Excerpts from “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress”

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress” is a comprehensive primer on international trade in general and on the scope of the TPP. I highly recommend it to everyone.

“This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant.” (excerpt from Introduction; page 2) 

This blog post pulls out some of what I thought were some of the more interesting and revealing passages, along with some thoughts and questions I have about them.

 

From the Summary

Twenty-nine chapters in the agreement are under discussion. The United States is negotiating market access for goods, services, and agriculture with countries with which it does not currently have FTAs: Brunei, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.

Outside of Japan, I’m struggling to see the attraction these other markets represent. Brunei, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Vietnam have a combined population of 124.7 million people and a combined GDP of $629 billion. We import a whopping $49.7 billion from and export an even more abysmal $20.9 billion to these 4 countries.

TPP Countries

 

The present negotiations are not being conducted under the auspices of formal trade promotion authority (TPA)—the latest TPA expired on July 1, 2007—although the Administration informally is following the procedures of the former TPA. If TPP implementing legislation is brought to Congress, TPA may need to be considered if the legislation is not to be subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.

Setting the tone right from the start: without TPA – aka Fast Tracking – the TPP could be, “subject to potentially debilitating amendments or rejection.” It’s only going to be considered to be that to its proponents, isn’t it?

From the Introduction

The TPP draws congressional interest on a number of fronts. Congress would have to approve implementing legislation for U.S. commitments under the agreement to enter into force. In addition, under long-established executive-legislative practice, the Administration notifies and consults with congressional leaders, before, during, and after trade agreements have been negotiated.

The “before” and “during” consultations are apparently missing if we’re to believe representatives like Alan Grayson, Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Warren and all the co-signors of letters from both the House and the Senate to the president expressing their concerns about this treaty.

This report examines the issues related to the proposed TPP, the state and substance of the negotiations (to the degree that the information is publically available), the specific areas under negotiation, the policy and economic contexts in which the TPP would fit, and the issues for Congress that the TPP presents. The report will be revised and updated as events warrant. (page 2)

“This report examines the issues…” This isn’t the same and shouldn’t be confused with the USTR keeping the Congress informed about what is being negotiated. If the USTR was doing that, Wikileaks wouldn’t need to leak documents, would they?

 U.S. participation in TPP negotiations serves several strategic goals in U.S. trade policy. First, it continues and expands a U.S. trade policy strategy that began with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which entered into force in 1994, of using FTAs to promote trade liberalization and potentially to spark multilateral negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). The George W. Bush Administration expanded the use of this strategy under the rubric of “competitive liberalization,” negotiating 11 FTAs with 16 countries. The last three of these FTAs—with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea—were approved by Congress in 2011. However, the future direction of this policy was uncertain, given the low commercial value of some of these agreements and lack of new obvious partner countries. Meanwhile, an increasing web of bilateral and regional FTAs, were being concluded among other parties in the Asia-Pacific region and worldwide. The Bush Administration’s and then the Obama Administration’s adoption of the TPP signaled that the United States remains engaged in regional free trade negotiations.  (page 4)

So, how is the TPP not NAFTA on steroids?

Japan’s membership in the TPP with the United States would constitute a de facto U.S.-Japan FTA. A large segment of the U.S. business community has expressed support for Japanese participation in the TPP, if Japan can resolve long-standing issues on access to its markets for U.S. goods, services, and agriculture. However, the Detroit-based U.S. auto industry, the United Autoworkers union, and Members of Congress with a large auto-industry presence in their districts have expressed strong opposition. Other segments of the U.S. business community have expressed support for Japan’s entry into the TPP negotiations, although some have conditioned their support on Japan’s willingness to address long-standing issues. (page 16)

Not all industries and unions are expressing support for the TPP.

The draft TPP outline indicates that financial services, including insurance and insurance-related services, banking and related services, as well as auxiliary services of a financial nature, will be addressed in a separate chapter as in previous FTAs. (page 23)

Financial services getting its own chapter. Can anyone believe that that’s one that, without question, has global implications. Wouldn’t we love to know the details about what’s being negotiated on it? I’d settle for knowing that elected representatives like Senator Warren had the details.

