In early October, negotiations around the basic framework for the Trans Pacific Partnership, an agreement between 12 nations (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam) was concluded. Described as “NAFTA on steroids,” this agreement, negotiated in great secrecy, is far more than a trade pact. It is part of a geopolitical campaign by the United Sates with three goals: isolate and reduce the economic role of China in the region and globally, subordinate the region’s economies to the U.S. capitalist economy, and increase the global exploitation of the working class.
The TPP reflects the orientation of the 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, written by the neo-con grouping that dominated the U.S. executive branch at the time. Known as the Wolfowitz Doctrine, the perspective was, in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Soviet Union and the collapse of the socialist camp, to not allow the establishment of any regional power that could challenge U.S. uni-polar political and economic hegemony. While the neo-cons have been displaced from the executive branch, their perspective still shapes U.S. foreign policy.
The United States, despite enormous economic investments in China, has always looked at China as a geopolitical threat, one that will eventually lead to confrontation. The signing of the TPP is one important step by the United States in preparing for that possibility. Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Charles W. Freeman has explained that the TPP is a “bulwark against rising Chinese influence in the Asia-Pacific region. [It] is about geopolitical influence. …”
The misnamed Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a bourgeois think tank, printed an article on the TPP stating, “Since China’s continued economic expansion and military modernization are likely to remain the most important factors disturbing the regional and global security balance, coping with the rise of Chinese power is likely to become the single most significant geopolitical challenge facing the US since its confrontation with the Soviet Union.”
While the TPP is driven by geopolitical considerations, the implementation of the agreement has dire economic consequences for the working class beyond the member nations. Like NAFTA, CAFTA and the FTAA, the TPP removes any protections domestic markets in the developing world have from competition with U.S. and other imperialist corporations.
The TPP will be most favorable to the United States. But like NAFTA, CAFTA, FTAA and similar trade pacts, it offers the bourgeoisies of the subordinate imperialist and capitalist countries opportunities to profit as well. In many developing capitalist countries, certain industries and services are nationalized and/or subsidized by the state. As was done in the early days of the development of the United States, an economic climate has been created in the developing nations, using tariffs and other barriers to foreign products, to enable the growth of domestic markets and industries. In addition to economic protections, goods and services are often subsidized so as to enable the growth and development of the working classes in those countries. An example of that would be cheap gas prices in Iraq or subsidized prices on rice or other food staples in Mexico.
The TPP would effectively put an end to nationalized industries. The national oil and telephone companies that existed in Mexico before NAFTA are an example of nationalized industries or what the proponents of the TPP call state-owned enterprises, or SOEs.
Bourgeois proponents of the TPP have turned the truth upside down saying that the predatory nature of the SOEs puts private corporations at an economic disadvantage. Countries with these “predatory” SOEs include Brazil, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Russia and Vietnam, according to TPP supporters.
In order to make it easier for U.S. and other corporations to plunder the human and material resources of the member nations, the TPP has created Investor State Dispute Settlement tribunals. The ISDSs are extrajudicial tribunals, staffed by private-sector lawyers recommended by the IMF and the World Bank, where corporations can sue national governments.
The ISDS tribunals are a frontal assault on the national sovereignty of the member nations. The system allows foreign corporations to use the tribunals to challenge national health, consumer safety, environmental, and other laws and regulations that apply to all corporations operating in the member states.
These tribunals elevate individual corporations and investors to equal standing with each TPP signatory country’s government—and above the millions of people in these countries. This regime would empower corporations to skirt national courts and directly challenge governments before tribunals of private-sector lawyers operating under UN and World Bank rules to demand taxpayer compensation for domestic regulatory policies that investors believe diminish their “expected future profits.” These regulatory policies can be anything from government procurement contracts and environmental protection to financial regulation.
The TPP will remove 18,000 tax and other barriers so that U.S.corporations can flood the markets of other nations with U.S. products, not products necessarily made in the United States, but products of U.S.-based corporations. The TPP is aimed at privatizing all nationalized industries of the TPP member nations and making the strongest, i.e., U.S. corporations, dominant. The TPP will do to the working class of the member nations what NAFTA did to the Mexican workers and peasants. NAFTA “leveled” the playing fields between U.S. agribusiness and the small-scale Mexican corn producers such that cheaper U.S.-grown corn effectively eliminated domestic Mexican corn production and deprived thousands of small farmers of their livelihoods.
The TPP also gives greater rights to corporations regarding copyrights and intellectual property rights. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, copyright laws have been expanded and “all the provisions that recognize the rights of the public are non-binding, whereas almost everything that benefits rights holders [corporations—S.K.] is binding.”
The provisions regarding the production of pharmaceuticals strengthen the position of big pharma in the imperialist countries and are a direct threat to the production of generic drug-producing countries.
While the TPP is an agreement between nations on how to conduct commerce, it is also an agreement how not to conduct commerce with non-member nations. Enforcement of the trade agreement will inevitably increase economic competition with China that could lead to military conflict. This conflict is being anticipated by all sides as reflected in the shift of military resources by the U.S. to the region. Sixty percent of the U.S. Navy and Air Force are deployed in the Asia-Pacific region.
One of the selling points of the TPP is that it upgrades labor laws and conditions for workers. But enforcement for workers lacks the capacity that exists for corporations through the ISDS tribunals. The proponents of the TPP tout it as NAFTA but better. Given what what happened to Mexican workers and campesinos as a result of NAFTA, one would be right to be skeptical of the TPP. Beyond skepticism, Marxists know any agreement that strengthens the position of corporations cannot also strengthen the position of workers.
There is also a racist and revisionist component to the labor section of the TPP with a focus on Vietnam and Malaysia. The revisionist interpretation of history argues that the TPP will help the poor Vietnamese workers toiling under the miserable conditions of the communist bosses achieve a decent and dignified working environment.
Left out of this narrative are the conditions of life under which all Vietnamese people live as a consequence of the genocidal war by the French and U.S. that left the country a toxic wasteland, among other crimes. The country is still waiting to see even one penny of reparations the U.S. agreed to pay at the Paris Peace Talks in 1973, over 42 years ago.
It is a racist and anti-communist appeal to U.S. workers and the union movement that dovetails with the anti-China propaganda falsely followed by some in the union leadership and a section of the working class in this country to the benefit of the U.S. ruling class.
The TPP continues the drive of present-day capitalism to eliminate as many obstacles to unfettered capitalist exploitation as humanity will endure, a new period of laissez-faire capitalism in the 21st century. It will only be stopped by the mobilization of millions of workers and poor people across the globe who demand economic justice.