Like a snake in a woodpile, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) lies dangerously in wait to be fast-tracked to International Big Boy land where giant foreign and domestic money interests will control every aspect of U.S. trade dealings with the 11 other member countries of TPP.
In addition to the United States, in alphabetical order, the remaining membership is made up of Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chili, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Area superpower, China is absent from the TPP roster of nations.
Brunei is an interesting little territory. Admit it, you know nothing about Brunei. “TPP Capitols for $100, Alex!” Jeopardy host, Trebek flips through his index cards. “OK, what is the capital of Brunei?” You immediately shed 140 points off your 150 IQ. Months later, you’re still standing there with a blank expression on your face, thumb frozen over the buzzer. For the record, it’s Bandar Seri Begawan. The cities centerpiece, nestled in a lagoon, is the breathtaking Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddin Masjid (the Arabic term for Mosque) with a dome covered in pure gold.
You remember how Republicans hate Muslims, right? They want to blow them off the face of the earth. Not a day goes by, but one of their right-wing warmongers doesn’t rip into Obama for not sending every last hunk of our military iron and troops over to the middle east and taking care of those terrorists once and for all.
Brunei is 80% Muslim. Its government is the Malay Islamic Monarchy. According to the CIA World Fact Book, their legal system is a mix of English Common Law and Islamic law. The first sharia-based penal codes were applied to both Muslims and non-Muslims earlier this year. Oh, and there are no elections. But we love this country chock-full of Muslims with the same fervor as a fellow Rotarian, all that Muslim stuff notwithstanding. That’s because Brunei is loaded. Oil and gas abound, as does money.
Another TPP member, Malaysia, features a Muslim population of 61% with nary a Christian of any stripe to be found anywhere. But Malaysian Muslims are OK as potential TPP money machines as well (see above.). And let’s not forget trading partner and home to some of the biggest U.S. companies, Vietnam. About 40-50 years ago, The Viet Cong to the South and the Northern Vietnamese Army were busy blasting 57,000 young Americans into oblivion, but there’s nothing like the almighty dollar to forgive and forget. But absent a similar inter-country deal from our nations “Yankees”, Southerners still harbor undisguised resentment dating back to a conflict that’s 150 years old.
Make no mistake, the newfound love for Muslims, notwithstanding, the real player besides the U.S. in TPP is Japan. The Americans need an economically powerful Asian counter-balance to at least equalize Chinese efforts to emerge as the top trading dog in the near future. But here is where it gets puzzling. China, on the heels of a recent summit, attended by both Obama and Putin, is continuing to work up a trade pact called the Asian-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum (APEC). This agreement has the same purpose as TPP; warding off an economic enemy, but, in this case, the U.S. would be a member of both TPP AND APEC. So the world’s top two economic powers are at cross purposes at the same time they sit across from each other, about to make a handful of individuals rich beyond comprehension. Russia is also an APEC player, and, get this, every member of TPP, including Japan also claims membership. There are 21 APEC nations. How fast APEC progresses is anybody’s guess. It’s been around since 1989 as a forum and moves are currently being made to declare its official status as a trade agreement a ‘fait accompli’ in the very near future.
China also recently inked a trade agreement with South Korea, as with China prominent in its absence from TPP, another country oddly missing from TPP.
For all the Congressional harangue about not knowing the contents of TPP, the right people in both parties know the agreement verbatim. No leadership of either the Republican or Democratic Party is going to push for fast-tracking a secret pig in the poke trade deal. Come the new session, this thing will pass legislative muster with the speed of a bullet train, given that Utah Republican, Orrin Hatch will most likely ascend to the Chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee and Orrin adores TPP.
Republicans will follow his lead. Ironic, given all the power over U.S. intellectual property, copyright issues and digital that TPP could possibly control. Ironic, given Republican knee-jerk opposition to any and all UN initiatives that could affect America’s internal affairs even to the slightest degree of control. Ironic, that during the Congressional run-up to the last election, I don’t recall TPP being even in the top five of candidate’s major issue concerns.
There’s another agreement called the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Revealed in last year’s State of the Union speech, this trade deal between the U.S. and the European Union might actually be beneficial for workers and, yes, even union members. The AFL-CIO has given TTIP its cautious imprimatur based on the relatively high economic standing of the participants, the fact that EU countries seem to care about the welfare of their people and the union-friendly environment of most EU member countries. There is also substantial worker input into the operation of their employer’s company. There are worker councils and generally, a worker seat on the Board of Directors. That seat is mandated in Germany if over 500 are employed. So the scoreboard reads: U.S. worker participation in the operation of their company; virtually zero; EU worker participation, substantial and meaningful. What’s not to like?
Let’s take a brief look at the trade agreement by which most U.S. trade pacts are judged; NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement. No matter what the Clintons or Republicans told you in 1994, NAFTA was simply economic permission to crush U.S. tariffs, so huge companies could produce products overseas for embarrassingly low wages and then import the pieces back into the U.S. either whole or for assembly, without paying previously-imposed tariffs. Wages and environmental regulations were laughable, though many companies have now fled Mexico in favor of even lower wages and virtually no pollution standards in third-world countries.
The NAFTA trade deficit has exploded and the estimated U.S. job loss numbers are in the one million range. A $2.9 billion surplus with Mexico in ’93 turned into a combined (Mexico and Canada) trade deficit of $181 billion in 2012. In rare bipartisan agreement, polls show that Americans would like to either revisit NAFTA or trash the trade pact altogether. U.S. job creation from NAFTA is virtually nil.
And have you heard about China’s other pet trade project, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RECP)? Enough letters for one submission. We’ll save RECP for another day.
Trade pacts. Approach with extreme caution!