Friday, 22 May 2015

In defence of TPP - Secrecy in Negotiations

One of the biggest criticisms of the TPP in the US has been that the negotiations with other countries have been carried on in secrecy by the US government. US politicians have been falling over to yell themselves hoarse against this. When Wikileaks published confidential negotiation documents in their expose, there was much ballyhoo of how evil the government was.

Stuff and Nonsense. (The Queen would appreciate this remark !!)

I have not read Wikileaks and the very fact that I, an outsider sitting a million miles away with no access to any negotiating document, is able to write this series should be ample evidence that there is no Fort Knox secrecy. The principles with which the US (and every other country) are negotiating are well known and have been well known for years. None of the contentious issues are any different from what the US has been stating and signing in bilateral agreements for the last 20 years. Neither is any of this different from the positions the countries took in the Doha round of  the WTO. The arbitration clause I referred to three posts ago has been touted as a major googly being slipped in secretly through the back door. Bullshit. It has been there in every US bilateral agreement for years. The principles and the US stand have all been open and perfectly well known. You may agree or disagree with them, but you can't say they are secret.

What has certainly been kept secret are the details, the fine print and the negotiating documents. Yes, I know, the devil is in the details. In fact there is an unprecedented levels of security including telling pompous US Senators that they can't take notes - a tactic designed to exploit their infantile memory. You can disagree with this level of secrecy, but it is at least understandable. Negotiations involve give and take and involve messy compromises. When they are made in the glare of publicity, no agreement can be reached at all. Nobody negotiates under the glare of television cameras. Single issue activists and voluble gassy politicians (you know who I am referring to) will pump money lobbying and make so much noise that no agreement is ever possible.  For example the US is currently leaning towards accepting agricultural tariffs being retained in Japan with a quid pro quo that tariffs on Japanese automobiles will also remain in the US. This is an ugly compromise, but there is no way any deal is possible without bowing at the sacred altar of Japanese rice. As it stands the American sugar producers are vigorously lobbying for TPP (since it will protect their domestic subsidies), while the US Chamber of Commerce is furiously lobbying against and are being egged on by Australian sugar exporters. This is just on one minor item - sugar. Imagine the chaos and cacophony if every lobby group were to be shouting at 10000 decibels on Clause 4a, subsection ii of a negotiating document. We might as well not attempt any agreement at all. Anybody who wants negotiations in the full glare of publicity is either a cynical manipulator with a huge self interest or has never done a negotiation in her life (notice the gender).

The second big  controversy is the granting of fast track authority to the President to negotiate trade deals. Fast track gives authority to the President to negotiate a trade deal which Congress cannot subsequently amend or filibuster - they can either approve in toto or reject in toto. Predictably, the biggest noise on this is coming from the good lady. Of all the self serving and pompous stands, this takes the cake.

Firstly the fast track procedure is nothing new. It has been in existence since 1975. Successive Republican and Democrat presidents have been granted this power. This is not some Obama evil invention.

Secondly how, and with who, does any other country negotiate with the US ? You only negotiate with somebody who has the power to negotiate. Who is that person in the US ? What is the use of spending 3 years negotiating with the President when after a deal has been reached, 100 Senators and 435 Representatives can then amend at their will. This is the US Congress which can attach completely unrelated amendments to any bill - they of the crowning glory of killing a human trafficking bill by attaching a clause on abortion. So if the President cannot make a commitment on behalf of the US, then who can ? Does Japan have to negotiate with 535 Congressmen ? Or with a committee of Congressmen ? - imagine negotiating with an American team comprising of Elizabeth Warren, Ted Cruz,  Bernie Sanders and Eric Cantor !!!!!! There is no greater laughable concept than that.

