Trans-Pacific Partnership

The Bizarre Priorities of Trans-Pacific Partnership Proponents

Supporters tout the benefits for just the few, when actually we all gain.


Credit: ota_photos / photo on flickr

If the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations ever conclude, the agreement will bring major benefits to the economies of 12 Pacific Rim countries, including the United States. It will do this by removing trade barriers that impede economic growth and globalization. Strangely, you wouldn't know it from listening to the TPP's most powerful supporters.

There are some great and simple arguments for free trade. Free trade improves quality of life for all Americans by making the things we buy less expensive. The TPP in particular will lower the prices Americans pay for shoes and automobiles

Reducing barriers to trade at home and abroad also increases productivity. The TPP will decrease the cost of manufacturing in countless U.S. industries by opening up new sources of raw materials. The TPP will foster the creation of global supply chains that enable U.S. companies to specialize in more productive activities. 

All together, it means American businesses and workers will make more money that can be used to buy more stuff at lower prices.

But whether it's the Obama administration, Congressional Republicans, or the U.S. business lobby, TPP proponents constantly focus on the narrow benefits the agreement will bring to special interests. The arguments we most often hear in favor of the TPP tout its enforceable labor rules, its strong intellectual property protections, and its potential to help exporters. 

The worst offender in this regard is the president himself. According to the Obama administration, the TPP is "the most progressive trade agreement the world has ever seen" because it will "level the playing field for American workers by using the power of trade to raise the bar for labor and environmental protections." Behind the President's praise for the TPP is the implicit assumption that trade agreements actually harm American workers unless foreign countries change their regulations. That's an argument against free trade. 

Instead, the President could point out that labor conditions improve in line with economic growth and worker productivity. The TPP will have a positive impact on wages and working conditions removing barriers to trade that impede development. Stronger labor rules in the TPP will do the opposite by letting the United States maintain protectionist barriers until poor countries adopt costly, ineffective regulations.

Republicans and the business lobby aren't much better. They seem to think the most important thing the United States can gain from the TPP is a requirement to provide 12 years of data exclusivity for biologics. 

You don't know what that means? That's okay, a lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry will be happy to explain to you and your congressman just how important it is to the U.S. economy. In short, biological drugs are very expensive to research. Data exclusivity requires generic drug manufacturers to rerun expensive tests that the original manufacturer conducted to demonstrate the drug's safety to regulators. It intentionally keeps safe, unpatented drugs off the market so large pharmaceutical companies can make more money.

U.S. law has provided 12 years of protection since 2009, but all foreign governments and many U.S. lawmakers believe that is too long. Using the TPP in this way will turn an already bad law into an international obligation and require U.S. negotiators to accept less favorable terms in some other part of the agreement. Moreover, data exclusivity rules simply further the interests of a single rent seeking industry at the expense of genuine trade liberalization.

Even when TPP supporters tout the actual trade impacts of the agreement, they miss the mark. One thing all proponents agree on is that the TPP will increase exports. President Obama noted in his State of the Union address that 95 percent of the world's "customers" live outside the United States, and we should find ways to reach them.

Access to export markets certainly means Americans will produce more goods for export and be able to sell those things for more money. So the TPP will be good for you if you work at or own a company poised to sell things in Asia. Most people don't though, so the benefits of increased exports from the TPP are still indirect for all but a narrow group of people. 

The saddest thing about using exports to sell a trade agreement is that it panders to mercantilist economic fallacies. Free trade is about unlocking the benefits of global commerce and competition, not winning an ill-conceived race to make the most stuff.

At the heart of the TPP will be the reduction and elimination of tariffs and quotas imposed by the United States. Trade barriers exist to protect a small number of U.S. companies and industries from having to meet the demands of American customers in a competitive marketplace. Trade agreements were conceived as a way to reduce those barriers for the benefit of everyone. Over the years, they've also become a vehicle for special interest handouts.

The focus on labor laws, archaic regulatory tweaks, and exports is a sign that U.S. policymakers have lost sight of the true purpose of trade agreements. And because they don't know what the agreements are for, they don't know how to sell them to the public. If Congress refuses to ratify the TPP, it won't be because Americans oppose free trade. It will be because the TPP's supporters never told them about it.

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  1. Did Bill run out of money from Calvin and Hobbes?

    1. That was *my* first read of the title also.

    1. The third whistleblower — a senior CDC scientist named William Thompson — only indirectly blew the whistle on Merck. He more blew it on himself and colleagues at the CDC who participated in a 2004 study involving the MMR vaccine. Here, the allegations involve a cover-up of data pointing to high rates of autism in African-American boys after they were vaccinated with MMR. In what could be high-profile House hearings before Congressman Posey’s Science Committee — hearings made all the more explosive given the introduction of race into the mix — Merck could find itself under unprecedented scrutiny. The CDC still stands by its study although Frank DeStefano, the CDC’s Director of Immunization Safety and a co-author in the CDC study, also stated that he plans to review his notes with an eye to reanalyzing the data.

    2. According to the whistleblowers’ court documents, Merck’s misconduct was far-ranging: It “failed to disclose that its mumps vaccine was not as effective as Merck represented, (ii) used improper testing techniques, (iii) manipulated testing methodology, (iv) abandoned undesirable test results, (v) falsified test data, (vi) failed to adequately investigate and report the diminished efficacy of its mumps vaccine, (vii) falsely verified that each manufacturing lot of mumps vaccine would be as effective as identified in the labeling, (viii) falsely certified the accuracy of applications filed with the FDA, (ix) falsely certified compliance with the terms of the CDC purchase contract, (x) engaged in the fraud and concealment describe herein for the purpose of illegally monopolizing the U.S. market for mumps vaccine, (xi) mislabeled, misbranded, and falsely certified its mumps vaccine, and (xii) engaged in the other acts described herein to conceal the diminished efficacy of the vaccine the government was purchasing.”

