An important article in the Latin American press peculiarly has not gotten the attention it deserves. Or perhaps not so peculiarly, given the Obama administration’s intention to keep the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as far out of the public eye as possible.
An overview of the TPP from a post earlier this month:
….the Administration is taking the unusual step of trying to negotiate two major trade deals in the same timeframe. Apparently Obama wants to make sure his corporate masters get as many goodies as possible before he leaves office. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both inaccurately depicted as being helpful to ordinary Americans by virtue of liberalizing trade. Instead, the have perilous little to do with trade. They are both intended to make the world more lucrative for major corporations by weakening regulations and by strengthening intellectual property laws. The TPP has an additional wrinkle of being an “everybody but China” deal, intended to strengthen ties among nations who will then be presumed allies of America in its efforts to contain China. As we indicated via a link to an Asia Times article over the weekend, that’s proving to be a bit fraught as Japan is flexing its muscles militarily and thus less inclined to follow US directives tamely.
A not flattering bit of sunlight on the TPP negotiations comes from an unexpected source. Rodrigo Contreras, the lead negotiator on the TPP from Chile, resigned suddenly two months ago. It’s widely believed that he left his post voluntarily. He’s held in high esteem not just in Chile but among his fellow trade negotiators. His departure left people on the trade beat scratching their heads.
It now appears probable that the reason for his resignation was that he saw where the TPP was likely to go and didn’t want his name attached to it. Contreras wrote an article in Spanish that ran last week Peru’s magazine Caretas that described the promise, and more important, the dangers of the TPP. He argued that many of its major thrusts, if they are not checked and modified, are detrimental to less advanced economies. He also argues that the Latin American countries have enough votes that if they act together, they can influence the direction of the negotiations.
I’m including the Spanish original plus a translation courtesy Global Trade Watch at the end of this post. Here’s the key section:
It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries.
Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.
For a former insider like Contreras, this is a statement of principle that comes at considerable personal cost. Remember, he has spent over two decades as a diplomat, most recently in a very senior role. Even though his comments might seem understated to some readers, his call to Latin American negotiators has deep-sixed his chances of getting another senior government role or being retained by large companies as a lobbyist or advisor.
This article also might not be as quixotic as it sounds. Given Contreras’ reputation, his piece is certain to come to the attention of his former peers. Some of Asian participants in the negotiations (particularly Japan) are also believed to have serious reservations about the provisions of the TPP that would weaken national sovereignity by allowing corporations to challenge laws and regulations as violations of the TPP. And as readers like “from Mexico” have emphasized, Latin American countries have had more up-front-and-personal experience with neoliberalism than any other group, and most regard its tenets with considerable skepticism. Policymakers thus have no excuse if they sign up for a TPP that contains many of the bad policies that Contreras described as possible outcomes.
I strongly urge you to read Contreras’ article in full.