Trans Pacific Partnership

NAFTA on Steroids plus the threat of War

The TPP spans 12 countries — including the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam — comprising 40 percent of the world’s economy. It has been negotiated in the deepest secrecy over the past several years. While the press, public, and even elected congressmen and Senators were excluded, over 600 lobbyists for the largest corporate interests such as Monsanto, Cargill, Wal-Mart, and big Pharma, have been included at every step of the negotiations.  Like nearly all trade agreements signed since NAFTA, the TPP is designed to allow multinational corporations from anywhere in the bloc to sue governments in secret corporate courts to overturn national or local regulations protecting labor, health, safety, fair prices, fair financial dealings, or access to the market.

The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The U.S. already has trade agreements in place with 6 of the 11 nations included in the TPP.  Yet the TPP excludes China, which has become the second largest economy in the world and is poised to outpace the U.S. economy in a matter of years — a fact that is none too pleasing to U.S. elites accustomed to unrivaled hegemony.

Like the United States, the future of China’s economic growth lies in the Asia-Pacific region, which by all indicators will be the center of economic activity in the 21st century. By 2015, according to a paper from the conservative Foreign Policy Research Institute, “East Asian countries are expected to surpass NAFTA and the euro zone to become the world’s largest trading bloc. Market opportunities will only increase as the region swells by an additional 175 million people by 2030.”

Trans-Pacific Partnership a bad deal — NAFTA’s 20 year history testifies yes

The job loss record in the United States is not hard to document. Legislation passed by Congress when the treaty was approved contained extended unemployment benefits for workers who could show employers had moved their jobs to Mexico, and the US Department of Labor kept track of the claims. When the total passed 500,000, however, President George W. Bush ordered the Department of Labor to stop counting. The statistic was embarrassing to any politician who had supported the agreement

“By 2010, trade deficits with Mexico had eliminated 682,900 good US jobs, most (60.8 percent) in manufacturing,” according to Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute. “Jobs making cars, electronics, apparel and other goods moved to Mexico, and job losses piled up in the United States, especially in the Midwest where those products used to be made.” In a 2006 report, Scott said those deficits “displaced production that supported 1,015,291 US jobs since NAFTA took effect.”

In the past few decades, Detroit lost half its population as the auto industry left, and today every engine in a Ford comes from Mexico. Huge swaths of other industrial cities have acquired that abandoned look that comes with boarded-up homes and storefronts. But the working families who lost those outsourced jobs didn’t disappear. Instead, hundreds of thousands of people began an internal migration within the US larger than the dustbowl displacement of the 1930s. Former machinists and factory workers went on the road, got jobs in fast food restaurantor lost their families and began living on the streets.  At the same time, millions of small farmers in Mexico lost their livlihood as U.S. agribusiness undercut them in Mexico’s food market.  Millions of Mexicans were driven from the country-side- first to Mexico City and other large urban areas and then to desperate journies across the international borders into the U.S.

 Growing Inequality

During the NAFTA period, US wages have remained virtually flat. While factors beyond NAFTA (such as the falling rate of unionization) had an impact, NAFTA and subsequent trade agreements clearly contributed to it.

“Production workers’ wages have suffered in the United States,” Scott said. In his 2006 study, he found “there is a nationwide loss of $7.6 billion in wage premiums that would have been earned had trade been balanced.” Jeff Faux, former director of the Economic Policy Institute, adds simply, “NAFTA strengthened the ability of US employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits.”

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called NAFTA “only the first in a series of trade agreements that have undermined millions of middle-class American jobs and weakened our democratic structures. So it is ironic,” he said, “that this year the supporters of that failed model are bringing forward a fast track trade promotion bill to bring us more of the same: more trade deals that strengthen corporate power and CEO profits, while putting downward pressure on wages and opportunities for the rest of us.”

By increasing U.S. market access and influence with China’s neighbors, Washington is hoping to deepen its economic engagement with the TPP countries while diminishing their economic integration with China. But the TPP is even more than a corporate Trojan horse. It’s a core part of the Obama administration’s military Asia-Pacific Pivot, which is centrally about containing China.

A New Cold War?

Ahead of the fall 2011 Asia Pacific Economic Forum (APEC) meeting in Hawaii, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton outlined a plan to transfer U.S. military, diplomatic, and economic resources from the Middle East to the Pacific, in what she called “America’s New Pacific Century.” Describing the pivot in militaristic terms as “forward-deployed diplomacy,” Clinton hailed the TPP as a “benchmark for future agreements” leading to “a free trade area of the Asia- Pacific.”   Enter the TPP. By increasing U.S. market access and influence with China’s neighbors, Washington is hoping to deepen its economic engagement with the TPP countries while diminishing their economic integration with China.

