Free Markets, Free Trade Are Good… Except When The Rules Are Made In Secret
June 21, 2013 by Sam Rolley
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a free trade partnership proposal involving the United States, a group of Asian countries and Canada, Chile, Peru and Mexico — is currently being pushed by the Barack Obama Administration and many American lawmakers. The agreement is being touted as a boon for big business, and it is veiled in secrecy.
Congressional support for the trade agreement seems oddly bipartisan; however, the uncharacteristic quietness could be the result of an Obama Administration gag order barring Congressional staffers from reviewing the full negotiation text and prohibiting members of Congress from discussing the specific terms with reporters and trade experts.
TPP has been described as “NAFTA on steroids” by some people familiar with the terms of the agreement, and even traditionally pro-trade free marketers are concerned by the idea of a free trade bill full of language that will not be publicly vetted.
Some critics of the agreement, most notably the anti-corporatocracy think-tank Green Shadow Cabinet, argue that the agreement being sold as a free-trade bill is simply a ploy to further undermine the democratic process by drastically increasing corporate sway over government policies.
Of the 11-country agreement, activist-comedian Lee Camp writes for Green Shadow Cabinet:
TPP, as it’s called, would be the largest quote-unquote free trade agreement in the world. And “free trade” sounds good, doesn’t it? This is Amerrrica, we’re all about freedom. “Free trade” sounds like it involves sunshine and lollipops and a world where Star Wars never had its corpse dragged through the mud. But in fact it’s called free trade because once it’s passed, American workers are free of jobs, and corporations are free of regulations, and Wall Street is free of restrictions. Two and a half million jobs have been lost due to NAFTA alone. And most importantly, under TPP foreign corporations won’t even have to abide by our laws. If they feel something is unfair, they can take their complaint to an international tribunal. …Just like the bad guys in Star Wars! …
… The reason you haven’t heard about TPP is because the negotiations have been largely top secret. And you have to ask yourself, when our elected representatives are negotiating a trade deal that will fuck with all of our lives, why should we be kept in the dark like a dog on the way to be neutered? Right now the Obama Administration is looking at us and going, “Don’t worry. We’re just going to the park. It’s just a ride to the park. We’re not about to chop your balls off.” There’s still time to change this though. Spread the word about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Force the media to cover it. Tell your friends – but take it from someone who knows, don’t give them French Onion soup beforehand.
At a time when government transparency is a hot topic in the United States, TPP has indeed gone largely unnoticed except for outcry from a handful of progressive Congressional Democrats. And even if concerned lawmakers are interested in reviewing the agreement, bureaucratic hurdles require a long process to access the text, disallow staffers to help abridge the information for busy lawmakers, prohibit electronic and handwritten notes on the document, and prohibit lawmakers from alerting constituents of their concerns.
One Congressman, Representative Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), went through a six-week negotiation procress and finally got to review an edited version the text on early this week.
“They maintain that the text is classified information. And I get clearance because I’m a member of Congress, but now they tell me that they don’t want me to talk to anybody about it because if I did, I’d be releasing classified information,” Grayson told the Huffington Post.
Grayson, who has called on the Obama Administration to make the text of the agreement public, said the government’s hypocrisy is on full display.
“What I saw was nothing that could possibly justify the secrecy that surrounds it,” he said. “It is ironic in a way that the government thinks it’s alright to have a record of every single call that an American makes, but not alright for an American citizen to know what sovereign powers the government is negotiating away.”
Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch lamented in an op-ed for The New York Times earlier in the month:
Although Congress has exclusive constitutional authority to set the terms of trade, so far the executive branch has managed to resist repeated requests by members of Congress to see the text of the draft agreement and has denied requests from members to attend negotiations as observers — reversing past practice.
While the agreement could rewrite broad sections of nontrade policies affecting Americans’ daily lives, the administration also has rejected demands by outside groups that the nearly complete text be publicly released. Even the George W. Bush administration, hardly a paragon of transparency, published online the draft text of the last similarly sweeping agreement, called the Free Trade Area of the Americas, in 2001.
The only unfettered access to the terms of the agreement has been granted to a group of 600 “trade advisers” — heavily dominated by representatives of American and foreign mega-businesses and banks. A handful of environmental organizations and other groups are also allowed access.
Why the secrecy? Ron Kirk, formerly the President’s top dog on trade, once explained with surprising candor: Making the deal public would raise massive public opposition and make the deal impossible to sign.
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has protested that suggestion.
“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant,” Warren explained. “In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”
The charge against TPP has largely been led by a small group of Congressional Democrats, some of whom are not considered friends of business in the United States. Nonetheless, the lack of transparency is a bipartisan issue.
There is no way Americans can know whether the agreement, through international finagling, pushes through harmful and unConstitutional restrictions on the Internet on which lawmakers were so intent. There is no indication of whether America’s bureaucratic regulatory agencies — many of which are already under the sway of certain corporate lobbyists — could be paid to enact new regulations on small business and American citizens to benefit global corporate interests.
All the public gets is this admonishment from Grayson: “Having seen what I’ve seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty. And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America. I think that’s fair to say from what I’ve seen so far. But I’m not allowed to tell you why!”