The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement continues to exist within secret closed-door negotiations – seeking to introduce invasive copyright legislation to everyday Internet use.
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Article by Matt Stoller for Salon.com
If you listened to the debate last night between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on foreign policy, you would have heard a great deal on Israel, Iran and Libya, and a bit on China. The two rivals even touched on education policy, military spending and tax cuts for the wealthy. What you would not have heard was any mention of what could potentially be the most significant foreign and domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration: the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This agreement is a core part of the “Asia pivot” that has occupied the activities of think tanks and policymakers in Washington but remained hidden by the tinsel and confetti of the election. But more than any other policy, the trends the TPP represents could restructure American foreign relations, and potentially the economy itself.
Why isn’t trade a part of the election? After all, in 1992, Ross Perot made the last successful third-party run for the presidency, mostly on the strength of his anti-NAFTA rhetoric. Today, however, on the core question of these trade agreements, the parties basically agree. President Barack Obama has pledged to double U.S. exports as a core policy goal, and the Democratic platform lists the TPP as a “historic high-standard agreement” that will help accomplish this. The GOP platform pledges that “a Republican President will complete negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership to open rapidly developing Asian markets to U.S. products.” Both party leaders argue that exports are one key to creating high-quality American jobs.
Whoever wins, the TPP will be a flashpoint of the next administration’s foreign and domestic policy architecture. It’s worth understanding just what this agreement is, and why it matters.
What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the first international commercial agreement pursued by this administration to date from scratch. And, it would be the largest one since the 1995 World Trade Organization. It would link Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico and Canada into a “free trade” zone similar to that of NAFTA. The subject matter being negotiated extends far beyond traditional trade matters. TPP’s 29 chapters would set binding rules on everything from service-sector regulation, investment, patents and copyrights, government procurement, financial regulation, and labor and environmental standards, as well as trade in industrial goods and agriculture.
Who negotiates this agreement?
The TPP is being negotiated by an agency called the Office of the United States Trade Representative. As with other such agreements, Congress must vote to approve it, most likely under a “Fast Track” provision that prohibits any amendments and limits debate. Trade, though constitutionally a congressional prerogative, is now firmly in the hands of the executive branch. And “trade” negotiations have become a venue for rewriting wide swaths of domestic non-trade policy traditionally determined by Congress and state legislatures.
The current USTR is a former Dallas mayor and former corporate lobbyist named Ron Kirk. Michael Froman, a deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security advisor for international affairs, is also heavily involved. Froman is a disciple of former Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin who followed him to Citigroup, and headed the Obama transition team in 2008. According to journalist Matt Taibbi, Froman apparently led the hiring of Tim Geithner for the Treasury secretary role. The philosophy behind these international agreements thus follow the model laid down during the Clinton administration. Read more »
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