According to the November 2011 outline, as in previous U.S. FTAs, the TPP will have a separate chapter on telecommunications trade. The TPP is to promote access to telecommunications networks for foreign services suppliers and transparency of regulations pertaining to telecommunications services. Along with these objectives, the United States sought and obtained in the KORUS FTA commitments to allow U.S. investment in foreign telecommunications companies.

Negotiations over the services provisions likely will lead to controversy between the developed countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, and Singapore, and developing countries. Developed countries have pushed for greater market access for services. Developing countries have been more cautious on liberalization in services trade as they fear competition in sectors they view as a source of domestic employment and worry about the political implications forcing open sectors that are often controlled by politically powerful interests. Also, the United States may also be challenged to open its market to providers of maritime services. The United States has also been pressed to liberalize access to its market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services. No U.S. FTA negotiated after the agreements with Chile and Singapore agreements includes provisions on the temporary movement of personnel. (page 24)

Another separate chapter, this one seemingly prime for the likes of Verizon, AT&T, and the globe’s largest equipment makers to build and run networks in developing nations and with great economies of scale that give them huge advantage over any domestic companies which actually would innovate instead of stifle innovation the way the above oligarchs have in the U.S.

This would also seem to open up the US market for the importation of extremely cheap overseas labor:  liberalized “access to its (U.S.) market through the so-called mode-4 delivery temporary entry of personnel to provide services.”

 In the 112th Congress, 68 Members of Congress wrote to President Obama to urge the Administration not to negotiate government procurement provisions that would limit the application of Buy American provisions through extension of government procurement opportunities and obligations to TPP partner countries. However, Canada reportedly tabled a proposal during the Singapore round that would obligate sub-federal entities to open procurement projects funded by a central government to competition from firms in TPP countries. (page 25)

No big deal, I guess, if we’re ok with our tax dollars going to pay foreign corporations who underbid and win government contracts. What’s to keep them from importing cheaper labor instead of hiring American workers?

And what do we get in return? Domestic companies who can now bid for and win foreign government contracts for which they can be pretty much counted on to hire local and cheaper labor in those overseas markets.

Reactions to USTR’s reported new proposal have been critical of the change in approach and say it raises additional questions. Five anti-smoking groups expressed disappointment that USTR retreated from its earlier proposal that would have made it more difficult for tobacco companies to challenge domestic tobacco control measures under trade agreements. These groups note that USTR’s latest approach is “far weaker” than originally envisioned because it does not recognize tobacco as a “uniquely harmful product” or provide a way for countries to regulate tobacco in order to reduce its use. They also point out the new language would not cover lawsuits filed by tobacco firms and would not provide countries that have strong tobacco control measures with the protection needed to fend off challenges by the tobacco industry. (page 32-33)

Anyone who isn’t aware of what Philip Morris is doing about Australia’s decision about cigarette packaging needs to get up to speed on it to understand why this part of the TPP could be bad for keeping tobacco companies in check while it’s still legal for them to sell their deadly products. (http://www.ag.gov.au/internationalrelations/internationallaw/pages/tobaccoplainpackaging.aspx)

Technical barriers to trade (TBT) are standards and regulations that are intended ostensibly to protect the health and safety of consumers and for other legitimate purposes, but through design or implementation, discriminate against imports. In order to minimize trade distortion, WTO members must adhere to the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade. The TBT Agreement covers voluntary standards that industries apply, technical regulations that governments impose for health and safety purposes, and assessment procedures that governments employ to determine that a product meets required standards. The TBT Agreement establishes rules and procedures for member countries to follow, including making sure that standards, technical regulations, and conforming assessment procedures are applied non-discriminately and in a manner not more trade restrictive than necessary. It addition, it requires that members practice transparency as regulations are developed and applied, that international standards are used where appropriate, and that the domestic technical regulations of trading partners are recognized as equivalent to domestic regulations when possible. (page 40)

The TBT Agreement seems designed to essentially put decisions about standards and regulations into the hands of corporations.

 Foreign Investment (pages 41-42)

This entire section, which includes discussion on the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process, is evidence that this document actually is only a primer. There’s nothing about what is being negotiated or even how any issue will be negotiated under ISDS.

