Dance on the Grave of the TPP
The Trans-Pacific Partnership was effectively dead before Donald Trump's inauguration but, somehow, it always seemed poised to emerge from the grave and walk among the living once more.
But now it appears to be buried for good, and it was Trump who dealt the final, though largely symbolic, blow. And it is Trump who will seek credit for doing away with the agreement, even though he clearly doesn't deserve it.
So what? Did anyone expect Trump to do otherwise, to humbly divert the spotlight?
Here are the crucial points: The Trans-Pacific Partnership was terrible when it was first proposed, it was terrible when it was pushed aggressively by the Obama administration, and it would have been particularly terrible if it was "modified" by Trump's band of predatory plutocrats and rammed through the Republican-dominated Congress.
So I'm happy the TPP is dead, no matter who killed it — and I'm happy to dance on its grave.
Ryan Cooper, the national correspondent for The Week, made a point that tempered my mood a bit. "I assume," he wrote, "that whatever trade deal comes after it will be worse." That's probably true, given the history of America's "trade deals."
But the TPP was particularly monstrous, even if its monstrosities were just expansions of the terrible elements already present in previous accords.
First, it was discussed and negotiated in strictly enforced secrecy. Members of Congress were allowed to examine the agreement, but any notes they took had to be surrendered before they exited the basement of the Capitol.
But the secrecy is understandable, given who played the most important role in shaping the agreement: Namely, representatives of private industry. According to an analysis by the Washington Post, 85 percent of the Obama administration's "network of official trade advisers" represented private industry — "corporate-heavy," is how the Post described the "network," understating the case. It is no coincidence, then, that representatives of major corporations like General Electric and Nike were among the very few with access to the details of the TPP; labor and environmental groups were largely kept in the dark.
Finally — and unsurprisingly, given the above facts — the agreement was little more than an ambitious corporate power grab. As Paul Krugman and others have noted, the TPP had very little to do with trade; Krugman, who described himself as a "lukewarm opponent of the deal," wrote that it "is not a trade agreement. It's about intellectual property and dispute settlement; the big beneficiaries are likely to be pharma companies and firms that want to sue governments."
It is not entirely clear how Democrats will respond. Bernie Sanders and Keith Ellison have come out in support of Trump's move to withdraw from the agreement. As Glenn Greenwald has observed, it will be interesting to see the reaction of establishment Democrats: Will they warm up to trade deals like the TPP in the future merely because Trump opposes them?
Supporters of the deal, meanwhile, have already begun the fear-mongering, warning of the major consequences of leaving the pact. In the Financial Times, one former IMF official was quoted as saying withdrawal would "undercut US credibility" and hand China "a golden opportunity to increase its economic and geopolitical influence in Asia and beyond."
But this is largely a distraction, a way of diverting attention away from the worst components of the agreement.
Ultimately, the TPP's death is a victory for the working class and the environment. And it is also a victory not for the new American president, but for everyone who stood up and declared that corporate hegemony is not acceptable.