Japan offers compromise on rice in Asia-Pacific trade talks: Nikkei

25 Jan 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

As You Were Saying…Tool of trade: promoting freedom.

The Obama administration continues to push hard for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal, which the U.S. has been negotiating with 11 other Pacific nations since 2008.DAVOS, Switzerland — The trade rules of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involving the U.S. and 11 Asian nations would cover nearly 40 percent of the globe economy — but never ask what they are.

The embattled deal is seen as a cornerstone of the president’s “pivot to Asia” and a bulwark against China’s restless economic and territorial ambitions, including Beijing’s own proposed trade deal for the region. Trade Representative and a slew of multi-national corporations that stand to make trillions of dollars in new profits by creating the world’s largest “free trade” zone of 800 million people from North American to Japan and East Asia are pressuring Congress to do. There was no such cause for complaint about his State of the Union address Tuesday night, however, in which he called on “both parties to give me trade promotion authority to protect American workers with strong new trade deals from Asia to Europe.” In practical terms, that means Mr. Obama believes that his negotiators are close to cementing market-opening pacts with 11 Pacific Rim nations — most importantly, Japan — and with the European Union and that passing a bill that authorizes an up-or-down congressional vote on the final agreements will strengthen his hand at the bargaining table.

So does it behoove Congress to put the brakes on ‘fast track’ and weed out every sweet insider deal the multi-nationals have inserted for their own gain? That represents a important break from the Bush administration, which in 2001 published the text of a proposed multinational trade agreement with Latin American nations. “It is incomprehensible to me that leaders of significant corporate interests who stand to achieve enormous financial positive aspects from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP, while at the same time, the elected officials of this nation, representing the American folks, have little or no know-how of what’s in it,” wrote U.S. Harry Reid, D-Nev., as majority leader, greatly increased the chances that he will follow up his appeal for this legislation, unlike a milder one he offered in last year’s address — and that he will actually be heeded.

Add to these concerns over secrecy other contentious negotiations on currency manipulation, intellectual property, market access, agriculture and financial services and it would be difficult to imagine the successful completion of TPP any time soon. Article I, Section 8 clearly states – “Congress shall have the power to regulate commerce with foreign nations,” – but that’s not happening with TPP.

The U.S., Australia, Canada and the other participating democracies are wasting a rare, once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure that admission to the kind of club TPP represents brings with it at least minimum expectations for how member nations treat their own citizens. Obama did deploy in favor of the trade deals: Anticipating the usual case against free trade, he recast the proposed pacts as measures to support U.S. jobs at the expense of China. Congress must and will have the opportunity to assume its Constitutional oversight responsibility when the TPP agreement arrives on our desks for approval. The president’s first point was both accurate and a welcome rebuttal to the zero-sum thinking that too often pervades the arguments of trade opponents.

In spite of those restrictions, particular information of the agreement’s text have surfaced from unauthorized leaks — some of which appear to contradict the Obama administration’s promises. Fast track is the wrong track here, because Congress under fast track will have no opportunity to offer or consider any amendments or changes to the agreement.

Froman, for instance, mentioned in Davos that “none of [the trade participants] want to reduce our health, safety or environmental standards,” yet 1 of the leaks showed the U.S. proposing to empower corporations to attempt to overturn domestic regulations, although critics say a different leaked provision would enable the pharmaceutical business inflate the price tag of medicines in poor nations. Did the president actually mean to suggest that Beijing’s bureaucrats are plotting to impose a whole new set of laws and regulations on East Asia’s economy? However, and this is a big “however,” the human rights violations of the administrations of President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, Secretary General of the Communist Party Nguyen Phu Trong and their predecessors must be addressed prior to Vietnam’s participation in any finalized TPP.

History’s lesson: NAFTA, the last ‘free trade’ agreement Congress fast-tracked, has been a disaster for American workers and manufacturing companies. To be clear, American workers can compete and win anywhere in the world under ‘fair trade’ regulations that require every nation to live up to the same worker health, safety and environmental rules, wages and benefits. TPP advocates will insist that trade waters not be muddied with inconvenient truths about political prisoners, human trafficking, freedom of the press and other messy subjects.

Azevêdo mentioned: “Honestly, this is something that the participants have to resolve — the degree of openness and the degree of transparency.” Negotiations demand a degree of balance in between transparency and secrecy, he mentioned, “otherwise they do not move.” An agreement that would organize trade in the Pacific Rim according to U.S. free-trade principles rather than China’s mercantilist goals is therefore a vital interest for them — and for the United States.

While Hanoi is stubbornly demonstrating improvement in some of these domains, if only for show, it remains perilously far from the minimum standards one should expect from a full-fledged TPP member.

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