It's Alive! Obama Moving Forward with TPP After All

Looks like the Obama administration is trying to push through the awful Trans-Pacific Partnership after all, just publishing an official Statement of Administration Action to that effect.

There had been some speculation - and hope - that soaring public opposition to the pact had put it on indefinite hold, but no.

Hillary Clinton, despite pretenses to the contrary, fairly clearly supports this thing, so this is no surprise.

Donald Trump, whatever else you may think of him, doesn't. Neither did Bernie Sanders.

This looks to be done in the lame-duck session of Congress, when members can vote to defy their constituents without fear of electoral repercussions.

(Why do lame-duck sessions even exist, by the way? Am I the only one wondering about this end-run around democratic accountability?)

This agreement includes Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam to start. Eventually, its advocates hope, it will include every nation on the Pacific rim, including Indonesia, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico, Russia, and China.

Yes, you read that right. China. America is on track for a free-trade agreement with its most voracious mercantilist trade rival.

If the purely trade-specific aspects weren't bad enough, the TPP is also a profoundly anti-democratic agreement which signs away our right to govern our own economy. Despite being nominally a "trade" agreement, it contains provisions which interfere with areas well beyond the bounds of trade. To wit, it would (credit to Lori Wallach):

• Limit how U.S. federal and state officials could regulate foreign firms operating within U.S. boundaries, with requirements to provide them greater rights than domestic firms.

• Extend the incentives for U.S. firms to offshore investment and jobs to lower-wage countries.

• Establish a two-track legal system that gives foreign firms new rights to skirt U.S. courts and laws, directly sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and

• Demand compensation for financial, health, environmental, land use and other laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges.

• Allow foreign firms to demand compensation for the costs of complying with U.S. financial or environmental regulations that apply equally to domestic and foreign firms.

Taken to its logical conclusion, this all ultimately amounts to the idea that the profitability of investments must be the supreme priority of state policy--overriding health, safety, human rights, labor law, fiscal policy, macroeconomic stability, industrial policy, national security, cultural autonomy, the environment, and everything else.

So what's the alternative? What would a reasonable trade agreement, the kind Obama promised us as a candidate, look like? It would probably embody the following principles (credit to the Coalition for a Prosperous America):

1. Balanced Trade: Trade agreements must contribute to a national goal of achieving a manageable balance of trade over time. I.e. no more chronic $500 billion-a-year deficits.

2. National Trade, Economic and Security Strategy: Trade agreements must strive to optimize value added supply chains within the U.S.--from raw material to finished product--pursuant to a national trade and economic strategy that creates jobs, wealth and sustained growth. The agreements must also ensure national security by recapturing production necessary to rebuild America's defense industrial base.

3. Reciprocity: Trade agreements must ensure that foreign country policies and practices as well as their tariff and non-tariff barriers provide fully reciprocal access for U.S. goods and services. The agreements must provide that no new barriers or subsidies outside the scope of the agreement nullify or impair the concessions bargained

4. State Owned Commercial Enterprises: Trade agreements must encourage the transformation of state owned and state controlled commercial enterprises (SOEs) to private sector enterprises. In the interim, trade agreements must ensure that SOEs do not distort the free and fair flow of trade - throughout supply chains - and investment between the countries.

5. Currency: Trade agreements must classify prolonged currency undervaluation as a per se violation of the agreement without the need to show injury or intent.

6. Rules of origin: Trade agreements must include rules of origin to maximize benefits for U.S. based supply chains and minimize free ridership by third parties. Further, all products must be labeled or marked as to country(s) of origin as a condition of entry.

7. Enforcement: Trade agreements must provide effective and timely enforcement mechanisms, including expedited adjudication and provisional remedies. Such provisional remedies must be permitted where the country deems that a clear breach has occurred which causes or threatens injury, and should be subject to review under the agreements' established dispute settlement mechanisms.

8. Border Adjustable Taxes: Trade agreements must neutralize the subsidy and tariff impact of the border adjustment of foreign consumption taxes.

9. Perishable and Cyclical Products: Trade agreements must include special safeguard mechanisms to address import surges in perishable and seasonal agricultural product markets, including livestock markets.

10. Food and Product Safety and Quality: Trade agreements must ensure import compliance with existing U.S. food and product safety and quality standards and must not inhibit changes to or improvements in U.S. standards. The standards must be effectively enforced at U.S. ports.

11. Domestic Procurement: Trade agreements must preserve the ability of federal, state and local governments to favor domestic producers in government, or government funded, procurement.

12. Temporary vs. Permanent Agreements: Trade agreements must be sunsetted, subject to renegotiation and renewal. Renewal must not occur if the balance of benefits cannot be restored.

13. Labor: Trade agreements must include enforceable labor provisions to ensure that lax labor standards and enforcement by contracting countries do not result in hidden subsidies to the detriment of U.S.-based workers and producers.

Unfortunately, the TPP includes none of this.