Saturday, June 06, 2015

Why what are smilingly being passed off as "trade agreements" should strike terror in our hearts


"These are agreements negotiated on behalf of corporations by governments to divide up the ways that money will be made."

by Ken

Do your eyes glaze over when the subject of "trade agreements" -- NAFTA, TPP, PTA, etc. -- comes up? Do you, like me, dread that we're just a breath away from hearing about Smoot-Hawley, or Hawley-Smoot, or Hoot-Smawley, or whatever the hall that tariff act was called? And are you thinking, "Please God, anything but that"?

Because that's what trade agreements are about, right? Tariffs and stuff? Country A keeps Country X's goods out by setting high tariffs to protect its own producers, right?

Um, no.

Which is why I want to encourage to take another look, if you haven't properly digested it, at Gaius Publius's post yesterday, "Fast Track Will Also Apply to TISA, the 'Scariest Trade Deal Nobody's Talking About"," 'cause I have to tell you, it kind of blew my mind.

By coincidence, or maybe not, when I clicked through to the piece by economist Joseph Stiglitz from which GP quoted at length, "On the Wrong Side of Globalization," a NYT "Opinionator" piece from March 2014, what did I find but the following opening:
Trade agreements are a subject that can cause the eyes to glaze over, but we should all be paying attention. Right now, there are trade proposals in the works that threaten to put most Americans on the wrong side of globalization.
Hmm, apparently Professor Stiglitz isn't unfamiliar with the eye-glazing-over phenomenon!

Probably I've had the phenomenon that GP and Professor Stiglitz have been trying to make us understand explained to me before, but it wasn't till yesterday that what they and no doubt others have been trying to make us understand, probably account of my Deep-Rooted Dread of Hoot-Smawley. Anyway, here again is the first paragraph from the Stiglitz piece which GP quoted.
In general, trade deals today are markedly different from those made in the decades following World War II, when negotiations focused on lowering tariffs. As tariffs came down on all sides, trade expanded, and each country could develop the sectors in which it had strengths and as a result, standards of living would rise. Some jobs would be lost, but new jobs would be created.
Well, yeah, that's what we're talking about, right? You know, trade agreements, tariffs and such. Well, no.
Today, the purpose of trade agreements is different. Tariffs around the world are already low. The focus has shifted to “nontariff barriers,” and the most important of these — for the corporate interests pushing agreements — are regulations. Huge multinational corporations complain that inconsistent regulations make business costly. But most of the regulations, even if they are imperfect, are there for a reason: to protect workers, consumers, the economy and the environment.


Not hardly. Please continue, professor.
When agreements like the TPP govern international trade — when every country has agreed to similarly minimal regulations — multinational corporations can return to the practices that were common before the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts became law (in 1970 and 1972, respectively) and before the latest financial crisis hit. Corporations everywhere may well agree that getting rid of regulations would be good for corporate profits. Trade negotiators might be persuaded that these trade agreements would be good for trade and corporate profits. But there would be some big losers — namely, the rest of us.

These high stakes are why it is especially risky to let trade negotiations proceed in secret. All over the world, trade ministries are captured by corporate and financial interests. And when negotiations are secret, there is no way that the democratic process can exert the checks and balances required to put limits on the negative effects of these agreements.
In his DWT post yesterday, GP called our attention to the latest treasure trove of secrets released by WikiLeaks which are being kept from us by assorted national governments, focusing on a trade-pact-in-progress called TISA, which looks to be a horror show to make NAFTA and TPP look like child's play. TISA is a "treaty" that would cover the U.S., the European Union, and 23 other countries ("including," GP wrote, "Turkey, Mexico, Canada, Austrtalia, Pakistan, Tawan and Israel"), and we're invited to download the 17 documents released by WikiLeaks. If we do, GP says, we'll notice --
that the drafts are marked up with the positions of the negotiators, some of whom propose or agree with provisions, some of whom oppose them. Nowhere in these documents, however, are concerns of citizens addressed. These are agreements negotiated on behalf of corporations by governments to divide up the ways that money will be made.
And GP repeats that last sentence:
These are agreements negotiated on behalf of corporations by governments to divide up the ways that money will be made.


Are you hearing it?

For the specifics of the horrors of TISA, I direct you back to GP's piece yesterday (here's the link again). But I'd like to make sure we're all hearing what's actually being negotiated in these agreements. I guess it wouldn't be entirely accurate to say that "trade agreements" is a false label for this new generation of pacts negotiated by world mega-corporations pretending to be nations. I guess they are "trade agreements" in a sense.

But they sure aren't what I think of when I think of "trade agreements." Because the way I'm hearing all of this now, such agreements -- which from the U.S. standpoint are now apparently destined to be whizzed through Congress under Fast Track without informed discussion -- can include anything that those global corporate eminences feel is interfering in any way with their ability to maximize profits, and beyond that anything they can think of that will further maximize their profit-making efforts.

In a word, yikes!

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At 4:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why? For the same reason that an endless flow of equally terrifying prior legislation has, after thirty five years, just about suffocated "the world's greatest experiment in self-government."

John Puma


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