Japan to US: You Can’t Railroad the Trans-Pacific Partnership

By Clive, a regular Naked Capitalism commenter and self-confessed Japan-o-phile

The headline, in a one liner, is what this article is saying. You may have to take my word for it if you’re not a Japanese reader, but read on to find out why I hope you can.

I’m a little prone to overstatement on occasions, but I don’t think I’m straying too far from the truth to say that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – along with its equally ugly sister for those of us in Europe the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) – would be, if enacted, amongst the defining geopolitical and geo-economic developments of the century. They seek to cement the near- three-decade gains made by commerce and the losses made by nation states and their citizens. Supra-nationalistic legally binding “trade courts”, embedding of the commercial rule of law’s higher ranking over the national rule of law for the rest of us, and prevention of countermeasures to the growth of the global mega corporation are just some of the treats we’ve got in store for ourselves if these agreements are accepted.

And yet, there’s scarcely a murmur from the mainstream media. At least in the US and Europe. Asia, on the other hand, is a little more interested. Not necessarily for entirely wholesome reasons. Many of the anti-TPP stances are underpinned by a desire of corrupt, cronyism-riddled governments to hang on to their cosy status quos. But at least on some levels, Asian governments who are parties to the TPP negotiations are reluctant to simply acquiesce to rule by the global corpocracy.

I would argue that Japan is ground-zero for TPP. Japan was a latecomer to the TPP party, the invitation being extended because without Japan, which is still after countless lost decades the world’s third biggest economy with a GDP almost 10 times the size of, for example, Malaysia. Without Japan, any resultant TPP would be a doughnut with a Japan-shaped hole in the middle.

So given the secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations coupled with the general ho-hum with which it is regrettably met with in most quarters, Japan is one of the few sources of information which is a) informed b) reliable and c) engaged in the debate. This brings good and bad. The good is that the Japanese media is free, honest, candid (mostly) and reliable (~ish) although it is overly deferential at times. The bad is that, like any country’s media, it inevitably reflects and respects the social moirés which it inhabits. Oh, and you’ve got the language barrier. But not to worry, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Japan and with the fine Japanese people whose good qualities are to me unique in the world. I can crack the language barrier and have a stab at explaining the cultural context.

Let’s start with a compare-and-contrast of the most recent TPP negotiations which concluded in mid-December last year. At the end of the meeting, the Office of the United States Trade Representative issued the usual trite, tells-you-nothing joint statement. Notable, though, is the brevity of the statement which borders on the terse.

When the joint statement was issued, most of the Japanese media simply parroted it verbatim. But towards the end of December last year, a bit more in the way of comment and analysis started to creep out. This is the usual pattern with the Japanese media – an initial bland reporting that avoids boat rocking, then in dribs and drabs after the main event you get more meaningful discussions.

So when, a fortnight after the official releases from the Singapore TPP negotiation round, off the record briefings started to appear I planned to translate these after the holiday season. Fisco is a financial analyst services provider in Japan and on the 24th December 2013 they put out a toughly worded assessment of where TPP was likely to go next in terms of Japan’s participation. The article didn’t cite official sources directly, but from my experience with the Japanese media, it was pretty obviously drawing on officials speaking off the record. In the US you typically get such articles prefaced by “Washington insiders say…”, “Obama aides report…” or “One source added that the president has…”. Here in the UK, the line “Sources close to the Prime Minister…” has become such a cliché for the Prime Minister’s press office that one wonders why journalists bother with the subterfuge. In Japan, readers don’t get their intelligence insulted with such banter. If a source is on the record, they are named. If it’s off the record, information simply is reported source-less.