Click here for more on my concerns about ISDS.

 The issue of the treatment of worker rights in the TPP has provoked debate among TPP partners and among U.S. stakeholders. In late December 2011, the United States reportedly submitted a proposal on labor issues to the other TPP partners. According to one report, the proposal largely reflects the requirements contained in the May 10th Agreement that countries should uphold core ILO principles. The proposal reportedly would go further by indicting how these principles would be implemented by requiring countries to have labor laws related to minimum wage requirements, work time, and occupational health and safety. The U.S. proposal reportedly would also require TPP countries to take measures to reduce trade in products made through forced or child labor and to apply labor laws to export processing zones and free trade zones. To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials. (page 44)

“To date, none of this information has been corroborated publically by U.S. officials.”
Why not?

Though some business groups, government officials, and labor groups have all expressed an interest in strong SOE provisions in the TPP, it remains unclear what form such provisions may take. (page 47)

More proof this document is only a primer and offers little to nothing about what is currently being negotiated. If there’s one thing I would think there would be transparency about, the concern and worry about State Owned Enterprises (SOEs) would be it.

In the case of Canada, the United States, Australia, and New Zealand had concerns about Canada’s supply management system for dairy and poultry. The United States was also interested in leveraging action on Canada’s long languishing legislation to modernize its copyright laws. In return for entry in the talks, Canada and Mexico reportedly agreed not to seek to reopen chapters already agreed in the TPP, or possibly, sub-chapters that contained areas of agreement. In the end, because of the sensitivity of the issues under discussion to the countries involved, outside of the negotiators themselves, it may never be known what commitments were made to gain participation in the talks, if any. (page 53)

Seems like the perfect place wrap this up.

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Manning and Assange: Modern Day Ellsberg and Woodward?

Will someone in government join Ron Paul…. RON PAUL, for crying out loud!!….. in rising up to support Assange?!? http://www.ellsberg.net/

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Whether you love him, hate him, or are ambivalent about Julian Assange, my support is growing for him, Bradley Manning, and the value of leaked information in holding our elected officials and their appointed representatives accountable to us.

The more I learn about Assange, Manning and people like them, the more they appear to me to be the modern equivalents of Bob Woodward and Daniel Ellsberg. Assange and Manning have brought varying degrees of secrets out into the open, and they are being attacked by people who are threatened by such exposure in very much the same way that Woodward and Ellsberg were attacked 40 years ago.

It makes me wonder, are our collective memories really that short? Are we really this collectively poor at knowing, understanding, and learning from history which for many of us is actual, living memory?

Here’s an interview, Frost over the World – Julian Assange, of Assange by al Jazeera and offered by The Real News Network. I suspect that the vast majority of Americans will never even know this interview exists, let alone see it for themselves. I think it’s well worth the 24 minutes. Assange answers questions and discusses who he is, what his organization is all about, how it operates, and what his extradition might mean.

Here are some other insightful sources of information about the man, the organization, and some of the absolutely unbelievable reactions they have generated.

Julian Assange Assails Fox News, Mike Huckabee, Palin On MSNBC (VIDEO)

Fox News’ Bob Beckel Calls For ‘Illegally’ Killing Assange: ‘A Dead Man Can’t Leak Stuff’ (VIDEO)

Assange lashes back at U.S. critics

So Biden is calling him a terrorist?

Fox commentators are calling for Assange’s execution; even an illegal assassination or drone strikes?!?

Is this just pathetic hyperbole meant to drive ratings, or are they serious? Where’s the outrage by mainstream media and citizens like us? When are criminal charges going to be filed against Huckabee, Beckel, and all the other fomenters of violence and assassination?

It appears to me that these leaks reveal a great deal about just how stupid, petty, and sinister government officials can be. In a Michael Moore interview by Rachel Maddow, Moore talks about leaked cables and Guardian articles that lie about Sicko being banned in Cuba, as well as threatening cables to New Zealand government officials about hosting a screening of Fahrenheit 911. At first these kinds of cables may seem simply to be stupid and petty. After all, such revelations certainly cannot be characterized as threatening to national security, can they?

But do they also signal something more sinister? Is this evidence of modern day McCarthyism that attempts to stifle truth and dissent?