      1. See, its this kind of shit that screws things up for the rest of us and gives anti-vaxxers ammunition.

        We had/have a similar problem with the Anthrax vaccine in the military.

        Hiding disclosure of risk of side-effects, that its an off-label use, and quality control issues during manufacturing. Not to mention the financial stake that a good many senior officers had/have in the company manufacturing the vaccine.

        And the military wonders why people balked at getting it.

  2. There are some great and simple arguments for free trade.

    There is only one argument for free trade, and that is – *we* benefit from free trade even if we’re the only side trading freely.

    Meaning that even if the other side imposes limits, restrictions, tariffs and fees, and ‘floods’ our market with below cost goods to ‘attempt to destroy our businesses’ all he’s doing is forcing his own people to subsidize trade in their goods for our paper.

    Paper, that to do him any good, he must at some point manage to use to buy something from us.

    The TPP is bullshit. The only reason its ‘good’ is that it somewhat reduces the protectionism on *our* side. Best would be to say ‘fuck it’ and simply open our borders to trade, unilaterally if necessary.

    1. +1

      If one doesn’t like Free Trade, then one doesn’t like the Free Market.

  3. “…TPP proponents constantly focus on the narrow benefits the agreement will bring to special interests.”

    Maybe that’s because that’s how the agreement is being crafted. Like the President said it’s “the most progressive trade agreement the world has ever seen” because it will “level the playing field for American workers by using the power of trade to raise the bar for labor and environmental protections.” So, even if “There are some great and simple arguments for free trade.”. I doubt you will see any real free trade initiatives in it. The way the supporters are talking about it tells me that this agreement isn’t about free trade. It’s about the progressive idea of fair trade.

  4. NAFTA has been awesome for “us”. I pay $50 less for a washing machine and $50 of my taxes go to the phony SS disability of the obese laid off factory worker in Kentucky. Oh, and it really stemmed the flow of illegal immigrants, who’s under performing children cost the state millions in food, school and incarceration. Hurray free trade with the third world! Consumerism is more important that culture and jobs!

    1. 1. So, at worst you break even on the cost of products and services – and will be better off when the ‘obese factory worker’ (who probably wasn’t doing so hot of a job anyway, amiright) dies and stops collecting SS.

      2. If you have a problem with the ‘millions in food, school, and incarceration’ then perhaps you should consider privatizing the schools and ending the drug war along with expanding the low-skill worker visa program to reduce the incentive for these people to sneak into the country in the first place.

      Then you will not have the state force you to pay for other’s education nor will you have the huge bill for incarcerating harmless people.

      Or, we could keep going on with *your* plan, which is to drive the country to ruin with heavy regulation, regulatory capture, and a huge welfare state.

      Give it another generation – then the immigrants won’t come here anymore.

  5. “Instead, the President could point out that labor conditions improve in line with economic growth and worker productivity”

    That is in no way true today.

    Productivity has doubled in the US since 1980 at the same time as wages have stagnated and conditions are arguably worse.

    Having to compete with third world manufacturing on wages is in no way justifiable because consumer goods are inexpensive.

    REASON? my A$$.

    1. You mean to tell me that you would rather be back living in the ’70’s than today? That people back then had a higher standard of living?

      Rationality? my A$$.

  6. TPP & Global Treaties/’Arrangements’;
    How Many Preferred Shares of TPP, CETA, TTIP, et al, Generated Enterprises are You Selling your Right to Sue the Global Corporate Economy for? ‘New’ Shareholders Can Say ‘NO’ to & Over-Rule CETA, TTIP, et al, Plans?

    Will corp.’USA’ et al, & Feds to Prepay $Billions for All ‘Trade’ Treaty/’Arrangements’, et al, Secret (‘Death-Star-Chamber) Tribunals’ Punitive Damages to Protect Home Territory’s Taxpayers? Other Territories, Municipalities, et al, “…(we) need to control corp. USA’s ‘Contributions'”.

    But, If Not PUTIN; ‘The WHITE KNIGHT’, then Who Do YOU Want to Bankroll the Saving the harmless NON shareholders of the World from Fast Tracking TPP’s, CETA’s (TTIP) Secret ‘Death-Star-Chamber’ Tribunal Penalties?
    Will China, Iran, the Muslim World, et al, Support Putin in Suits?
    How about Warren Buffett, et al?

    FULL Article, see;
    Please consider sharing the enclosed information & questions with 10 friends who will share it with 10 others…

  7. Roll it over the hill man.

  8. TPP is an abomination that would increase bullshit intellectual property rights. These “artificial” property rights are a violently enforced state privledge that always causes a destruction of actual property rights. See Monsanto’s prosecution of farmers who’ve had GMO crops blow into their fields, or DRM which won’t allow us to own our purchased devices.

    Tell me Reason isn’t selling out on TPP? Please say it ain’t so…

  9. I’m confused. How does Mr. Watson know what’s in the treaty? Does he have a working copy? Isn’t it a classified document? I have no confidence this pact is what it is purported to be. Nor have I ever received a sufficient explanation of way trade agreements aren’t negotiated publicly.

  10. Your buckyballs has infinite solutions that you can create. A sense of achievement comes with inventing anything of artistry and fascination . With buckyballs you can mold infinite arrangements of shapes that you will love to flaunt, and create plenty of patterns that are unique, and have never even been seen before!

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