Does the US need another round of trade deals?

 

In the wake of the game-changing $400 billion gas deal between Russia and China, some commentators are calling on President Obama to expedite the United States' "Pacific pivot" by finalizing a trade deal with 11 Pacific countries. Indeed, negotiations on this Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proceed with the wrap-up of a lengthy May negotiating session in Singapore.

But is this smart policy, for the United States and for the other countries?

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I have studied these deals, now from my perch as professor at American University and previously as an international economist on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. Treasury. My conclusion on this one: The losers outnumber the winners.

The big winners: The biggest backers of these deals are global corporations like General Electric and Pfizer. Why? American officials are actually negotiating to get stronger protections for corporate copyrights and patents through the TPP chapter on "intellectual property rights."

These global firms also relish the "investor rights" chapter that has become standard in most trade agreements since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 20 years ago. As the Institute for Policy Studies has documented, corporations have vastly expanded their lawsuits against governments under these trade agreements in recent years, and they are winning most of them.

The losers?

One big loser is truth in advertising. While dubbed "trade agreements," Public Citizen has pointed out that only five of the 29 chapters in the TPP cover trade. And these five are not very significant because tariffs are already quite low among these nations. So the purported trade benefits are a smoke screen here. To repeat: This agreement is much more about protecting global corporations.

Also among the losers: small businesses, which create half of the new jobs in this country. Small business groups such as the American Sustainable Business Council, for example, oppose these deals in large part because of the unfair advantages offered up to firms that act and think globally, as opposed to those rooted to jobs and communities here in the United States.

Transparency is another big loser. Other than Wikileaks sharing one of the 29 TPP chapters, these have not been made public. Beyond U.S. government negotiators themselves, the administration's "cleared" advisers to view the TPP texts are predominantly the corporate advisers. Yet most of the text deals with regulations and corporate rules that affect us all. If the TPP is indeed for the broader common good, why the secrecy?

Indeed, the biggest losers are the broader public and the broader common good. In the United States, citizens rallied to pass strong protections for workers in the 1930s and for consumers and the environment in the 1970s. Just when we need them the most, these are now open to challenge under the TPP chapters on investment rules and regulations which instead protect global corporations.

As academic studies have shown and what the public seems to understand as public opinion rallies against the TPP, 20 years of NAFTA and other such deals have weakened public protections and undermined good jobs and vital social and environmental protections.

So, a plea to members of Congress: Stop the mistaken language of calling this a "free trade agreement." Better to label the Trans-Pacific Partnership what it is: A free ticket for large corporations to benefit from a deal that hurts the broader majority. And better to vote accordingly.

Broad is a professor at the School of International Service at American University. Prior to that, she worked as an international economist at the U.S. Treasury Department, in the office of then-Rep. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.