As the Russian military intervention in Syrian continues to escalate and threaten Western supported rebels, world leaders are hyper-focused on ways to mitigate the potential harm from the Russian Intervention Crisis, the Islamic State Threat, the Syrian Civil War, and the Syrian Refugee Crisis. With their time and energy devoted to the threats emanating out of Syria, world leaders cannot give global initiatives the proper attention they need to ensure they will result in constructive policies. One of those initiatives is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
TPP is an economic policy issue, yet it is being framed and promoted as a means to balance Chinese influence. With Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and the East China Sea driving China’s neighbors to seek closer ties with the US, as well as China’s tenuous position on Syria, TPP appears to be a means of mitigating Chinese economic power. Framing TPP in terms of national security, however, distorts the benefits of this massive free trade agreement and pushes people to embrace a policy that can only be successful if it is economically beneficial to the US and its trade partners.
The secretly negotiated TPP treaty was finally drafted on October 5, 2015, yet its details will not be known, or written, for years. Quite frankly, the Peoples of the TPP nations must be given an opportunity to properly review the agreement. In terms of developing standards and common frameworks to address intellectual property rights, labor rights, environmental regulations, and investor rights, TPP represents an opportunity to improve economic ties, counteract efforts to use outsourcing to avoid higher standards, and end the degenerative nature of our lower bidder economy. To ensure these aspects of TPP are truly beneficial, however, People need a chance to properly review the details and publicly debate the economic merits of the policy changes.
Meanwhile, the most controversial aspect of TPP is its “free trade” provisions. Because TPP is essentially a supersized version of NAFTA when it comes to eliminating tariffs, criticism of NAFTA must be seriously considered when debating TPP. By making it cheaper to produce goods in Mexico, where regulations are far looser, living standards are less, taxes are low, and government is weak, NAFTA helped deleverage American and Mexican workers as well as the economic sovereignty of the signatory countries. Faced with a growing income gap, burgeoning National Debts, and never ending economic uncertainty, TPP cannot be dealt with as a side-burner issue at a time when the world is far too distracted by escalating crises.
Furthermore, the US and the rest of the TPP nations can still combat rising Chinese influence and growing Chinese, as well as Russian, aggression without embracing “free trade.” China and Russia’s “normal trade relations” status with TPP members, European non-TPP members, Middle East countries, and others can be downgraded to give them less of an advantage. Doing so would accomplish the goal of limiting Chinese economic influence at a time when China is economically weakening without inflicting the pain of free trade onto average citizens. The question for TPP members is whether they actually want to agree to limit Chinese influence and protect their Peoples from the ills of free trade.
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