It’s aliiiiive! Like Godzilla emerging from the irradiated seas of Japan, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has re-emerged, with 11 of the 12 original negotiating nations signing up, just a few hours ago.

Pretty good, huh? Well except that the twelfth nation is the US, who withdrew from the agreement in the early weeks of the Trump administration. Trump said he would throughout his entire election campaign, slating TPP as a bad deal, similar to NAFTA, which he alleges decimated US manufacturing.

Trump stalled for a couple of weeks on TPP when he moved into the Oval Office, as mainstream Republicans, neoliberals and neocons lobbied furiously for him to adopt it. For good reason; the TPP represents a vast extension of American corporate power, giving them the opportunity to reach into, and dominate smaller, less developed economies, and their politics.

That was the point of the TPP of course; its intent was political, not economic, creating a cross-pacific bloc oriented to the US, and pointedly excluding China. Had Hillary Clinton won, Barack Obama would have tried to, and probably succeeded, in whipping it through the “lame-duck” Congress. Clinton would then have made a few quibbling modifications, but ratified it.

Without the US, the TPP is a less threatening beast, but a beast it remains. Though some 20 provisions that the US had insisted on have been stripped out — stuff that would have permitted stifling US enforcement of ludicrous intellectual property statutes, and the “Disney” provision, extending copyright to 70 years after death across the world — it retains two core anti-democratic mechanisms. The first is the “state-owned enterprises” provision, which allows corporations to take action if public enterprises present “unfair competition” to outside corporations. The effect is to penalise a democratic state, if it decides to subsidise key industries or utilities, at the behest of the people.

Related to that is the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) principle, which allows for international tribunals to decide whether government policies have caused treaty-breaching economic damages to a corporation, and order the state in question to pay compensation. That is pure financial imperialism on dependent states, and it was removed from the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), the sibling agreement that was to be signed between the US and the EU. The ISDS remains in the non-US TPP.

And, like Godzilla, the 20-plus “removed” provisions remain in the appendix, dormant on the sea bed, ready to be revived. That said, without the US, Australia’s chance of coming off worse is greatly diminished. Not wholly; Trudeau, J.’s government in Canada revived the TPP — lets face it, Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo couldn’t revive a burrito in a microwave, let alone a global trade deal — and it reflects their late Blairite “progressive” globalism. Just as the US version sought to exclude China, now Canada, Mexico and Japan are excluding the US, at its own invitation. Amazingly, the Trump boosters on the right never refer to this, Trump’s sole decisive and effective act of his presidency.

The fight is still on, of course. Labor, split between globalists and nationalists/populists, will have a hell of a time. But Bill Shorten should take the latter route, and urge caution, and reserve the right to renegotiate our participation, based on the jewel in the crown: the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. The US-inclusive TPP was aimed squarely at the PBS, which US Big Pharma loathes — because it is the most successful drug price control scheme in the world. Next time you feel like kvetching about Hillary’s treatment by the media, remember she would be happy for your treatment to cost $150/$300/$500 per script, not $30/$8/zero. (but her emails!).

There’s a lot else worth fighting for against these deals: on culture, public enterprises, etc. But the PBS is something Australians would die in a ditch for, and the wanton rapidity with which the Coalition has signed us up to free trade deals is in need of examination and a counter-story. Easy enough for the Greens, but Shorten will have to have an internal stoush if he wants to do that. And all the while, in the radioactive mud of neoliberal globalisation, fresh monsters wake and stir.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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