Why the TPP Must be Opposed at All Costs: It’s Worse Than You Think

The TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the corporate Mega-deal on “free trade” has been concluded between the partner states, and is now in the final stages of its ratification. This deal involves the US and 11 other countries (Canada, US, Mexico, Chile, Peru; Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, Brunei, Japan) of the Pacific Rim, representing 40% of global economic activity. The text was secretly negotiated by hundreds of corporate lobbyists. It has now been released, and Congress will have 90 days to examine the 6000 page text before approving, which will allow the President to sign it in to law.

For six years, this corporate-drafted legislation was a pig in a poke. Nobody knew what was in it– except the hundreds (550) of corporate lobbyists that had been drafting it for years in total secrecy. They wouldn’t say what was in it. They would only say it was good for you. They just wanted you to support it. Critics were told to shut up on the grounds that they knew nothing about it. But the outline that people had been able to discern through leaks were monstrous.

The text has been just released—by the orders of a New Zealand court–and it is, as anticipated, monstrous, explaining the Manhattan-Project-level secrecy.   It’s a total corporate giveaway, and despite some pathetic attempts to put lipstick on it, it’s every bit as bad as we had anticipated, and a little bit worse.   Here are some of the key issues:

Subversion of Democracy and Sovereignty

ISDS refers to Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanism. Think of it as really: Intentional Subversion of Democracy & Sovereignty. This is the extrajudicial process written into the TPP (Chapter 28), whereby governments can be dragged before tribunals by corporate lawyers if they think national (health, environmental, public policy) laws violate their TPP rights or limit future expected profits.   This is a panel of bespoke-suited corporate lawyers deciding whether environmental laws, safety regulations, public policy, or labor laws get in the way of profit or not. Imagine how they will decide. Profits or people? The outcome, written into the very raison d’etre of the TPP, is a foregone conclusion. These results will be unaccountable and binding. No appeal is possible.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that corporations want profit the way that sexual predators want sex: at any cost. Instead of moderating, controlling or preventing this, this agreement enshrines into transnational law a supranational corporate entitlement to profit, regardless of risk or danger to the state, democratic sovereignity, the people, or the planet. For that reason alone, the TPP should be opposed at all costs. But there’s more.

Global Immiseration

Job Loss and proletarianization will be the inevitable results of this agreement. Although the pitch from the White House has been that the TPP is “a high standard trade agreement that levels the playing field for American workers, and businesses, supporting more made in America exports and higher paying American jobs”, in fact the logic of neoliberal trade agreements like TPP drives jobs to wherever they are the cheapest, decimating labor rights and labor protections along their path. That implies the general immiseration of wage workers everywhere as they are forced into a race to the bottom, to compete with the hungriest and most desperate in the world.   If you thought NAFTA was bad for jobs, imagine the Lance Armstrong of neoliberal trade deals: doped up, ‘roid-flushed, viscous-blooded, deceitful, win-at-any-cost, brazen, in-your-face, winner-take-all, corrupt, corporate leviathan.

This final, dolled-and-dressed-up version actually has a chapter on Labor and labor rights (Chapter 19), but don’t let that mislead you. It amounts to a massive 13 pages of vapid, unenforceable boilerplate within 6000 pages of cold-blooded legalistic scheming. It’s clearly a threadbare, deceptive ruse appended after the fact to divert criticism. The chapter offers nothing substantive or meaningful, other than roadblocks to even minimal enforcement of worker’s rights, and mandated “cooperation” to diffuse adversarial relations.   Threadbare in reasoning, substance, and ethics, it gives lip service to social values, then lards itself up with cosmetic boilerplate about consultation, cooperation, volunteerism, “recognition”, committees, and then finally bares its fangs with this:

No Party shall have recourse to dispute settlement under Chapter 28 (Dispute Settlement) for any matter arising under this Chapter.

The miniscule chapter on “development” is even worse. It has 5 measly pages of the same lazy, wooly, vapid, rhetorical language on “voluntary measures”, “consultative processes”, and exhortations for “market-based approaches”, followed by the following ice-cold, clear final punch:

23.8: Relation to Other Chapters

In the event of any inconsistency between this Chapter and another Chapter of this Agreement, the other Chapter shall prevail to the extent of the inconsistency.

23.9: Non-Application of Dispute Settlement

No Party shall have recourse to dispute settlement under Chapter 28 (Dispute Settlement) for any matter arising under this Chapter.

There are other vanity chapters written about Capacity Building, Competitiveness, Regulatory Coherence (i.e. Domestic regulation)). They are written on the same template of boilerplate vapidity. It’s clear that these were added at the last minute for cosmetic purposes to divert criticism, because they all have the same rhetoric (about committees, consultation, cooperation), followed by the kill-switch non-access/non-recourse mantra:

No Party shall have recourse to dispute settlement under Chapter 28 (Dispute Settlement) for any matter arising under this Chapter.

To misquote the Zapatistas, it is, “Everything for me, nothing for you.”

