Yes, I am happy the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is dead. But let me spell out in one syllable words – Trump – did – not – kill – the – TPPA. It was already dead. Obama could not get it through the Congress before the election. If he could have, he would have. As I have said before, it became such an election issue because of Bernie Sanders, then both Hilary Clinton and Trump jumped on the bandwagon. Blaming TPPAs collapse on a xenophobic megalomaniac allows the media to continue to ignore the real dynamics behind Trump’s victory, Brexit, the rejection of TTIP and resistance to CETA in the EU. The model is broken.
We need alternatives.
Trump has only withdrawn the US from the TPPA. There is no reference to TTIP or the US China Bilateral Investment Treaty – both bilateral negotiations that he prefers – or the multi-party Trade in Services Agreement that would do most of the things he rails about, such as offshoring of businesses, jobs and investment, but is sought after by many of the billionaires in his Cabinet. Nor has he exercised executive power to withdraw from NAFTA as he did the TPPA. Instead, it will be renegotiated.
If Trump is serious about making agreements work ‘a lot better’ for working people and their communities, rather than the corporations, that could genuinely create a space for new thinking. Progressive thinkers in the US and Canada are already advising Trump on what needs to be done about NAFTA. Letters to Trump from the Public Citizen Trade Campaign, the AFL-CIO and Democratic Party Representative Rosa DeLauro have set out some specific starting points:
- Eliminate rules that incentivize the offshoring of jobs and that empower corporations to attack democratic policies in unaccountable tribunals.
- Defend jobs and human rights by adding strong, binding and enforceable labor and environmental standards to the agreement’s core text and requiring that they are enforced.
- Overhaul NAFTA rules that harm family farmers and feed a destructive agribusiness model.
- End NAFTA rules that threaten the safety of our food.
- Eliminate NAFTA rules that drive up the cost of medicines.
- Eliminate NAFTA rules that undermine job-creating programs like Buy American.
- Strengthen “rules of origin” and stop trans-shipment so as to create jobs and reinforce labor and environmental standards.
- Add strong, enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation to ensure a fair playing field for job creation.
- Require imported goods and services to meet domestic safety and environmental rules.
- Add a broad protection for environmental, health, labour and other public interest policies.
Why can’t that be done, not just in the US but here? There are obvious barriers in the US that people committed to progressive alternatives would have to overcome. The corporate lobbies who have privileged access to the text as cleared advisers and largely got their way in the TPPA would not tolerate it. Nor probably would the billionaires from Wall St and the oil industry in Trump’s cabinet. Would Trump’s racist diatribes against Mexico and Mexicans allow anything but the meanest of power politics in a renegotiation? Can he get past the border to see part of the reason Mexicans cross it is the impact of NAFTA on their own jobs, communities and future prospects? As Lori Wallach from Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch said: ‘The trade debate is not about the United States versus the rest of the world, but rather about multinational corporations versus the rest of us.’
That challenge is as relevant to us as it is to the US, Canada and Mexico. Some ideas that are embraced in the US may not warrant the same support, while others, such as rights pf indigenous peoples and dealing to climate change, would be on our list. But there is no reason why a New Zealand government could not embrace that kind of alternative. It’s exactly the kind of debate we need to have.
Instead, we have the spectacle of Bill English, along with the political leaders of numerous other TPPA countries, desperately seeking to rescue an agreement that is toxic in most of their countries. Having spent six years of political capital and taxpayer resources closing a deal that never stood up to scrutiny, their Plan B would squander more resources and political capital trying to defend the indefensible – in our case during an election year.
It is hard to believe they are really serious about proceeding without the US. Trump would rub his hands in glee. Unless they renegotiated large chunks of the text, US corporations would get the benefit of all the controversial rules on medicine patents, copyright, investment, state-owned enterprises that the US on without the US have to give a single thing in return.
The alternative of renegotiating would take years and more resources, to achieve what?
The economic modelling National relied on here to sell the deal had zero credibility and failed to account for the costs. Take the US out of that equation and any attempt to claim it would have net benefits to New Zealand is risible.
Because the text would be substantively different from the one that National rammed through the Parliament last year, the new version and a new National Interest Analysis would have to be tabled in the House and referred to the select committee. Not allowing submissions would inflame anti-TPPA sentiments; allowing them would provide a platform to expose the government’s stupidity. Surely National can’t want that.
Labour would also have to engage the TPPA in election year, which it has been desperate not to do. But maybe if they got brave (?!) that would give them a point of difference that appealed to their constituency of working people. Winston Peters would be in his element – although the pro-TPPA Shane Jones might be a bit uncomfortable. The Maori Party and Mana would have genuine common cause.
The prospect that we might convert TPPA-scepticism into debates on a positive agenda for new models of international agreements almost makes election year sound interesting!