The predators behind the TPP

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The predators behind the TPP

Misnomers that hide what the strong and rich control — and aspire to control — help promote our world’s numerous political ills. “Spreading democracy” in the Middle East and Africa has been used to excuse much slaughter, ruin and higher risks of wider war for purposes not remotely connected with democracy. The designation “trade” used by politicians and the media when talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact and the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TPIP) agreement is another perfect example of a misnomer thanks to which a new shadow will be cast over the generally more fortunate parts of the world. If signed and ratified, the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic agreements, which seek to organize business activity under one gigantic umbrella of new rules, are likely to change our living environment in ways very different from what elected officials have been misled to imagine. They have been peddled as trade treaties, and hence as being wonderful for economic growth, job creation, social well-being and general happiness. But the TPP agreement, which aims to tie the United States together with close to a dozen countries in Asia, Oceania and a bit of Latin America, is not in the first place about trade, and may hardly be significant at all for stimulating genuine exchanges traditionally labelled that way. The same is true for its TPIP companion, which is meant to create and foster a new American-European business environment. The TPP and TPIP accords are about power, not trade. More specifically, the agreements are about changed power relations between a collectivity of politically well-connected large corporations and the sovereign states in which these entities want to sink new roots. In particular, these treaties would allow U.S. corporations to engage in conduct unchecked by national rules of the participating countries. In eyes not fogged over through neoliberal dogma, such a thing would be recognized as predation. Some history will clarify a lot. The first systematic attempt to establish corporate supremacy over national laws and regulations, begun in 1997 by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, was more honest by calling itself the Multilateral Agreement on Investments (MAI). Under MAI rules, foreign businesses would be guaranteed all the advantages enjoyed by domestic producers and services of the participating countries. If implemented, the larger foreign investors in these markets could have easily wiped out smaller domestic players with the superior force they can muster and would, once and for all, have made the older standard development methods, known as “import substitution industrialization,” impossible. Potential competitors would become perennial subcontractors. In other words, the MAI was a blatant move to implement neocolonialism by treaty. No surprise then that the MAI turned “globalization” into a controversial proposition as it triggered mass activism of a kind never seen before. This was the moment that, thanks to the then very young Internet, the world saw a bundling of international protest against transnational business power. Anti-MAI events encouraged other antiglobalization protest movements around the world, which peaked in 1999 in Seattle, and seemed to augur a new kind of “people power” element in global affairs. It continued until Sept. 11, 2001. With yet another calamitous misnomer of the “war against terror” — a political impossibility — the attention of virtually everyone in the world changed utterly, and the MAI plans as well as the antiglobalization activism were soon forgotten. An attempt to reintroduce MAI-like arrangements with the Doha Round of trade negotiations under the auspices of the World Trade Organization has remained dead in the water. Ten years ago, an innocuous enough attempt by Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile to enhance trade cooperation through laudable tariff reductions produced the initiative for a nascent TPP agreement. Nurturing schemes for regional economic hegemony, Washington jumped in and captured that initiative. It enticed Australia, Peru, Vietnam and Malaysia to join as well. Once the U.S. Congress had endorsed related free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama, the TPP became the most important component in a scheme for a Pacific-Asian business playground on which, if Japan could be enticed to join as well, U.S. corporations could be the bullies. The most striking aspect of TPP negotiations since then has been their utter secrecy. Only about 600 “cleared advisers” — most of them linked with the businesses that stand to gain from the deal — have had access to parts of subagreements, and critics among them have been sworn to remain silent about what they consider unacceptable. Several former trade officials and clued-in politicians in the…
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On February 6, 2016
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