When I checked back a couple of weeks later though, the Fisco article wasn’t on their website. Now, I’ll say at this stage that isn’t anything which automatically makes me think that Fisco have been subject to any pressure to remove the article. They may not have been happy with the lack of sources willing to go on the record. It could be behind their paywall. It’s also possible that the article was substantially inaccurate. But I’m sufficiently sure that it is (was) accurate that I’ll present the translation of it here and let readers decide for themselves. Even though the original article isn’t obtainable from the publisher (Fisco), news aggregators have captured and redistributed the Fisco article and you can read it on a dozen or more different screen-scraper type of site. Here’s Excite’s version. Note that the credit (to Fisco) is still there, I think if Fisco really didn’t want the article to be regurgitated they would be requesting it is pulled from sites such as Excite or otherwise issue statements distancing themselves from it. But of course, doing that simply draws even more attention to it!

Okay, let’s dive into the feature. When translating, one of the hardest things to do it to try and retain the author’s original intent in what they were saying. When you have strong beliefs about a subject, as I do on this one, it’s very easy to let your own opinions colour the resultant English language version. I’ve tried very hard to preserve the original “feel” from the Japanese language version of the article. What I’ll do is add my own commentary as we go along, hopefully it will be clear what is the original wording (albeit translated but as true to the original as I can make it) and what are my own thoughts on what this all might mean.

15:08* December 24, 2013 *Japan Standard Time

Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPP) Agreement Still on Hold

Right, we haven’t even got past the title and I can’t resist a comment. We all know the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) as, well, the Trans Pacific Partnership. That’s what it’s called in English, that’s what it’s always been called and that’s what we will keep referring to it as for the sake of consistency with convention. But stop for a moment and reflect on this. Imagine if you’d never heard of the TPP before and had to ask for an explanation simply, but accurately, of what it was all about. When the Japanese first heard of it, that is exactly what had to happen. And look at the resultant translation. The warm-and-fluffy “Trans Pacific Partnership” has become the rather clunkier sounding “Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership”. And while I’ve retained “Partnership” in my translation, “Treaty” would perhaps be a better choice of word. The English version, “Trans Pacific Partnership”, almost makes you imagine US Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew engaging in some sort of hands-across-the-ocean group hug, probably while striking up a rendition of Kumbaya. In English, it lacks any reference to tricky words like “Treaty” or “Economics” – words which might alert readers to what could be going on. The Japanese version contains no such soft soap. Where did “Strategic” come from? This word is definitely present in the Japanese text but nothing in the English version makes any reference to “Strategic”. But the Japanese think this is something non-trivial and hence it is, to them, “Strategic”. And notice the lack of the word “Trade” in the Japanese version of TPP. Japanese vocabulary contains perfectly good words for “Trade” and if the Japanese had thought this was all about “Trade” then “Trade” is what it would have said. But no, this is definitely in the minds of the Japanese “Economics”. The word “Economics” is used explicitly and, in my opinion, deliberately. Westerners often say that Japanese is a vague language which is difficult to get an exact meaning out of. That is rubbish. Japanese can be extremely precise when it needs to be, as is the case here. Also, while I’ve translated the title as shown above, it would be no less accurate but a little more colloquial to have given the piece a title of “TPP Talks: Going Nowhere Fast”. Back to the article.

During the most recent Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP) negotiations, it was decided that the next ministerial meeting, which was scheduled to be held in January 2014, is to be postponed until the middle of February.

Clive here. So what was said in the closing communique after the Singapore round of TPP negotiations is history barely two weeks later. In the next paragraph…

At the ministerial meeting held on the 7th to 10th of this month (December 2013) in Singapore, negotiations between the participating 12 countries, including Japan and the United States, had continued working towards reaching an agreement at the end of the year (2013). But there were differences of opinion in areas such as the elimination of tariffs on manufactured and agricultural products, removal of preferential treatment for state-owned enterprises (SOEs) and extending intellectual property rights.

Clive: The Singapore round achieved little or nothing substantive. All the issues that were there at the start remained outstanding at the end.

It was for this reason that, although a previous meeting statement had said that the next meeting would be held in January, it was decided to postpone the next meeting because it was determined that the negotiations are not expected to progress. Matters such as the location and a specific schedule for this next meeting have also not progressed.

