TPP, Pivot to Asia, raise war risks in Asia Pacific region

June 19, 2013

There are many good foreign policy reasons to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement currently being negotiated between the U.S. and ten other Pacific rim countries:  Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.  The participating nations have held 17 rounds of negotiations since 2010 in complete secrecy and without any input from civic, social, or other non-corporate entity.  Even the U.S. Congress has been kept in the dark: in May of 2012, Oregon Senator Ron Wyden introduced a bill which would require the release of the TPP negotiating texts to the U.S. Congress, yet at the same time, 600 U.S. “trade advisers,” including representatives of Halliburton, Chevron, Phillip Morris and other multi-national corporations have complete access to everything, and are in fact, writing the TPP to further their own interests.  This is akin to the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) writing legislation which would benefit its members, or in more colloquial terms, the fox guarding the hen house.

There is significant and growing opposition to the TPP, even though what little is known about its specifics has arrived through leaks. What we do know is that it seems to have little to do with actual trade issues, like tariff reduction and trade promotion, but everything to do with granting unprecedented power to multi-national corporations and quashing consumer, labor and environmental interests.  We agree with those who have called the TPP “…a wish list of the 1%--a worldwide corporate grab of enormous proportions.”

The TPP, like every other trade agreement before it, pays short shrift to workers rights, but gives multi-national corporations the equal power of sovereign nations who can be sued for loss of expected profits due to health, environmental, zoning, labor or other policies.  Investors can acquire land, natural resources, factories and more.  Chevron is asking a corporate tribunal to release them from their obligation to clean up toxic contamination of the Amazon, and Phillip Morris is challenging Uruguay over cigarette warning labels.  

The desire of the Bush and the Obama administrations to pass the TPP is apparently an effort to create a coalition of nations to match China’s exploding economy and increased military and political influence in the region.  On Nov 12, 2011, Obama spoke before the Summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Forum and stated that, “… we’ve turned our attention back to the Asia Pacific region.” This is being accomplished through two vehicles:  the TPP and the “Pivot to Asia,” meaning a redeployment of American priorities and military forces away from Europe and the Middle East to Asia.  Also in the same month, this time speaking before the Australian Parliament, Obama said: “As a Pacific nation, the United States will play a larger and long-term role in shaping this region and its future.” The United States now has 320,000 troops in the Pacific region, and the Pentagon has promised there will be no reductions as troops are drawn down in Afghanistan and other parts of the world.

This turn of focus to the Asia-Pacific region militarily, along with the promotion of the TPP sends signals to countries in the region, particularly smaller countries like Malaysia and Singapore, that the U.S. is willing to play the role of security guard for their interests, while sacrificing our own long-term interests in the way of good jobs and manufacturing.  In other words, we seem to be willing to gain short-term geopolitical tactical gains for long-term strategic losses — a plan that is doomed to failure.  We will continue to hemorrhage jobs and our trade deficits will continue to increase.  

It makes little sense to treat China as an enemy by holding provocative joint exercises with Australia, South Korea and Japan, patrolling Chinese waters, and building new military facilities in Australia and South Korea.  The U.S. would be making a grievous mistake by getting into an arms race with China.  The decline of US influence in Asia is not due to lack of military power and presence but rather to eroding competitiveness. Regaining economic strength has become a matter of the highest geopolitical priority.  We can no longer subordinate trade to national security considerations, because trade IS national security.  The Obama administration does not realize that although the TPP will strengthen the interests of major corporations and investors, it will directly harm our national interests with increased unemployment and a smaller tax base.  We cannot continue to try to solve every problem with our military.  

Any new trade agreements must protect workers rights, refrain from giving corporations the same status and power as sovereign nations, and protect natural resources.  The U.S. must protect and create good jobs in sustainable industries and we need to understand that corporate interests and government interests are not one in the same.   A much better foreign policy would respect human rights, labor rights, and protect the environment.  It would seek to uplift people out of poverty and provide basic human needs like shelter, food, water and education.  The TPP is a truly bad idea that would only speed up the race to the bottom.

~ The Foreign Affairs Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet is comprised of Cmr. Leah Bolger, Secretary of Defense; David Swanson, Secretary of Peace; Col. Ann Wright, Secretary of State; George Paz Martin, Peace Ambassador; and David McReynolds, Peace Advisor to the President. This statement is one of over a dozen issued in support of the Green Shadow Cabinet's June 17th call for action against the TPP.