 Not so Hidden Fist — TPP – Asian Pacific Pivot and the Threat of war

“The hidden hand of the market,” as New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman famously wrote in the 1990s, “will never work without a hidden fist.” The Asia-Pacific Pivot of U.S. Foreign and “defense” policy is the hidden fist in the 21st century.  Using the U.S. military to enforce favorable trade and economic domination underlies the history of the role of the U.S. in the Pacific region.

Free trade was the banner under which Commodore Perry forced the Japanese to allow trade with the U.S. in 1854 under the threat of attack from his naval warships.  In 1873 the U.S. military wrested Pearl Harbor from the Kingdom of Hawaii to protect trade and in 1893 the U.S. overthrew the kingdom and annexed the Hawaiian Islands as a territory. Five  years later the U.S. navy defeated Spain and claimed rule over the Philippines and Guam.  From 1899-1913 the U.S. entered a protracted war to conquer the Philippines during which it declared “total war” on the population, forcing people into concentration camps, applying a scorched earth policy to areas outside its control, and killing up to 1.4 million people before it subdued the island nation.

In 1900 the U.S. joined other western powers and a militarized Japan to subdue a Chinese popular rebellion against the rapacious trade-based domination of China and its impoverishment of the ancient wealthy empire.  In 1905 the U.S. used its powerful position in the region to broker the end to a war between Russia and Japan. In 1921 the U.S. sent an expeditionary force to join with Japan in an invasion of the Pacific facing areas of Siberia in an attempt to crush the newly formed Soviet Union.  During World War II (1941-1945) the U.S. focused its major military effort on Asia and the Pacific, using the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki where the death toll in the two cities approached 250,000. The U.S. won control of many Pacific Islands and occupied Japan and South Korea.  From 1950-53 the U.S. fought the Korean War during which approximately  1.2 million people died in the Korean Peninsula.  In 1965 it orchestrated a coup that replaced a populist government in Indonesia, killing 500,000 people.  From 1965-75 it fought the Vietnam War and ancillary conflicts in Laos and Cambodia which in the end killed over 3,000,000 people in Southeast Asia and ended in ignominious defeat. 

Continuing Cold War Policies through the TPP and Pivot

Throughout the Cold War the U.S. stationed literally millions of military forces in the region, and supported numerous ruthless dictatorships primarily because they would favor U.S. economic interests, allow or support U.S. bases and oppose the USSR and China in some fashion.

Obama’s “Pacific Pivot” also seeks to contain China militarily. By 2020, 60 percent of U.S. naval capacity will be based in the Asia-Pacific, where 320,000 U.S. troops are already stationed. The realignment will entail rebuilding and refurbishing former U.S. facilities in the Philippines, placing 2,500 marines in Australia, transferring 8,000 marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam and Hawaii, and building new installations like the one on the  Pacific island of Saipan. Meanwhile, the U.S. military regularly stages massive joint military exercises involving tens of thousands of troops and nuclear-powered aircraft carriers with its key allies — and China’s neighbors — Japan and South Korea. It has been regularly conducting Cobra Gold exercises with Thailand, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, and even Myanmar.

Official Washington seems to believe that these are necessary precautions. According to the RAND Corporation, for example, 90 percent of U.S. bases in the region are “under threat” from Chinese ballistic missiles because they are within 1,080 nautical miles of China. But who is threatening whom? The Chinese have precisely zero bases in the Asia-Pacific outside of their own borders.

Some U.S. analysts insist that a more robust U.S. military presence is necessary to curb China’s ambitious territorial claims in the region. Without a doubt, China has recently taken a more aggressive stance in regional territorial disputes over dwindling natural resources, angering many of its neighbors. But by turning to the United States as a check against China, less powerful nations invite a bargain with the devil as Washington will advance its own strategic interests. And by getting itself involved, Washington risks encouraging China’s rivals to behave more provocatively, as well as angering China itself. According to Mel Gurtov, “While accepting that the United States is a Pacific power, Chinese authorities now resist the notion that the United States has some special claim to predominance in Asia and the western Pacific.”

In this year which marks the 100 year anniversary of the beginning of World War I, the first great bloodletting of the modern era, the world should avoid steps to divide into contending blocks of powers.  With the world facing the pressing issues of global climate change, biodiversity loss, rising food prices, and declining sources of fossil energy, what is now needed more than ever are policies that promote local, sustainable economies that ensure the well-being of their people and protect the ecosystems upon which all of our lives depend. The grim truth of our mutual need for a common security was first demonstrated in the holocaust U.S. militarism visited on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The TPP which seeks to isolate and surround China, and shift all power from young democracies to the control of corporate oligarchies intent on profit at any cost is the opposite of the policy that is needed but with multinational elites and the U.S. government pushing undemocratic monstrosities like the Pacific Pivot and the TPP, prospects for a more genuine security appear more distant than ever.   To defeat the TPP we need to defeat the Fast Track Legislation now in Congress and to form a common bond with the peoples of the region and the world to build international institutions to secure common prosperity and security.