There’s a lack of agency here which I mentioned in my preamble – who decided to postpone the next meeting? Was it a ghost? It doesn’t matter too much who it was, either Japan or the US or both believed that it would be too embarrassing to have another round of negotiation in January when there was little prospect of success. Back to the article…

It’s becoming increasing unclear how the current round of TPP negotiations can reach a conclusion.

Clive here again. Now, this is interesting. For the first time that I’ve read in Japanese TPP reporting, we’re getting serious doubts about any sort of deal being obtained. This is definitely news. In the native Japanese, this gets a line all to itself and in effect becomes the stand-out point in the article. Rightly so. By why are things going awry? The article’s source apparently thinks he has the mud and sets about slinging it. Let’s get back to the original piece to find out more…

A goal of early conclusion was set by the Japanese government in cooperation with the United States. From the fact that the United States has not compromised at all in the tariff negotiations between Japan and the United States, the only explanation is that it was the firm policy of the United States that – regardless of its wish to see an early conclusion – its negotiating tactic is to stick to its preferred position on tariffs.

This is pretty blatant finger pointing by Japanese standards. I’ve given as literal translation as I can and not embellished the sense of invective present in the original. The above paragraph needs no additional commentary from me to convey its thoughts on what’s wrong in the TPP negotiations. Here’s the next paragraph:

The plan now is to carry out the tariff negotiations in Japan-US ministerial meeting talks prior to the next round of negotiations, to determine the tariffs to be maintained for five areas of important agricultural products. These are wheat and rice, beef, pork, and dairy products. Japan’s government has worked towards the conclusion of the negotiations, it will continue to consult with emerging economies and to explain the responses to and benefits of regulatory reform. If chief U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) (Michael) Froman continues to require the complete elimination of tariffs, this will reduce the likelihood of an agreement.

Oh no! “Talks about talks”. The kiss of death in any treaty discussion. And that whole bit about “it (Japan) will continue to consult with emerging economies and to explain the responses to and benefits of regulatory reform…” makes no sense in the original Japanese text either – my take on that sentence is that Japan was coerced into trying to bring other countries on board in areas of the TPP they objected to, but even the Japanese version really doesn’t convey an awful lot. Not a case of the meaning being lost in translation, there wasn’t much meaning to begin with. I wish I had the full details on what lies behind that marvellous piece of Japanese language mish-mash, it’s probably very interesting. No matter, there’s more to come…

There is the possibility that if the United States keeps making unilateral requests for concessions without in return granting concessions itself, negotiations become protracted. The possibility that negotiations still cannot be concluded at the next ministerial meeting also increases.

Clive again. Just in case the Japanese readers hadn’t got the point by now, another reminder of why the article’s source doesn’t believe that the TPP negotiation can be moved forward – and even blunter language this time. Clearly the US doesn’t understand the meaning of the word “negotiation”. It means the same in Japanese as it does in English. The Japanese characters which combine together to form the “word” negotiate are the ones for “meeting” or “rubbing shoulders with” and “walking or wading through water” or “passing across”. You get to know people and move carefully across a barrier. If you don’t exchange things – views, ideas – you’re demanding not negotiating. There’s a word for “making demands” in Japanese as well – it’s not what the Japanese think should be going on. But the US doesn’t appear to have grasped this concept.

The domestic situation in each of the countries participating in the negotiation – and this includes the U.S. too – means that if concessions are not made, then there is little possibility of negotiations concluding early.

“The domestic situation” indeed. Another noteworthy remark – tweaking the nose of the US because the word is out that domestic support for the TPP in the US is certainly not a given. The Japanese can undeniably on occasions be justifiably called insular in their sometimes rather inward-looking world view, but they will be aware of the vibes reaching across the ocean that all is not entirely well in the US’ own attempts at keeping a lid on TPP anxiety. Dear readers, you may think that writing to your elected representative, commenting negatively on articles you read in the mainstream media about the TPP and generally kicking up a bit of a fuss, making some noise, is a waste of effort. That is not so. The world does watch what goes on in the US. If popular sentiment is against something, the US government has a much harder job of convincing foreigners that it’s just them being awkward and reactionary and not getting the big, progressive, reform-minded, modernising picture.

