TPP: White House learned the wrong lessons from Obamacare

With the TPP agreement, the Obama Administration has repeated the Clinton Administration's mistakes in its early 1990s attempt to craft healthcare legislation.

Trans Pacific Partnership members, 2010.
Leaders of Trans Pacific Partnership member nations at a 2010 summit. (Via Wikipedia)

NEW CASTLE, Pa., November 9, 2015 – The Obama Administration has sought to keep the details of the controversial Transpacific Partnernship (TPP) agreement concealed from public scrutiny. In so doing, this current Democratic Administration has repeated the same mistake the Clinton Administration made in the 1990s when it attempted to overall the American healthcare system.

In 1993, the Clinton Administration proposed the Health Security Act, which it hoped would quickly pass in Congress. Instead, the Act, and the way it was conceived were used as a political weapon to portray the President as an authoritarian forcing his will onto the American people. The failure to include members of Congress in the drafting of this healthcare proposal and the lack of transparency in its creation led to competing proposals and caused a political scandal.

When Barack Obama became President in 2009, he allowed Congress to rewrite what was essentially the Republican healthcare compromise countering the Clinton proposals in the early 1990s. But ultimately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was politicized to the point where dysfunction overtook sound policy debate. Compromises meant to appease special interest groups and partisan politics important to the majority in Congress served to weaken the bill, but did enable it to be passed along partisan lines.

Unlike the ACA, which had been scrutinized and debated over the course of more than a year, however, TPP was developed over seven years, and largely in secret. Yet Congress has only 60 days to read and understand the massive 6,000-page bill before they must vote on the largest free trade agreement ever negiotiated. Thirty days after that, President Obama plans to sign in treaty into law. Quite frankly, this does not give the American people any time at all to voice their views, while members of Congress will not have a chance to stipulate what condition they might wish to impose on TPP.

Correct or not, critics often claim that the Obama Administration has crammed Obamacare down the throats of the American people. But in the case of TPP, as it’s currently constituted, the Obama Administration is truly using this agreement to cram free trade and other flawed international trade policies down the throats of the American people without proper legal and Congressional review.

Given that TPP involves the trade policies of 12 very different countries; seeks to liberalize trade along geopolitical borders rather than focusing on the treatment of industrial sectors across the globe; affects over 800 million people; and impacts about 40% of the world’s economy, the citizens and governments of TPP signatory nations need time to fully review, comprehend, and adjust their own parts of the deal based on what their various constituents are willing to accept.

Worse, the simple truth remains that the very length of the TPP agreement makes the task of reading it in its entirety a time-consuming challenge.

That said, it is ultimately the policy implications of the agreement that truly matter. Understanding how the language of the text will affect new trade policies is necessary before the citizens of TPP countries can accept the agreement.

Skimming over the actual text, TPP reads more like a revision to the weak World Trade Organization (WTO) regulations that attempts to sneak free trade into the global economy as a standard that ignores citizen input.

Worse, in its reliance merely on policy commitments and pledges, TPP is far from the detailed contract it needs to be. A trade agreement consisting of nearly 6,000 pages may appear to cover the issues extensively, but not when it comes to coordinating trade between 12 very different economies.

Upon the release of TPP’s text , proponents of the document almost immediately leaped into action, chastising opponents for reintegrating their past criticism and assumptions made about the secret sections of the free trade agreement before they were able to review the entire 6,000-page document. Although these proponents are technically correct in this objection, it is equally inappropriate for them to prematurely extol the assumed benefits of TPP in advance of any outside scrutiny.

In fact, the TPP agreement is structurally flawed, because it is written too broadly and too vaguely to be used as an actual trade agreement. Based on the same free trade tenets of NAFTA, which helped deleverage American workers and undermine American economic sovereignty, TPP fails to address any of the genuinely contentious problems, such as currency manipulation, that need addressed. The TPP agreement does not even address real trade barriers like import quotas favored by Canada.

Worse, TPP relies on vague diplomatic pledges to uphold human and labor rights. It also calls for the creation of new international organizations that lack the ability to enforce their rulings. At the same time, it creates legal regimes that erode domestic immigration laws, open intellectual property claims to endless litigation, green light in-sourcing for service industries untouched by outsourcing, and negate government immunity from foreign prosecution. Preceded by a far longer list of flaws, the TPP agreement ends with a laundry list of exemptions that essentially allows TPP countries to reinterpret the provisions of the agreement as they see fit.

In essence, TPP is little more than a legal document that attempts to build a diplomatic infrastructure for negotiating trade agreements.

The Obama Administration touts the fact that TPP will eliminate 18,000 tariffs on American-made goods while emphasizing the trade benefits for American agriculture and manufacturing. Assuming these benefits do materialize and actually enrich the American people, this still does not mean TPP is necessary. There is no compelling reason why these alleged benefits of free trade could not have been negotiated through bilateral agreements.

National interests change with time. So, too, diplomatic and trade relationship must change over time. TPP does not address this reality. TPP should have been structured in such a way as to develop the diplomatic infrastructure needed for countries to continually evaluate and reassess their bilateral trade agreements.

However, the seven years of work that the Obama Administration put into this flawed agreement has not necessarily been wasted. There are critical issues with the WTO and currently existing trade policies that still need to be addressed. After some recalibrations, this TPP agreement, minus its free-trade provisions, could be used as a template for building better trade relationships on a global scale.

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