Sunday, August 7, 2016

Trans-Pacific Partnership Part 0: Public Perception

The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a hot-button issue right now. Our current sitting president, Barack Obama, supports the deal, while both of our presidential candidates, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, oppose it. Clinton in particular has waffled on the deal, finally turning against it in part due to Bernie Sanders' influence on the Democratic platform, as he was particularly opposed to the deal. The final decision on the deal rests with Congress, but while it's not clear where Congress is leaning on it, it is clear that our next president will influence the deal's fate.

I'm intensely curious as to how a deal like this can be equally abhorrent to the thoroughly capitalist Donald Trump and the socialist Bernie Sanders. So, to cut through the rhetoric, I've decided to actually read the deal. Let's try to understand what, exactly, this deal is about.

Today I'll start by exploring the rhetoric surrounding the deal; arguments for and against the deal. Then, I'll start exploring the text itself.
I believe this series will be quite unlike my Constitution Series. The Constitution is dense with meaning, and I sought to decompress it. By contrast, this trade deal is quite verbose. Many chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are many times longer than the entire United States Constitution, and the TPP is 30 chapters long. So, my focus will be on understanding and summarizing the text rather than meditating on it line by line. At least, that's my plan. I have no idea how dense this thing is yet, only that it's wordy.

It's precisely because it's such an intimidating piece of work that I imagine most people haven't actually read it. I just can't personally be for or against something like this without actually reading it for myself.

I'm reading the text directly from the United States Trade Representative website.

To be clear, the USTR is clearly pro-TPP, and they list many of the reasons for their support right there on the front page. Obviously, the trade deal eliminates tariffs and reduces barriers to trade with other participants, which means it's easier for U.S. manufacturers to sell things to those other countries. The TPP completely levels the playing field as far as import and export fees go, meaning that the people who benefit most from the deal will be whoever is the most innovative and productive. Naturally, supporters in the United States are banking on America being one of the most innovative and productive, so that the Untied States will profit from the deal. Not to mention how America benefits from the specialization free trade creates, if you're familiar with basic economics.

However, the TPP is far more comprehensive than that. It isn't simply an economic trade deal; it's a socio-economic deal. In short, it creates manufacturing, social, and work force regulations that all participating countries must meet in order to participate. These regulations include environmental, human rights, workplace, and transparency standards. So, in theory, it truly will be a level playing field, as all of the countries involved will have to abide by many of the same regulations as companies in the United States. They won't have the (destructive) competitive advantage of a lack of regulation.

That said, there is vocal resistance to the deal in every country involved.

Again, given that at it's heart it's a free trade agreement, the deal faces resistance from the people most likely to have their livelihoods damaged by the the open trade. As the countries focus on their specializations, it may become cheaper for people in Japan, for instance, to buy watermelons from Mexico than to get them from local farmers, meaning local Japanese watermelon farmers will either need to lower their prices to compete with Mexican watermelons, or else they'll go out of business.

As a whole, this sort of trade actually benefits everyone as specialization provides everybody access to cheaper goods and services. However, many people, such as those Japanese watermelon farmers, may find themselves unable to compete in this new, broader market. And while the number of jobs gained should in theory more than balance out with the jobs lost, it takes some time, and many people are unwilling or unable to transition to a different profession that more closely matches their country's specialization.

However, many opponents to the deal go even further, claiming that components to the deal go directly against what the deal claims it does: opponents claim that the deal lowers regulations for food imports, empowers corporations to attack environmental standards, and reduces human rights standards. There's also concerns about over-enforcing intellectual property (via patents/copyrights), dangerous pharmaceutical protections, and attacks on net neutrality.

It's exactly these contradictory reports that make me want to investigate this trade deal for myself.

Continue to the Preamble.

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