Back to the article’s final flourish:

This calls for more than just railroading things through; it’s also a challenge for diplomacy and negotiating skills.

Diplomacy is just a nice word for cross-border politicking. And that is the nub of why, certainly as far as Japan is concerned and I’d venture too the other countries involved, the TPP talks are stalling. The deal is being worked on by politicians. These politicians have constituencies and need their constituents’ votes. Now, politicians the world over – and certainly Japan is no exception to this rule – can and do throw one set of voters under the bus if it means that another, larger, group of voters might provide support in return. TPP requires (or at least, the current US position requires) that Japanese agriculture takes a hit because the subsidies it receives are to be removed. To the LDP (Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party) in Tokyo, rural votes lost in Chiba prefecture because rice growers’ incomes drop might be made up for in Okinawa if the move of the resented US base there is expedited. Or at least if the crash-prone Osprey aircraft are removed. But who is Tokyo talking to at the TPP negotiations? The Office of the United States Trade Representative. What can Michael Froman bring to the table? Signed copies of Timothy Geithner’s memoirs?

This highlights a deeper malaise for the US. Due to its mismanagement of the South East Asia geopolitical arena, it doesn’t have much to offer either Japan or the other TPP countries. Japan would certainly appreciate some US muscle directed towards China over the Senkaku Islands territorial dispute. A bit of US help in dealing with North Korea wouldn’t go amiss either. Yet the US can deliver on none of these things. It certainly wouldn’t want to risk the overspill from any goading of China. And even lower impact offerings like the Okinawa base aren’t in the USTR’s gift.

A final theme from me on the issues which this fairly short piece of Japanese analysis brings to the fore. For a treaty negotiation, countries usually assign their State Department or Foreign Office to handle things. This is because the Secretary of State can go across all government departments to do any necessary give-and-take required to seal the negotiations. If the Department of Defense has to be leaned on to resolve the Okinawa base, then the State Department knows who to call and what to ask. If there’s a political wrangle, the Secretary of State – or perhaps the Vice President acting in a statesman-like capacity – sorts it out. To give an example, when Germany’s Chancellor Merkel had her phone bugged, while this was a problem which operationally only the NSA could fix, it was simply inconceivable that the NSA or the Department of Defense would have been expected to handle the matter. Having the Director of the National Security Agency call Merkel would have not only been an insulting diplomatic blunder to Germany, but he would have quite simply not been able to resolve the situation beyond the basic ceasing of the bugging operation. Only diplomatic channels led by the Secretary of State could clean up the political fall-out and smooth over the resultant foreign relations ruffled feathers.

Even if the US had better goodies to offer Japan to sweeten the TPP pill it is asking it to swallow (and it’s a little short on tempting morsels in this regard) U.S. Trade Representative Froman is not in a position to offer them without State Department assistance.

All of which shows that the TPP is nothing more than a grubby political gambit. Economists like to dress up their theories in scientific costume, presenting them as somehow evidence-based and provable in a measurable, repeatable way. Yves has – literally and figuratively – written the book on this subject as it is covered in ECONNED.

Economists promoting the provisions of the TPP are caught in a bind. If the economic theory underpinning the TPP is self-evidently valid beyond all doubt, it doesn’t need to be “sold” to any of the participating countries. They’d only have to look at the unequivocal evidence of the merit and validity of the theory before making the logical decision to enact the TPP.

If the TPP is on the other hand merely the US government doing the bidding of one of its main vested interests and biggest group of political donors (the multinational corporations) and asking the respondent TPP countries in the Pacific Rim to go against their own vested interests (such as subsidised agricultural producers or State Owned Enterprises) then the US will have to buy off the politicians in those countries with some political favours. Only the State Department can really wheel and deal in those areas. The Office of the United States Trade Representative will need to call in the State Department to lubricate the negotiations – and in doing so dispel any notion this is anything to do with strategic economics.

The mask will slip and the true nature of the TPP will be revealed – which for me will always be that the TPP is only crass political payback by Obama for services rendered. Chief amongst those are the services supplied by the multinationals: significant campaign donations.

