Jane Kelsey: Trade deal dead and major rethink needed

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Trump is no Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP
Trump is no Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP

Professor Jane Kelsey teaches law at the University of Auckland.

Let's be clear. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) has not been killed by Donald Trump. Its likely demise is the culmination of a co-ordinated six-year education campaign across most of the 12 countries that has made it one of the most unpopular economic agreements ever to be negotiated.

The message is simple. Ordinary people feel alienated and disempowered by secretly negotiated deals that treat them as dispensable. Far from an agreement for the 21st century, the TPP belongs to the last century when governments in the grip of neoliberalism empowered corporations to rule, and the super rich became even richer at the expense of everyone else.

Bernie Sanders brought that agenda to the US election by denouncing the deal and calling for genuinely progressive alternatives. Trump echoed that call and a reluctant Hillary Clinton followed suit. But Trump is no Bernie Sanders.

His election is no cause to celebrate, even for opponents of the TPP. What he considers a trade agreement acceptable to America is likely to be even more toxic.

Distaste for Trump cannot disguise the message that underpins his victory, the Brexit vote, the backlash against international investment treaties, and the paralysis of other mega-regional agreements between the US and EU and the EU and Canada. Failure to look for genuine alternatives makes the ostrich-like stance of our Government and others who are already plotting their next moves down the same dead-end highway all the more dangerous. I, for one, don't want more Trumps to win at the polls because mainstream political parties have refused to grasp that reality.

What might happen to the TPP itself? Currently the deal can't come into force without the US. Obama's team had the implementing legislation ready to roll before the election and there were strong rumours that the sticking points on a longer monopoly for biologics medicines and allowing financial data to be held offshore had been resolved. But putting it to a vote in the wake of Trump's victory would seem provocative, especially at a time when people on all sides are calling for calm and reconciliation.

Any vote will be determined in the House of Representatives. Even if Speaker Paul Ryan allowed the bill to be tabled Obama is currently short about 12 votes. A number of House Republicans recanted on their previous support for the TPP during the election for their own political survival. Many of them will be up for election again in two years. In addition, there are several other measures competing for floor time -- notably the budget bill without which the Government will close down at Christmas.

Even if Congress passed the implementing legislation that is not the end of the process. The President still has to certify to Congress that every other country is compliant with the US view of what the TPP requires. That would have to happen under the Trump administration. Indeed, New Zealand and Japan are the only countries that have pig-headedly pushed through the legislation to implement the deal. None of the others plan to pass it this year.

Forget suggestions of changing the rules so the TPP can proceed without the US; that requires consensus of all, including the US, and many only participated because the US was there. John Kerry's suggestion of a "tweaked" agreement that might satisfy the Trump Administration again assumes all the others would agree. The political leaders of the TPP countries meet next week at the Apec leaders' summit in Peru. Expect lots of brave rhetoric about still holding out hope for the TPP, and calls for an all-inclusive Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific. But the real focus is elsewhere. Ministers want to sign off the equally dangerous Trade in Services Agreement in December, but the secretive deal faces strong political resistance from the European Parliament and will run well into next year. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, touted as the China-led competitor to the TPP, is moving at glacial pace, with growing awareness and resistance in India and some Asean countries.

Back here, the legacy of the TPP is set to provide a major platform for demands for genuine alternatives as we move into our own election year. The Government recently announced what it called a "trade policy refresh". It needs to have a fundamental rethink if it doesn't want to look as out of touch as other governments around the world.

- NZ Herald

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