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NAFTA on a Grand Scale

The TPP and the Chamber of Secrets

by LYNN HOLLAND

If you asked the average person on the street to tell you about the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, chances are you’d get a blank stare.  Yet the end result of this massive international trade agreement now in the works will be far reaching.  As in the story of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, there’s a hushed attitude among those on the inside, a sense of foreboding among the skeptics, and fears that while the privileged will gain, “non-magical” ordinary people will be left to suffer the consequences.

We have to wonder, after all, about the high level of secrecy surrounding the TPP, an agreement of unprecedented scope.  Over the years, key decisions have been made as far away as Peru, Brunei, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia.  While these and other countries have fashioned the deal with a little help from hundreds of corporate advisers in attendance, there has been precious little news coverage reaching the average person.  According to the Office of the US Trade Representative, this is because the various parties to the TPP have signed a confidentiality agreement preventing them from sharing information about the proposals with anyone except government officials and their “advisors.”

So what should we expect if the TPP passes?  From what we know, it will open the chamber door to billions of new dollars in trade and finance, boding well for foreign investors coming here and US investors going abroad.  In line with NAFTA, but on a much grander scale, the TPP will also create new tax havens while lowering wages and reducing workplace and environmental regulations.

In light of this, we need to be asking the hard questions about what will happen to blue collar workers, small farmers, and the quality of the air, land and water.  Will the bulk of the benefits accrue to those who are already doing well, while the poor and middle classes lose out?  Will jobs disappear along with the tax base weakening state and city services?  Will more cities become hollowed out and dangerous the way Detroit, St. Louis, and Flint, Michigan, already have?  Will rural residents turn to cooking and selling drugs, the way they have in the Midwest?

Maybe not.  Maybe, instead, the rising tide of trade will lift all boats as we often hear.  Perhaps the poor and the middle classes will be blessed with new and better job opportunities and solid environmental standards.  If so, and the real goals of the TPP are actually good news for the “muggles,” there should be no need to keep any of it a secret from them.

The proposed method for TPP’s passage – “trade promotion authority” or “fast track” legislation – is also a source of distress.  Through Fast Track, Congress essentially turns over authority for debating and amending the TPP to the presidential branch while retaining a mere yes-or-no vote on the treaty once it’s fully negotiated.  This move greatly speeds up the political process while leaving the public in the dust.

Activists concerned with worker rights, international law, the environment, and Internet privacy are now the young wizards seeking to disclose the deadly secrets of the Chamber.  In their quest, they will need all the help they can get from the most intrepid media reporting.  We can only hope to have the information we need before it’s too late.

Lynn Holland teaches International Political Economy at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.