I will conclude this series with an appeal to the Americans I know. You have elected a President. Give him some credit - he is not a traitor selling off Mom and Apple Pie. Sure, disagree with any policy, but be prepared to negotiate and make compromises with the rest of the world . Do not listen to Elizabeth Warren and Ted Cruz - both the loony left and the rabid right will lead you to a hell hole. Not only are they unhinged, they act with zero responsibility. Weigh the pros and cons of any policy in total - there are always positives and negatives. It is easy to throw out any initiative simply because you strongly disagree to a single clause.

The TPP may not be the best deal ever. It is however not a bad deal. It is to America's benefit. You have been the champion of free trade in the world. Your own prosperity arose because of your commitment to enterprise and trade. The world has grown following your footsteps. Do not kill your greatest strength.


Sriram Khé said...

Come on ... you are engaging in rhetoric. Cheap, populist rhetoric, when you write to the Americans you know that the President is not a traitor because he is engaging in these secret trade talks. Not even this sometimes loony-left, sometimes rabid-right, and othertimes comatose-center idiot of a commenter will dream of labeling the President a traitor for these discussions. Heck, I didn't even label Bush a traitor for his disastrous wars and pretty much his entire presidency. Because, I truly believe in democracy and democracy is always, always, messy. Messiness means disagreements. So, sometimes thiings get delayed. So be it.

You write that disagreement over a single clause should not be a reason to throw out a deal. But, hello, if there are 535 Congress members who have 535 different disagreements with the deal, then whose disagreement you want us to ignore? And, btw, for all we know, disagreements could be fewer if the deal were out in the public; we will never know, will we?

You refer to the Japan rice and sugar subsidies. There are plenty of elected officials in this country who are opposed to the sugar subsidy. There are plenty who are opposed to agricultural subsidies. but, of course, they don't get their way because ... democracy is messy, my friend.

I will end this long comment with a piece from the Financial Times that I tweeted about ( in which the author offers five arguments against the self-defeating secrecy of the TPP ... come to think of it, I should not have offered comments but simply outsourced it to FT--but then commenting in a democracy is messy ;)

Ramesh said...

My My. I knew you would get pissed off by this post, but THAT much :):) Yeah I know my language was tending towards inflammatory. My excuse is that the minute I see the likes of Warren and Cruz (thankfully Palin is nowhere to be seen or heard), I lose my sanity :):)

The whole point of my post was that the principles are very much in the public domain even if details aren't. Debate that by all means. 535 members of the Congress can all have different views, but you have to come to one "American view" if you are to negotiate with another country. Nothing has stopped the Congress from enacting a series of trade principles, covering all the themes in the last five posts.

I have every respect for your points of view and that of Americans who have thought about the issues and have an articulate case of what they believe is the right way forward for America. But I submit that the likes of Warren & Co have hardly that as their objective. Theirs is simply to kill the TPP. As I have mentioned before, theirs is not to find the messy compromise of the best possible deal. Theirs is a no deal stand, because they simply do not want free trade and globalisation. My appeal was simply that , that was not America.

Feel free to rebutt all this. There is no greater pleasure than to debate with you - for it is a reasoned, polite and sensible debate that certainly enriches me and hopefully stimulates you too.

As for the FT piece, I had, of course read it when it had come. I had half a mind to threaten the FT to withdraw my subscription for such a poor article !! Your remonstrations are way more sensible and valuable than that awful piece. So, very thankfully, you didn't outsource your rebuttal.

Anne in Salem said...

Ramesh, thank you for a cogent and thorough discussion with many well-reasoned points worth revisiting. I have learned a great deal.

Sriram, thank you for protesting and debating. I learn twice as much when you object.

Gentlemen, this has been excellent. Thank you very much. I look forward to many more.

Ramesh said...

Very kind of you. I am honoured.

Sandhya Sriram said...

I think, i will second Anne here.

I enjoyed your thought through summary and also enjoyed Sriram's rebuttal and both read right. I am not knowledgeable enough to have a view like the 2 of you, so will just simply admire this one :-)

Ramesh said...

Hey thanks Sandhya, Although your comment includes one piece of rubbish - you know more than me and Sriram combined :)

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