News of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest advance of neoliberal economics in the history of capitalism is almost entirely missing from the corporate media. One won’t find any CNN or MSNBC exposes on the proposed free trade deal. The few newspapers that have paid any attention to it are unashamedly pro-treaty, written more in the style of press releases than journalism. President Obama himself is leading the charge on TPP, tapping a plethora of millionaire and billionaire corporate insiders to help draft the terms of the treaty1 while simultaneously keeping the details secret from the population – and, until recently, even the U.S. Congress. It is only thanks to Wikileaks that we know as much as we do.
It’s easy to understand the official and media silence on the Trans-Pacific Partnership: if successful, TPP would deal a devastating blow to working people, the poor and peasants around the world, all while further lining the pockets of the capitalist class.
What is the TPP?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is outwardly similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) enacted in 1994, but on a grander scale – impacting 800 million people. Where NAFTA exerted a downward pressure on U.S., Mexican and Canadian wages and working conditions, the TPP would kick this process into overdrive and apply it to Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Multinational corporations seeking to move jobs to wherever wages are lowest would find no obstacles in their way, inviting national governments to compete in counter-reforms to increase labor “flexibility” – in other words, an international race to the bottom.
In addition, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would reverse regulations on Wall Street and ban prohibitions on risky financial services. One celebrated aspect of the trade deal (at least in Wall Street circles) is that it would open up the member nations’ financial markets to Wall Street penetration. Thus the same fate that struck the United States when Wall Street gamblers plunged the world economy into recession could hit neocolonial countries like Chile and Malaysia. Other economic provisions in the draft treaty include extending drug patents to protect the profits of giant pharmaceutical companies, lowering food import safety standards and support for privatization of natural resources and social services.
These measures are all more or less merely quantitative expansions of NAFTA. What makes the Trans-Pacific Partnership qualitatively more dangerous is its political content, specifically the further erosion of what democratic rights the masses still have left. The TPP would give private corporations legal parity with national governments through the “investor-state” system, where corporations would be allowed to sue governments to overturn (and get financial compensation at public expense for) any local laws that hinder that corporation’s profits. These cases would be decided not in the public court system of the government in question, but in private tribunals. Labor and environmental laws would be rendered toothless.
Also included in the treaty draft is a return of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the hated legislation aimed at destroying net neutrality that fell dormant after protests in 2012. Under the TPP, aspects of the regressive U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act would be adopted by the other signatory nations and the minimum period for copyright holdings would be extended to 120 years for corporate owned works. Fair use exemptions would be curtailed and Internet Service Providers could be required to monitor customers’ online activities and more. This is just the tip of the iceberg: the Electronic Frontier Foundation has published a briefing on how the TPP would impact online freedom.2
These scandalous clauses explain the shroud of secrecy behind this so-called free trade agreement, named so despite the fact that most of the treaty pertains not to import and export regulations but measures like those described above. This is its real political content: the need to maximize profits at the expense of the working class that generates them, and to further the position of the United States in its inter-capitalist rivalry with China3, outweighs any democratic scruples that the capitalist politicians might otherwise have.
There is some discord on the deal from the capitalist class. The Japanese ruling class is hesitant to go forward, although progress was made during President Obama’s recent trip to Asia. Sectors of Capital in New Zealand are torn between their increasing relationship with Chinese capitalism and the desire to secure the lucrative market TPP would provide.
In the United States, middle class organizations and liberal sectors of the Democratic Party have voiced opposition – the Sierra Club, MoveOn and the Progressive Democrats of America being the most noteworthy examples. Aside from the fact that middle-class liberalism can’t be relied on to stay in the fight when the going gets tough (note the collapse of the anti-war and single payer health care movements under pressure from the Democratic leadership), these organizations approach the question from a short-sighted, nationalist perspective. We need to save “our” (American) jobs from foreign capital, they say; they decry the weakening of “Buy American” incentives that the TPP would entail.
But allying with our own national capitalists, whether it’s by support for protectionism or through “Buy American” campaigns, is not and cannot be the answer to the crisis of capitalism. International problems require international solutions, and in any case the working people of various countries have the same common interests – controlling the wealth created by our labor. We don’t share interests in common with the capitalists of our home countries; capitalists are compelled to push down wages, generate unemployment and steamroll over any reforms that stand in their way because of the basic logic of the profit system. Nor is the solution to be found in calls for “fair trade” as opposed to free trade, which harkens back to a largely imaginary 19th century utopia of small-scale production that is totally inadequate to create conditions of shared abundance for all.
There is growing mobilization by working class organizations against the TPP. The AFL-CIO, America’s main union federation, still remains trapped in the dead-end of nationalism, but some of its affiliates – such as the Communication Workers of America, part of the “Flush the TPP” campaign – have gone further, articulating the need for international solidarity against the trade pact.
Campaigns against the Trans-Pacific Partnership will undoubtedly grow as the deal approaches its probable ratification by the United States after this year’s mid-term elections. Socialists should support these actions, in particular the time-sensitive call for Congress to deny President Obama the fast-track authorization needed to ram TPPA through without the real possibility of legislative debate.4 But we also have a responsibility to organize as socialists – that is, to organize with the methods of workers’ internationalism and with the goal of winning the movement to the idea that democratic ownership and control over the economy is the way to win prosperity for the majority, not isolationism or quixotic dreams of fair trade. Unless we overcome our mutual isolation, we will never be able to revitalize the workers’ movement with an independent class perspective to fight even its defensive battles, let alone win millions to the cause of a free and democratic future.
The Red Party calls on all socialists in the TPP countries to build a united socialist response to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, starting with an international day of action in the summer. As this editorial goes to print, the Red Party is contacting organizations in the U.S. and throughout the Pacific to try and make this call a reality.
- AT&T, Boeing, General Electric, Haliburton, Monsanto, Pfizer, Starbucks and Walmart are among the more notorious contributors to the draft treaty. The new United States Trade Representative, Michael Froman, came directly from Citigroup to his new position – with a four million dollar exit payment to show for it.
- What’s Wrong With TPP, https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp
- China has been pointedly excluded from TPP negotiations. U.S. politicians claim this is because of China’s undemocratic regime; one can only wonder why the equally repressive Stalinist regime in Vietnam isn’t excluded on the same basis.
- Spring Campaign to STOP Fast Track, http://www.flushthetpp.org/save-the-world-stop-fast-track-spring-campaign-april-22nd-to-may-7th/