The Trans-Pacific Partnership and its Local Impact

The next stage of the United States’ effort to expand the outreach of its globalization agenda, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement or what the president of the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen Robert Weissman called “NAFTA on steroids,” must dominate the electoral debates of 2016 if we still consider ourselves a participatory democracy.[1] Although not in the radar of the average constituent at the moment, mostly because of its secrecy and lack of transparency, it will surge as a key agenda for debate as citizens and politicians become aware of its impact on local economics and politics. Constituent groups from the right and from the left will pressure their representatives to defend nationalist, protectionist, labor, human rights, social justice, and environmental agendas, while Wall Street and transnational corporations (both foreign and national) will carry out their own lobby efforts in order to secure the international free trade accord.  Well, at least theoretically, based on the debates that took place in 1993 between Al Gore and Ross Perot, as they responded to pressures from the political spectrum in favor or against the free trade deal known as NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement).

Back then the independent candidate, Ross Perot, argued that the trade agreement was not a good deal for the United States because the Mexican economy did not have a solid middle class that would sustainably increase the consumption of products made in the U.S.A.[2] Meanwhile Gore defended the Democrat’s position that NAFTA was beneficial for the United States because it guaranteed the expansion of U.S. trade while at the same time protecting the environment and the local worker.[3] Perot highlighted that the deal was not good for the U.S. or Mexican workers because it represented a race to the bottom, an opportunity for the Maquiladora economy to flourish on the Mexican side of the border that only benefitted American or Canadian transnational corporations.[4] Manufacturing jobs in the U.S. would move to Mexico, said Perot, in response to the opportunity to produce the same good at a lower labor rate.[5] Lowering the standard of living of Americans, Mexicans, and Canadians was not a good deal yet Gore rebuffed, arguing that the expansion of free trade was going to bring greater prosperity to the region.

The last twenty-one years of NAFTA showed that prosperity did increase across the region but not for the average worker or the small business sector. As indicated by the Council on Foreign Relations, “trade relations have broadened substantially” expanding the supply chains of transnational corporations that have made “them more globally competitive” but the profits have not trickled down to the worker.[6] Interregional trade flows increased from $290 billion in 1993 to $1.1 trillion in 2012.[7] Realistically, NAFTA achieved its objectives; it generated economic growth “by spurring competition in domestic markets and promoting investment from both domestic and foreign sources.”[8]

Free trade policies were never engineered to generate labor, social or environmental justice, and that is because they were not planned by workers or the average constituent but corporate leadership in urgent need of overcoming the barriers of saturated domestic consumer markets loaded with policies and regulations designed to protect the interests of local citizens. The process of dismantling a regulated economic system designed to protect the interests of local economies and communities was slowly carried out by Big Business, culminating with the Canadian-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (CUFTA – 1987) and NAFTA (1994). What is disturbing is that the average constituent was tricked by the political rhetoric, favoring a trade deal that was ultimately going to leave the majority of Canadian and American blue-collar workers unemployed, while displacing the Mexican sustainable farmer out of the rural areas and into the Maquiladoras across the border. More concerning is the fact that we are about to repeat history with the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

Replicating Gore’s argument, President Obama recently marketed to the American constituent the benefits of the newest trade deal, emphasizing that it is “a trade deal that helps working families get ahead.”[9] As in 1993, the promise includes “the highest labor standards of any trade deal in history” and the assurance that the new deal will generate a regional race to the top, socially, politically, economically, and environmentally.[10] Gore used the example of how zero tariff policy would allow American tire manufacturers to sell more tires in the international market while President Obama used the example of the increased competition of American car manufactured in Detroit as they entered the Japanese market under a zero tariff system, failing today as in the past to explain how the developing nations that make up the partnership would be able to construct a sustainable middle class capable of consuming more Made in U.S.A. products.[11] Perot’s key question is raised once again, how will the trade agreement lift the standard of living of Brunei, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam consumers so that they can actually turn this deal into a race to the top?

Furthermore, how are we going to protect American jobs from competitive exports leaving New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Japan? How are California wine producers going to defend their interests against cheaper Chilean wine? How is our auto industry going to compete against the Japanese industry, considering that they already control a fair share of our domestic market? How is the trade deal going to avoid that Mexico, Vietnam, Peru, Brunei, Malaysia, and Singapore enter a race to the bottom in order to secure Foreign Direct Investment through deregulated labor, institutional, and environmental systems?