Finance Capital Unleashed

Envisage unleashing finance capital in a way that makes the financialized gang rape of the 2008 global meltdown seem like a genteel southern debutante ball.   It’s clear the current system is precarious, scary, and unjust, but if existing capital controls are dismantled, financial taxation prohibited, stabilizing tools undone, and local breakwaters on finance are removed or challenged, hot money and speculation will flow like lava from an unleashed volcano. This is what Chapters 9, 10, 11 facilitate, albeit in cloaked, deceptive, corporate-lawyerly ways. Look underneath the verbiage to the intent and design, and these chapters should give you cold sweats and panic attacks.

Privatization of the Intellectual & Cultural Commons

The chapter on IP (Intellectual Property; Chapter 18) was leaked beforehand to universal criticism, opprobrium, and derision. The final version, unchanged, amounts to a corporate middle finger to international concerns. It is unashamed enclosure, privatization, commodification of the global commons. The intellectual, cultural, artistic commons that form the global heritage of the world serve a crucial role in generating, sustaining, and innovating a world fit to live in.   The plan of the TPP, in alignment with other FTA’s, is for corporations to increase their control and possession of these commons, privatizing, enclosing, and monetizing them to the greatest degree possible. It’s clear that the internet and content on it will be increasingly privatized, enclosed, and surveilled. The right to privacy, open communication, fair use, reporting, comment, news reporting, teaching, research will be curtailed: the most restrictive interpretations of US Copyright and Intellectual Property laws would become the global standard.   Research, whistle-blowing, investigative journalism could also be criminalized. TPP also breathes new life into the corporate wish list of defeated or outrageous zombie legislation, sneaking them in through the back door and expanding them to the global commons.

Structural Violence and Environmental Destruction

The agreement will result in needless, unnecessary death, suffering, and risk to the poor, the vulnerable, and the sick. Millions will die because of reduced access to basic life-saving generic medicines, medical procedures, dismantled public health measures, or because medicines and medical services will be made unaffordable. Public Health systems can be challenged or privatized, Governments will be sued if they push back on drug prices or reimbursements. Anti-consumer measures are locked in, and safety, health, food regulations can be gutted, bypassed, or sued into the ground. Environmental protections and climate change policies could be bypassed or sued into obsolescence. Protections for health care, consumers’ rights will eventually become a dim, vague memory. In a brazen statement of exclusion, the chapter on the environment, does not even bother to mention the word “Global Warming” or “Climate Change”. This monumental insult to everyone who cares about the environment and is clearly a high octane boost to the fossil fuel industry, in case the planet is just not warming fast enough for you.

Escalation to War with China

“When more than 95% of our potential customers live outside our borders, we can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should make these rules.”

In its racist exceptionalism, the TPP is also a declaration of economic warfare, and not just of corporations against the people: it’s a concerted plan to undermine Chinese economic growth, which has been clearly on an ascendant track, doing a big share of pulling along the world economy. China, in case anyone is unclear on the geography, is in the Asia pacific, but is unambiguously excluded from it (for spurious reasons).

The TPP is a multi-nation economic aircraft carrier (or if you will, a slave galleon) set up to do battle against China, a neoliberal battering ram with all the stops pulled out. Functioning as the economic arm of the Pacific Pivot, the TPP creates a powerful economic bloc, press-ganging pacific rim economies to ally against China en masse, to force an eventual economic blockade, take down, and submission if necessary.   This is a three-part strategy: the Pacific Pivot (with the AirSea Battle doctrine, interoperable Ballistic Missile Defense systems, a necklace of up-armored Strategic Bases, multi-lateral intelligence sharing, mutual defense agreements & war games, aggressive military encirclement of China) is part A, and the TPP. is part B, the economic encirclement. Lest we forget, in war, it’s always the little people who suffer and die. Keep an eye out for the legal, cultural, and information warfare to escalate, part C.

It’s acceptable to suspend judgment until the NY Times, the Gray Lady starts purring approval. Then like maggots appearing on carrion, you know it’s seriously putrid. The Gray Lady has been carrying water and running interference for this monstrosity from its inception. Keep an eye out for new feats of intellectual acrobatics and contortions as it tries to justify and spin the “good news” of the TPP.

Here’s why every person of conscience needs to continue to oppose this. You fight the good fight, organize, mobilize, pick your battles, support the right causes, stand in solidarity and accompaniment to the oppressed and suffering in general. But every so often, a mega-coup happens that pulls the entire carpet out from under you, rendering all your local struggles useless. It’s as if you spend your whole time trying to prevent your house from being robbed, by fixing the locks on your windows and doors, while the thieves put your entire home on a flatbed truck cart the entire edifice away. Citizen’s United was one such coup. TPP is another one, easily one of the most devastating, certainly the most brazen, and it has the capacity to undo a half century’s worth of modest gains for labor, environment, peace, safety, public health, equality, justice in a single fell swoop. It will seal the deal on the global neoliberal project, end whatever fragments of democratic sovereignty are left, hammer shut the coffin on an alternate vision of the future, and lock in the alienated, hyper-commodified, hyper-capitalist corporate nightmare. With global warming on steroids.

It hasn’t been ratified yet, but the deal is in the balance.   Oppose it at all costs. Your children, and your children’s children will thank you.

K.J. Noh is a long time activist, writer and teacher.  He can be reached at k.j.noh48@gmail.com