As we just mentioned, it looks like there aren’t enough votes in Congress to give the President and the US Trade Rep the “fast track” authority they want to cram massive trade agreements down the throats of the American public. Nancy Pelosi, whose statement last week helped signal that it was a real possibility that support for fast track would no longer be likely, has now penned an op-ed for USA Today claiming that fast track is on its last legs, highlighting that Congress (not the executive branch) has the power to regulate commerce with foreign countries. Meanwhile, supporters of trade have put into motion an attempt to salvage fast track, which may lead to a vote as soon as tomorrow — but seems like a risky gambit that may not succeed.
Meanwhile, the NY Times presents the argument that with the failure of fast track, and very likely TPP with it, it could greatly diminish the US’s influence in Asia. This argument has been made for a long time, and it’s… questionable at best. The article dutifully quotes the “40% of the global economy” line that supporters of the TPP throw out every other hour or so, but that’s really overstating the impact of the TPP. Still, there is a legitimate argument that stronger trade relations between the US and these Asian countries is good for the global economy. But — and this is the important part that isn’t mentioned — you don’t need the TPP to do that.
Furthermore, this ignores the real reasons why the TPP failed. Rather than being about further opening up trading relations, the USTR ramped up the process that has been popular among lobbyists over the past couple of decades: using supposedly “free trade” deals to sneak in all sorts of regulatory schemes that will strongly pressure countries (including the US) to either change laws in certain ways, or block changing laws in other ways. That is, rather than free trade, these deals are actually the opposite. They’re backdoor protectionism in the name of lobbyist-driven regulation.
And here’s the thing that’s amazing. In all of this, no one is talking about how to actually fix this. Pelosi talks about getting a “better deal” for the American middle class. And, sure, that would be great. But the real problem here is that these trade agreements became the playthings of giant corporate lobbyists, rather than democratically driven ideas.
If the TPP and other agreements like TTIP and TISA are really so vital to America’s interests, and the interests of the “global economy,” then let’s have the negotiations and the debate out in public. Other international bodies, like WIPO, have long allowed such negotiations to happen publicly. It may not be how the USTR and its counterparts have negotiated such agreements in the past, but there’s no reason they can’t change now. Rather than continuing down this path of loading a ton of crap on the TPP tree, just to force through a few simpler free trading principles, why not conduct the negotiations openly, so that the public in all of those countries know what’s going on and can see the reasoning behind these deals?
The only reason not to do this is to argue that the public is simply too dumb to understand why these deals are supposedly so important. And if that’s your argument, then you’re arguing against democracy. If the USTR believes it’s representing democracy, then, at the very least, it should lead the way in saying that these trade negotiations will be conducted publicly and in a much more transparent way.