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  1. Patricia

    Thanks, Clive. I hope you are correct. May the State Department never show up, and the “challenge for diplomacy and negotiating skills” never be met.

    Let the grubby mess collapse back into the pigsty.

    1. Clive

      Thanks Patricia. I’m hoping that there’s some Obama administration politics playing out here in so far as the USTR was trying to grab the kudos (and subsequent pay-offs either in government our outside once the revolving door has spun) for “delivering” the TPP for Obama. That sort of petty jockeying for position is rife in government so it wouldn’t surprise me if it was happening. Of course, the State Department would know that was the game and be slow to do the USTR any favours. Another possibility is that State Department has made attempts to rescue the USTR but been rebuffed because the USTR wants to make sure it gets the all credit and won’t let its own incompetence stand in the way of asking for help.

      I’m guilty of wanting the wrong thing here (internecine warfare in government)… but for the right reason (the TPP dying a deserved slow, lingering death).

      1. MRW

        Thank you for this, Clive. I hope you will keep updating and translating for us. Really appreciate it. I feel as strongly about the TPP as you seem to do.

  2. Brooklin Bridge

    That was a great post! Your editorial notes surrounding the “translation” were great and I imagine your translation was also very careful. I wish one could take hope from this, but it seems that the only hope for us lies in the corruption of the greedy local politicians countering the corruption and greed of the international set. That is thin gruel indeed to nourish hopefulness though it seems to suffice nicely for rank cynicism.

    I can’t help but feel that the latest stealth attack on the public in the form of eliminating net-neutrality is going to play a key role in all of this going forward even if muzzling the net is a little late for this round of the TPP. The internet has become the only thing remaining between the global corporations and the citizenry of the various countries. It’s the only place we can still occasionally spot that shyest of creatures, the truth. Bleak as things are, at least it’s nice to see it has another friend in Yves’ circle.

    1. different clue

      I don’t know anything about how computers work. Are the millions of personally owned personal computers out there connected to the internet also capable of connecting only to their own walled-off memory-storage-device systems? If so, computer owners who want to exchange real information might work on how to move millions of hard discs or thumb drives or whatever by human courier from stand-alone computer to stand-alone computer, and copy from storage device to storage device. Think of it as digital samizdat (samizdata if one pleases) for when the Overclass killswitches the internet once and for all, or killfilters any genuine information from entering the Infocommercial SuperSewer.
      Perhaps people who can do so should start making hard-storage archives of what they think is most valuable. Things like this blog and Sic Semper Tyrannis and so forth. Perhaps people should assume that all such material “stored” in the “cloud” will be erased or melted down when the order is given.

  3. David

    Great report, thanks. You mentioned that weak US public support of the TPP
    encourages foreign leaders to stick to their positions, this make me
    wonder what happens if US Citizens wrote to these foreign leaders expressing their lack of support for the TPP. In other words, would it help scuttle the TPP if the Prime Ministers of Japan, Malaysia and other Asian leaders received letters from US citizens expressing their loathing for the treaty ?

    1. Clive

      Good question ! I can’t really speak for how the leaders of TPP countries would react to that but I can certainly give my two cents worth for how people outside the US view the US.

      The US is deeply respected and admired — there’s an awful lot of history between the US and the rest of the world. While NSA snooping, Guantanamo, the War on Terror and George W. Bush leave a bad taste in the mouth for the rest of the world, they are just minor niggles when people stop and think about the US generally. We distinguish between your politicians and the people, the former being, at best, despaired over, but the latter being thought of with a great deal of affection.

      When the US population sends a message to the politicians — military action over Syria being an excellent example — that they are going way too far in a proposal for armed conflict or some other bright idea floated in the Beltway it somehow emboldens the rest of the world. When Obama couldn’t carry the Senate on Syria and was left with his “red line” shoved up his you-know-what, politicians — and populations — in the UK and France got backbone. This created a positive reinforcement loop. I can’t really put my finger on this, I can only say that it definitely exists as a phenomena as far as I’m concerned. And in Japan, what the US population does and thinks is even more monitored. It’s kind-of like we trust the population of the US — taken as a whole — to “do the right thing”.

