Thursday, April 16, 2015

Finesse continued

Art by Gilbert Shelton.
Just when I was bragging on the president's ability to make the Senate Foreign Relations Committee do the right thing, he went and got the Finance Committee to jump rather higher than many of us are going to be comfortable with:
The leaders of Congress’s tax-writing committees reached agreement Thursday on legislation to give President Obama “fast track” authority to negotiate an ambitious trade accord with 11 other Pacific nations, beginning what is sure to be one of the toughest legislative battles of his last 19 months in office.

The “trade promotion authority” bill — likely to be unveiled Thursday afternoon — would give Congress the power to vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership once it is completed, but would deny lawmakers the chance to amend what would be the largest trade deal since the North American Free Trade Agreement.
I'm not so sure how I feel about this one. I really liked what Nancy Le Tourneau wrote (which you should really read yourself before making up your mind in advance) on reasons for being a little less suspicious than the left is generally inclined to be, and I'd like to believe that old Lawrence Summers is right and the fundamental idea is simply to force Asian markets open to US products:
TPP is necessary to let American producers compete on a level playing field, given the proliferation of arrangements that do not include the US. Currently, for example, Japanese and Southeast Asian producers get better terms in each others’ markets than the US does. Only through TPP do we have the chance to manage international competition in the interests of American workers through binding arrangements in areas such as labour and environmental standards.
But hardly anybody I respect seems to believe this (Krugman thinks Summers himself doesn't believe it, and is writing in support of a treaty that ought to be written instead of the one that is being written), and most emphasize the dark side of provisions written to benefit multinational corporations that they find in the WikiLeaked drafts from 2013. I really don't know anywhere near enough about the technical issues to judge for myself, though I'm convinced a lot of people who know equally little are making extremely confident pronouncements about what a disaster it is.

For example the ones who are outraged about the secrecy of the leaked Investment Chapter draft:
The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations.
There are hippies and bros all over the place coming away with the idea that a trade treaty is going to be signed with secret provisions that investors will somehow be able to follow without being able to learn what they are! (In fact it's the draft text that would remain secret, and it would only ever be of interest to historians anyway, no skulduggery there; the final text will be published in full up to four months before Congress has to vote on it.)

I'm pretty sure that the US delegation is working hard to get those binding environmental standards in, as I've written, but it's hard to see how they succeed against all the other parties. About the labor standards we know nothing.

It's scary that the (less crazy branch of the) Republicans are on board and the opponents are mostly Democrats, but the thing the Republicans gave to Senator Ron Wyden for his support sounds in the Times report like a pretty big thing:
To win over the key Democrat, Mr. Wyden, the Republicans agreed to stringent requirements for the deal, including a human rights negotiating objective that has never existed on trade agreements....

If the agreement, negotiated by the United States Trade Representative, fails to meet the objectives laid out by Congress — on labor, environmental and human rights standards — a 60-vote majority in the Senate could shut off “fast-track” trade rules and open the deal to amendment.
Call me a fool, but Wyden signed on (of course I also think he's the least progressive and least reliable of our Senate Progressive Democrats, especially after the ghastly plan to destroy Obamacare he and Paul Ryan came up with). The provision sounds as if it really corrects what's been wrong about fast-track to start with.

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