It is naïve to think that the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement will be any different then previous trade agreements, and that it will benefit the American worker or any worker within the partnership, for that matter. There are no bad trade deals and good trade deals, as claimed by Obama and Gore, just capitalist based trade deals. If we accept this premise then we must also accept Perot’s conclusion that “people who do not make anything cannot buy anything” and that “if you want to trade, you want to trade with people who make money” not with those that oppress their people to make money.[12] The question is will Brunei, Chile, Singapore, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, and Vietnam represent a sustainable consumer market for American workers or is this the steroids part that Robert Weissman was talking about?

Timothy  B. Lee, ed. "The Trans-Pacific Partnership Explained." Vox, http://www.vox.com/cards/trans-pacific-partnership/what-is-the-trans-pacific-partnership.

Timothy B. Lee, ed. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership Explained.” Vox, http://www.vox.com/cards/trans-pacific-partnership/what-is-the-trans-pacific-partnership.

Learning from the lessons of history it is clear that the developing nations will play the role that Mexico played within NAFTA and that New Zealand, Australia and Japan will play the role played by Canada under NAFTA. The fortune will be no different for the American worker, loss of good paying jobs replaced by minimum wage service sector jobs will be the outcome under the new trade deal, it was the case back in 1994 and will be the case in 2016 unless we stop the trade deal. This is not a partisan issue; this is an American issue, not corporate America but working class America. A trade deal that covers 40% of the global market will only benefit the Transnational Corporations committed to the expansion of the global market system and not the small business sector. A repetition of history is in the making, negotiations behind closed doors with the exclusive participation of the private sector and the exclusion of civil society, Senate approval of fast-track Executive rights so that the agreement may be presented to Congress for a “yes-or-no vote with no amendments allowed,” and increased protection of multinational corporations that expand their power and influence through the design of the nation’s economic development model.[13]

A repetition of the 1994 incidents is in the making, with the exception that in this case civil society is even less informed about the issue. At least back then labor unions were raising concerns on behalf of the American worker, forcing the policy debate among government representatives. We have less than thirty days to stop the trade agreement before President Obama signs the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Congressional approval. If worse comes to worse and the deal is approved, “we the people” may still impact the policy by forcing changes in the implementation stages of the legislation. Let this be your New Year’s resolution for 2016. Ask your representatives to vote against this trade deal, it is the best option for working class America.

[1] Amy Goodman. “NAFTA on Steroids: Consumer Groups Slam the TPP as 12 Nations Agree to Trade Accord.” Democracy Now, October 6, 2015, http://www.democracynow.org/2015/10/6/nafta_on_steroids_consumer_groups_slam. Accessed December 29, 2015.

[2] “Ross Perot vs. Al Gore NAFTA Debate Full!! 1993.” Larry King Live on CNN, November 1993, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5XEziSYRqhU. Accessed December 29, 2015.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Maquiladora as “a foreign owned factory in Mexico at which imported parts are assembled by lower-paid workers into products for exports.”

[5] “Ross Perot vs. Al Gore NAFTA Debate Full!! 1993.” Accessed December 29, 2015.

[6] Mohammed Aly Sergie. “NAFTA’s Economic Impact.” Council on Foreign Relations. February 14, 2014. http://www.cfr.org/trade/naftas-economic-impact/p15790. Accessed December 29, 2015.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Barack Obama. “Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership will Benefit Working Families.” Chicago Tribune, November 10, 2015. http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/commentary/ct-barack-obama-trans-pacific-partnernship-20151110-story.html. Accessed December 29, 2015.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] “Ross Perot vs. Al Gore NAFTA Debate Full!! 1993.”

[13] Amy Goodman. “NAFTA on Steroids.”

Stefano Tijerina

About Stefano Tijerina

My name is Stefano Tijerina and this blog’s objective is to connect Maine’s social, environmental, economic, cultural, and political issues to the global system, centering on how the local impacts the global and how the global impacts the local or what is known in Global Studies as the "Glocal" effect. In our present era of globalization it is crucial for the general public to understand how the new dynamics of the international system impact our lives here in Maine and how our local decisions impact the earth.