      Conversely, with a war-hungry mood in the US, the rest of the world seemed to feel compelled to go along with the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions, despite misgivings.

      I wish I could pin down this sensation a little better than I’ve done above, hopefully you get the idea.

      So dragging your politicians back to somewhere near where popular sentiment actually sits — and the subsequent coverage in the MSM — is many ways far more powerful then telling foreign leaders you’re fed up with your politicians.

      1. Joe Firestone (LetsGetitDone)

        Excellent post and good proposal about trying to register American objections to the TPP with foreign leaders. Shouldn’t such letter point out that even if the TPP were railroaded through at this time it may not stick? After all, it is only a Treaty. Wouldn’t an electoral victory here by a movement dedicated to overturning corporate control of the political system result in withdrawal from the TPP before any concrete legislation would be passed likely to conflict with it?

        It seems to me that the TPP is one of those things that would really engender paranoia here in the United States, which would become a continuing foundation for anti-government and second American Revolution buffs to use in building a much bigger movement. After all, the TPP clearly compromises US sovereignty and our ability to pass legislation approved by the heavy majority of American. There’s no way for the TPP to avoid this, especially in the medium term. So, it seems to me that other nations can legitimately be warned that agreement with the United States on the TPP would be the worst thing they can do if they care about political stability and a reasonable foreign policy emanating from the United States, since the medium term result of any such treaty is likely to be a wave of xenophobia and isolationism in the United States. The last thing that Asian nations need from the United States is that result; and the best thing they can do to get it is to pass the perfect political tool for the xenophobes and isolationists to use to build a radical nationalist movement.

      2. MRW

        The anti-Syria sentiment started on Tuesday before Obama’s Saturday announcement that he was going to put it to a vote in Congress. Guess who started it? Whatsisname, Glenn Beck Tuesday afternoon by announcing that ‘we’re not going to come out of this, folks, this can lead to WWIII, we have to stop it’, and then Sean Hannity with a similar message at six o’clock. It was almost as if a little birdie in the military or intel had alerted these two because they both said the same thing, and they both had an urgency in their voices. I didn’t watch their performances until it was pointed out by TPM, (I think?) or a similar site. Within two days, Congress was deluged with phone calls, and threats to primary the Congressmen if they voted for it. All this came up from below and spread like wildfire.

        So I say: send this article to Glenn Beck and Hannity. O’Reilly, too. Clive’s second paragraph should get their attention. The Fox people might be precluded from talking about it, but Beck has an internet TV show.

  4. TarheelDem

    If the main purpose is the institution of an international TPP tribunal that allows suit by corporations of the signatory states, the language of the agreement outside of that tribunal is pretty incidental. So you can have different texts for different folks.

    If the text uses the concept “strategic” in a meaningful sense, the next question is “What is the strategy we are definining here?”

    1. susan the other

      This was really interesting. “Strategic Economic Treaty.” It might be safe to assume the ulterior motive is that if the Pacific Rim countries will all get on board then China will be pressed relatively soon to do something about its SOEs and its piracy of US intellectual “property.” This is probably the “strategy” and it is surely understood by China as such. But we do not hear about the strategy here. We only see the cold stare of Mr. Froman avoiding congressional questions and his thuggish behavior in brief clips of TPP roundtables. He’s a very creepy guy. And we are also given a ton of propaganda trying to make China’s economy look like sort-of capitalist free-marketism – a fantasy even for “capitalist” countries. China is probably the reason for other deals too – like our talks with Iran – because China needs oil to keep its economy “growing” even if nobody can survive the pollution in Beijing. It’s a little too crazy even for corpocracy. How is it strategic to continue to push the BS about free-market-capitalism when it is utter nonsense and serves only to perpetuate a dangerous paradigm of debt financialization for irresponsible growth for the profits of the rich and the death of society and the planet. Go figure.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      This is not a series of bilateral treaties. That’s the whole point. Everyone signs up to the same deal.

