Real work starts on TPP accord
So let’s get down to business.
Just before Halloween, the House of Commons Standing Committee on International Trade extended the deadline for public comment on the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement from Oct. 31 to Jan. 27.
That neatly pushes the public brief deadline beyond the Jan. 20 inauguration of the newly installed U.S. president, thus allowing Ottawa to remain relatively quiet on the file while the focus on ratification stays south of the border, with the spotlight on outgoing President Barack Obama.
Others, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chief among them, have been pushing for swift ratification of the 12-country Pacific Rim partnership that Hillary Clinton once declared the “gold standard,” a position she later walked back in what can only be described as a fact-ducking manoeuvre.
The bob-and-weave put Clinton and her pro-globalized trade beliefs in an awkward spot. It wasn’t just the “gold standard” declaration offered in a speech four years ago when she was secretary of state and one of Obama’s chief TPP advocates. This past July, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe offered that, should she be victorious, Clinton would restate her support, albeit with modifications. “Listen, she was in support of it,” McAuliffe told Politico. “There were specific things in it she wants fixed.”
That didn’t go over so well with the Clinton campaign, as made clear by campaign manager John Podesta. “Love Gov. McAuliffe,” Podesta tweeted. “But he got this one flat wrong. Hillary opposes TPP BEFORE and AFTER the election. Period. Full stop.”
McAuliffe amended his comments in a tweet of his own, clarifying that “Hillary is against TPP and she is always gonna stay against TPP. Let me be crystal clear about that.” In a later interview with the Washington Post, McAuliffe shifted the focus. “This is going to ride on the president’s shoulders,” he said of Obama.
So here we go — a 10-week lameduck race taking us right through Christmas.
Will Obama emerge victorious and gift to Clinton (I’m assuming here she wins) ratification of the trade deal, thus spurring Ottawa to move more quickly than intended on ratification here at home?
Last April, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz drew an Ottawa crowd to a speech he gave on the TPP.
“If it is the gold standard, I would sell gold short,” he told his audience. He poked fun at tariff elimination — no more Vietnamese tariffs on skis and snowplows — but kidding aside, Stiglitz said it’s a mistake to refer to the TPP and its like as a “free trade” agreement. “It’s a corporate agreement,” he said. “These are not free trade agreements — they are managed trade agreements.”
Proponents will highlight provisions in the agreement that they believe will ensure that worker interests are not trampled by corporate interests.
Chapter 19, the chapter on labour, is a good place to start. It’s one thing to declare that the statutes and regulations of the International Labour Organization will prevail, specifically freedom of association, the elimination of forced or compulsory labour and a prohibition of child labour.
But free trade agreements do not have a great track record in this regard (see Mexico and NAFTA) and the TPP language does little to assuage concerns that enforcement mechanisms will be insufficient to ensure that, say, the garment industry in Vietnam will emerge the better for it.
Stiglitz highlighted this in a letter to Congress, citing Vietnam in particular, with its “forty-year legacy of a political system built, in part, on denying what U.S. law says and what the world community agrees are core labour rights.”
The enhanced allure of cheaplabour Vietnam can be seen in foreign investment data. Just consider that China’s investment in that country exploded to $7.9 billion (U.S.) in 2014 from a paltry $312 million in 2012, according to Viet- nam’s Foreign Investment Agency.
As Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton cited Vietnam as the largest potential beneficiary of TPP, in part due to growth in apparel and footwear “where China’s comparative advantage is fading.” She did add that the country “would face significant challenges in implementing an agreement that requires stringent disciplines in areas such as labour and government procurement.” Yet even a separate consistency plan fails to reassure that labour provisions will be effectively enforced.
American voters may have been more focused on the promised net benefit of the TPP which some, including Stiglitz believe is illusory. (In his Ottawa speech the economist said the TPP will further eviscerate North American manufacturing.)
Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump rode a wave of anti-TPP sentiment through the campaign. But that was just electioneering. The hard work begins now. firstname.lastname@example.org
American voters may have been more focused on the TPP’s promised net benefit than they were on labour rights.