The Next Phase

It’s back.

Like the monster in a B-grade Hollywood movie that refuses to stay in the grave, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), the so-called trade treaty that many of us had assumed dead, was ratified in Atlanta this weekend.

Trade ministers from 12 countries announced the largest trade-liberalizing pact in a generation on Monday. In a press conference in Atlanta, trade ministers from the US, Australia and Japan called the the Trans-Pacific Partnership an “ambitious” and “challenging” negotiation that will cut red tape globally and “set the rules for the 21st century for trade”.

The TPP is not a trade deal as much as a corporate coup where our benighted rulers deploy trade policies, on behalf of corporations, rather than tanks to crush democracy. One of the provisions in the TPP–the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)–is a surrender of state sovereignty to corporations (see herehere, and here). It allows for secret arbitration panels to effectively overrule national regulations by allowing foreign investors to sue governments over lost potential future profits in secret arbitration panels.

Historically, the TPP represent the next phase of primitive accumulation, where member nations herd their citizens into corporate enclosures. The problem that neoliberal advocates always face is that neoliberal policies are wildly unpopular with citizens, hence the use of force by governments to ensure compliance.

Greg Grandin, author of the Empires Workshop, makes the connection from the TPP to the overthrow of Salvador Allende, the President of Chile in 1973, and imposition by force of radical free market economic policies under dictator General Pinochet. Grandin argues that the passage of the TPP will complete what the coup in Chile started.  Before the coup, President Allende recognized the grave threat that state supported corporations represented and spoke out eloquently about the risks Chileans faced in their experiment with democracy.

“We are faced by a direct confrontation between the large transnational corporations and the states. The corporations are interfering in the fundamental political, economic and military decisions of the states. The corporations are global organizations that do not depend on any state and whose activities are not controlled by, nor are they accountable to any parliament or any other institution representative of the collective interest. In short, all the world political structure is being undermined.”

Chile represented the first neoliberal “free market” experiment that was imposed by a military coup with US blessing.

Today what had to be imposed by tanks and torture in the 1970’s can be carried out via so-called trade treaties. The ISDS portion of the TPP allows corporations and investors to sue governments before tribunals of corporate lawyers to demand taxpayer compensation for any domestic law that investors believe will diminish their expected future profits.

By signing this treaty governments are essentially surrendering their sovereignty and renouncing democracy.

Of course, the TPP is not a done deal. Despite the success of the negotiations, the TPP still has to be ratified by lawmakers in each country.

Although the U.S. Congress voted to give President Obama “fast-track authority,” meaning the body gave up its power to amend the agreement and must simply vote yes or no, that is not a guarantee that the TPP will get the votes it needs. And, here’s where the fun begins–the attempt to pass the TPP will happen smack dab in the middle of a crazy presidential campaign where candidates from both parties are claiming to be against it.

Here’s Democratic candidate Bernie Sander speaking against the TPP.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a disastrous trade agreement designed to protect the interests of the largest multi-national corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, the environment and the foundations of American democracy. The TPP is a treaty that has been written behind closed doors by the corporate world. Incredibly, while Wall Street, the pharmaceutical industry and major media companies have full knowledge as to what is in this treaty, the American people and members of Congress do not. They have been locked out of the process.”

On the other side, GOP front runner Donald Trump opposes the agreement, which could put real pressure on House and Senate Republicans not to approve it.

Despite the spectacle the fight over the TPP provides we must never forget what’s at stake. Historian Greg Grandin reminds us of the connections between trade treaties, neoliberalism and the ongoing dirty wars waged by the US in foreign countries.

 “..as the Obama administration makes its final push for the TPP, it’s worth taking a moment to realize why all those people in Chile—and in Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador, and throughout Latin America—died and were tortured: to protect the “future profits” of multinational corporations.”

Update: Here’s Lambert at Naked Capitalism with a pithy summery of what the elite want from a so-called trade treaty like the TPP.

“…what the trans- and post-national squillionaire parasitroids who have injected their controlling, neoliberal, TINA-flavored ideological venom into the hive mind of our political class really want — is the destruction of national sovereignty in favor of global rule by the corporations they own.”

 

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