By Stephen Fitzgerald
Most of the problems we face, in Western society, are a result of the ravages of corporate greed. The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is another example of corporates expanding their power base to the detriment of the countries they overrun.
In the news today, you will hear the distant rumblings of the true intent, and the inevitable impact, of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. If we participate, the TPP will leave Australia exposed to unfettered corporate exploitation and abuse.
Misnomers that hide what the strong and rich control, and aspire to control, help promote our world’s numerous political and social ills. “Spreading democracy” in the Middle East and Africa has been used to excuse much slaughter, ruin and higher risks of wider war for purposes not remotely connected with democracy. It’s all about money, power and control driven by greed.
The designation “trade” used by politicians and the media when talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership pact and the proposed Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement is another perfect example of a misnomer thanks to which a new shadow will be cast over the generally more fortunate parts of the world including Australia.
If signed and ratified, the trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic agreements, which seek to organize business activity under one gigantic umbrella of new rules, are likely to change our living environment in ways very different from what elected officials have been misled to imagine.
They have been peddled as trade treaties, and hence as being wonderful for economic growth, job creation, social well-being and general happiness. But, the TPP agreement, which aims to tie a dozen pacific nations together is not in the first place about trade and may hardly be significant at all for stimulating genuine exchanges traditionally labelled that way.
The TPP accord is about power, not trade. More specifically, the agreements are about changed power relations between a collective of politically well-connected large corporations and the sovereign states in which these entities want to sink their roots. In particular, these treaties would allow huge corporations to engage in conduct unchecked by national rules of the participating countries. In eyes not fogged over through neo-liberal dogma, such a thing would be recognised as predation.
Corporate clout veiled in secrecy
The most striking aspect of TPP negotiations has been the utter secrecy. Only “cleared advisers” most of them linked with the businesses that stand to gain from the deal, have had access to the agreements, and critics among them have been sworn to remain silent about what they consider unacceptable.
We do know a little of what went on behind closed doors. For example, we have seen that negotiators have concentrated on controlling labour laws, environmental legislation and intellectual property rights. Since traditional tariffs hardly appear to be an obstacle to trade nowadays, what else could they do? But it does go to show that the TPP is primarily a political program.
It is political because it aims to change the power relations between transnational corporations and foreign governments. It is political because it will create patterns of colonial dependence through agricultural agreements. It is political because it seeks to place the governments of the participating countries under a kind of legal discipline that has nothing to do with the rights of citizens and everything to do with the ability of powerful corporations to become even stronger.
Many details of the TPP agreement have yet to be divulged, but what is clear is that participating governments can violate its intended rules only at their own great disadvantage. In effect, the legal stipulations tied to the TPP agreement will created a new element of corporate groups operating internationally beyond any kind of accountability. The TPP will not be about economic development but about wholesale power shifts.
Those who can still make a political difference in Australia ought to study the reason for and, the nature of such shifts. Numerous large, politically connected transnational corporations operate in colonizing mode in the context of recently evolved methods of profit-making in the current phase of late capitalism.
The political class of the participants of the TPP agreement and the Europeans, who watch from the sidelines with the companion TPIP treaty in the back of their minds, are still affected by the lines of seduction about unfettered trade always being good for everyone.
Hence corporate hopes are specifically vested on two areas opened up by the TPP deal in participating countries permitting rent seekers and financial firms to become the top predators. The TPP agreement will massively expand their hunting territory and give them fierce fangs in the bargain.
Power play by the corporates
A new category came into general use in the last decade of the 20th century named “intellectual property” for the purpose of maximising rent extraction and the creation of monopolies. The expected intellectual property stipulations of the TPP accord related to medicine have drawn much attention, as these will enlarge the oligopoly power of pharmaceutical companies.
Global public health is likely to suffer from this because, from what is already known, the new rules will lengthen the period before the use of generic drugs is permitted, and these are the only affordable medicine for patients in poorer countries. Nongovernmental organisation Doctors Without Borders has concluded in a July 2015 press release that “the TPP agreement is on track to become the most harmful trade pact ever”.
Then there is an even bigger beneficiary in the shape of the 21st-century global casino of speculating banks, which make untold multiples of capital with their money while bypassing the complication of investing in production. For them, the TPP deal is a dream come true. From what we know, the TPP agreement would ban capital controls, prohibit any kind of future taxes on speculation and block any move to separate investment from retail banking.
It would also block efforts to ban toxic derivatives that created the credit crisis of 2008. As with the manufacturers of controversial products, the financial industry will be given the means to demand compensation for regulations and policies that in their assessment may undermine their expected future profits. They will sue the governments who legislate against them.
It is difficult to understand why the TPP participants have not guessed that consequences of what they will be signing will bring social misery upon themselves as the TPP agreement is part of a full-spectrum dominance campaign. This leaves us with the puzzle of why those same participants have been mouthing job creating nonsense around the TPP rhetoric and appear unable to tackle intellectually the dominant power aspects of the treaty.
Perhaps this is because the world in which they exist is politically sterilised and those incapables, have been brain washed into believing they should give corporates whatever they want without question or analysis.
Since the political dimension to economic arrangements remains hidden in most discourse because political and economic reality are routinely treated as separate realms of life, few notice that what is justified by reference to “market forces” is frequently the result of heavy lobbying, political negotiation, interference and favours to corporates.
Politically well-connected corporations, paying for the election expenses of the political parties who help create their business environment, need not fear market forces. If the banks responsible for the credit crisis of 2008 and the subsequent global recession, that is still with us, had not been lifted out of “the market” by the state, they would no longer exist. They were bailed out by cohort governments with money from tax payers they had already plundered.
Powerful corporations have been allowed to swallow the state; they have, as economist James Galbraith explains, created a “predator state,” which they naturally exploit for their own expansion. There is no frame of reference with which we can more convincingly define the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
Politicians please read the small print and beware, if you sign up to the TPP you will be selling Australia down the river.