would tend to cause them to vote for the agreement, even if they didn’t like the terms.

Americans are faced with that kind of situation with the TPP right now, having narrowly approved a fast track for the deal this past summer. They only thing for them to do now is either approve the deal as delivered or reject it.

TPP, like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in the 1990s, has been sold as a document that would open up trade and would be a great benefit to the U.S. and all of the other dozen Pacific Rim trading partners. NAFTA was a three-country deal, among Canada, the U.S., and Mexico. In the first year after NAFTA was signed, Canada reported losing 500,000 jobs to the lower-wage country to its direct south. If the U.S. had lost a commensurate percentage of jobs, it would have lost 5 million jobs. It may not have been that many, but the U.S. did lose jobs, because of NAFTA and other reasons.

Mexico perhaps suffered the most in that deal, because it opened up that economy to the subsidized agricultural products from the U.S., which included corn, a staple in the Mexican diet. Also, U.S. industrial poultry producers were allowed to dump chickens on the Mexican market that put untold numbers of peasant farmers out of business and off the land. The flow north of Mexicans looking for work to feed their families followed in the ensuing years.

NAFTA never delivered on its promise and the promise of President Bill Clinton that it would benefit the nation and American workers. The so-called free trade deals have consistently failed to provide benefits to American workers, since each deal has had its own way of facilitating the race to the bottom, and workers in the U.S. have been forced to compete with workers in other countries.

The TPP has been called “NAFTA on steroids,” because of what it will do to American life, in general. American production workers will be in competition with workers in, say, Vietnam, where the average hourly pay is 35 cents. There are a few countries in the TPP that feature that starvation level of pay. But that’s not all.

The TPP has been called by many a “corporate coup d’etat” or an “assault on democracy,” in that the nation’s sovereignty, which Americans have taken for granted would be eliminated and disputes that arise would be decided by a tribunal and no court would be able to intervene and tribunal decisions would be final.

It isn’t just jobs and the U.S. standard of living that are at stake, but Americans’ right to decide how they are going to be governed is also in the bargain. For example, any city, county, state, school district, or any other governmental entity that adopted a “buy local” ordinance or law could, if discovered, be brought to a tribunal. The issue: The city or village would be charged with denying the corporation the profits it believes it could make by selling the product. Forget any law that prohibits genetically modified crops or food. Forget environmental protection laws that might interfere with the profits of a foreign corporation. Forget worker protection laws that might cut into the profits of the same corporation. Whoever dares to do that could be subject to being called before a TPP tribunal.

The TPP is loaded with such language, involving such things as development and sales of drugs (intellectual property rights), green jobs, food safety laws, pollution controls, freedom of the Internet, and any other law or action that might diminish the profits of a foreign corporation in a country that is a party to the agreement. At this time, the language is still being analyzed and it will be a while before the full impact is understood by those who will bear the brunt of its chapters, the American people.

Now the full agreement is revealed and, of the 29 chapters, only five actually address trade issues. All of the rest are, in one way or another, aimed at laying out the rights of corporations in all of the trading partners, which are, in addition to the U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The final product was the work of governmental officials and negotiators, along with some 500-600 corporate types who were termed “advisors” and who were privy to the talks and the language when even the members of Congress were not allowed to see it. And, they were able to hold off Congress members for six years.

According to Public Citizen’s analysis, “U.S. TPP negotiators literally used the 2011 Korea FTA (Free Trade Agreement), under which exports have fallen and trade deficits have surged, as the template for the TPP.”

The loss of democratic control of their government’s trade policies should be seen by Americans as just another extension of the loss of their democratic rights in the governing of their nation. More often than not, legislation is negotiated or fully written in secret, either by elected officials or by private entities (such as the American Legislative Exchange Council, which is funded by corporations, millionaires, and billionaires), the deals are cut, and the laws are passed. While that process is not quite as secretive as that of the TPP, laws are often passed in the shadows of the centers of power. It may have always been that way to a great extent, but in recent years, the centers of power have been bought and paid for by the corporations and the wealthy.

Most recently, a further tremendous loss of citizen power has been the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, which gives overweening power to the rich and their corporations, which, in turn, rule the U.S. As a result, Congress is crawling with corporate lobbyists, wandering its halls with bags of “campaign” money. It is difficult to hear a description of how the TPP was formulated and negotiated and completed without thinking of the way the U.S. is run…more and more like a giant corporation. Lest we forget, the sole purpose of a corporation is to make money for its shareholders, after first having paid huge sums to top management and their minions, who shield them from the wrath of the people. For that shielding, they are paid rather well, but they are not respected as part of the ruling class.

If the Congress approves the TPP (and they won’t be able to change any of the language as it is, now that they have narrowly approved fast track), there is no reason to believe that anything will be any better for the working class and the middle class. The power over every citizen’s life will be nearly complete, since the TPP simply puts the icing on the cake of the previously approved “free trade” agreements, which circumscribed the lives of citizens of every signatory nation to those agreements. Corporations now tell people what they will eat, how much education they will get, whether they will live in their own houses, what medicines they will be able to afford, which rivers and lakes will be safe, how clean the air over their cities will be, to name a few issues.

Working class Americans should be very alarmed about the possible passage (all of the governing bodies of the nations involved have to approve, as well) of the TPP by the Congress, because they will be directly competing with workers who make a fraction of their wages. As well, there are those in the middle class who are feeling the downward pressure of the economy and will soon join the working class, if they haven’t already joined it.

If you are comfortable with the consolidation of political and economic power into fewer and fewer hands, the TPP might not worry you. But it is worth seeking out more information, before even more U.S. jobs are “off shored.” This will take great effort by every concerned citizen, to bolster the efforts of individuals and groups that have taken the lead in fighting to defeat this agreement, by contacting members of Congress.

For more information: Public Citizen and its Global Trade Watch, at; Flush the TPP, at, or, a project of the Communications Workers of America, AFL-CIO. Your job may depend on it and the way you want to live your life may be affected in a major way. It’s worth getting involved. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a long-time former newspaper reporter and labor organizer, who lives in the Mohawk Valley of New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Contact Mr. Funiciello and BC.

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