Moore also makes the point in the interview that the Nuremberg Trials taught us that it’s not an acceptable defense to simply claim that one was only following orders. It taught us that, as human beings, we have a moral obligation and responsibility to do whatever we can to stop people – and especially people in government and the military – when they create and perpetuate injustice or act criminally. I agree completely.

It’s why the more I think about it the more I applaud, respect, and admire people with the courage to step forward. People like Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning if he (Manning) was, indeed, the one who leaked to Assange.

It’s important to understand, too, that we still don’t know with certainty if it was Manning and if he acted alone. Who knows if and when we will ever know for sure? He’s reportedly being held in solitary confinement in a military prison.

We seem to be living in an age and in a so-called democracy where “extraordinary rendition” has not only become acceptable, it’s policy. We now live in a democracy where habeas corpus has been indefinitely suspended for anyone our government decides to classify as a so-called enemy combatant. Even sadder, none of this has changed even with elections that changed the Presidency and at least for a little while, Congress. Guantanamo remains open for business, and we have no idea how many people are being held in other places.

Maybe if we’re lucky more light will be shed on these issues from among the 250,000 documents recently released.

If it was Manning, then I consider him to be a hero. He is, in my opinion, a modern day Daniel Ellsberg, and Assange is equivalent to Bob Woodward.

It’s why I’m finding myself more and more a supporter of Assange and WikiLeaks. It’s why I thought sharing interviews of the man himself was worth doing. Let him speak. Let him tell his side with his own voice.

WikiLeaks as I see it isn’t about Moore’s movies or Qadhafi’s nurse or the no-surprise-at-all embarrassment of diplomats saying one thing publicly and then mocking their hosts privately. It’s about having the courage to speak truth to power and to shining the bright light of truth in places and on people who work for and represent us. It’s about videos of helicopters firing on civilians and holding people accountable for such atrocities.

And now it’s about the fear-mongering and not-so-borderline incitements to criminal actions by some in the media and in government.

It’s also about the lessons we should have learned from Nazi Germany and the Nuremberg trials.

Lesson 1: Elected officials work for us, not the other way around, and they are a reflection of who we are and what we value.
Much to my chagrin, most of these last 10 years and even the last 2 years have been terribly disappointing. We and our elected officials are even meaner, more hateful, more fearful, and more xenophobic than I ever thought possible. Worse, we seem to revel in being intentionally ignorant and proudly stupid, and that’s all a manipulative and malevolent ruling class needs to get away with whatever they like.

Lesson 2: The end never justifies the means.
That’s true even in a dangerous world where 18 unassuming, middle class Saudis and one Egyptian can commit a heinous crime – not an act of war by a sovereign nation, but a terrible crime. We allowed ourselves to be duped by the lies of the Bush administration and plunged into a constant state of panic, fear and hatred. We seem nowadays to be eager to give our fears and our hatreds full throat. What other explanation can there be when so-called news outlets like Fox hire “pundits” who are intellectual midgets and political neophytes like Palin? We have empowered the already-powerful with all the excuse they need to keep telling us lies we want to hear about what is required to achieve security; launching and sustaining us on an amoral, illegal and dangerous military campaign of empire expansion throughout the Islamic world that will only serve to ensure the next 2 or 3 generations of terrorists intent on leaving their middle class lives and Hamburg apartments to do us harm.

Lesson 3: Simply following orders is not a defense
Sometimes being patriotic means resisting the will of government and the majority. It is our responsibility, whether we are in uniform or civilians, to hold those in power accountable. It seems reasonable that that will entail revealing information that the powerful would rather not be made public. It also includes holding former presidents accountable who not only lie to us about the reasons for invading other countries but who have spoken out publicly and in print about condoning and approving torture. I wonder if we will ever see justice done for those crimes, and if we will ever collectively understand how much more egregious state-sanctioned torture is compared with leaked diplomatic cables?

Without the Ellsbergs, Woodwards, Mannings, and Assanges of the world, how can we ever expect the people we put into power to ever feel they need to worry about being held to account for their decisions and their actions?

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“For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.”
John F. Kennedy, Yale Commencement address, 1962