      And you are misreading how this works (I’ve repeated the same language and charts in multiple posts). It does not allow all corps to sue. It allows FOREIGN INVESTORS to sue. So Monsanto can’t sue under the TPP in the US. It could sue in Japan IF it had an investment in that country.

      1. Paul P

        “Foreign corporations”

        Domestic corporations can use foreign subsidiaries, buy a foreign corporation, make deals with foreign corporations or relocate to get around the limits on lawsuits, no?

      2. Jim Mays

        Minor correction: these are not which require 2/3 of the US Senate but requiring simple majorities of both corporate owned bodies of Congress. Many overly ambitious treaties died this way: the International Trade Organization in the post war period, as an example.
        But of greater significance: a foreign domiciled subsidiary of Monsanto could sue [at least under the NAFTA or CAFTA model] the US. Hasn’t been a problem as yet, but the language is there, and venue shopping is all the rage, these days – think the attacks on the Australian tobacco labeling laws where old, pre-anti-int’l-arbitration language was still being used. And as an aside: AU tried to insert similar protection in TPP as seen in an early investment chapter where ‘bracketed’ text exempted them. That language probably didn’t survive, sadly.

  5. Paul Tioxon

    One bright spot in broadcasting the perils of the TPP is the Ed Show on msnbc. He has been focusing on this as a job killer in the mold of Nafta, Cafta etc. Here is link to the site with a video of coverage of the expose of the fall out from such so called trade pacts. In the line up of videos, more than a handful from past 2 weeks covers TPP. The most recent is the latest from 1/17/14 where 7 Congressional reps share their doubt and opposition to this toxic deal. On 1/13/14 the TPP is characterized as Nafta on Steroids. After 20 years of Nafta, Flint Michigan went from 50,000 auto workers to about 6,000 today. The auto unions know for a fact that this is a disaster and are building broad based, multi-issue coalition with environmentalists, food safety consumer groups, including public health groups that opposed the gutting of cancer warnings on cigarettes in our nation as well as republicans with fundamental opposition over political sovereignty being offered up to trans-national authorities empowered by signed treaties on file in DC. The Senate is now asking questions about fast track support without deliberation and refusing to cooperate with Max Baucus who was appointed by Obama to become the next ambassador to China. Baucus is not running for senate re-election, but will spend the remaining days in office trying ramrod the TPP. However, there are cracks in the momentum of passage.



  6. Banger

    Having lived in Japan I concur with your reading of the report you cited.

    the TPP is only crass political payback by Obama for services rendered. Chief amongst those are the services supplied by the multinationals: significant campaign donations.

    That is all we need to know or think about. There is no chance that a trade deal, even if the U.S. budges on some of the provisions, can be accepted by Congress. Washington is deeply divided and, I’ve noticed, there are few grand political alliances that show much signs of life other than the usual corruption that grows each day. The two major parties are internally divided so I’m convinced no major trade deals are possible. The corporate sector has become too empowered and too greedy and this creates conflicts within the oligarch community.

    1. different clue

      If both parties are internally divided on Obamatrade, then all Obama needs is just enough Reps and then Sens from each party to support fast track in order to force pro-votes on TPP/TPIP. So writing Reps and Sens against fast track might be more indicated rather than hoping that “war in heaven” leaves the officeholders on earth confused and immobile.

    2. Fiver

      It’s widely accepted that the most contentious issues are not trade-related at all, as in treatment of the Internet, granting of obscene protections for corporations at the expense of the public interest in areas like food safety, environment, pharma drugs, water, fracking etc.

      Like everything else Obama, he approves it first, then has to find a way to walk it back over the broken bodies of his base, to a safe place to punt to Clinton.

      Re Japan:

      It would be a great mistake for Japan to sign this deal under any circumstances, but particularly so from the perspective of a strategic military alliance with the US. The last thing Japan needs is to allow itself to be manipulated by the US into paranoid enmity with China, or even to consider re-arming under the rubric of “the Chinese threat”. Nor is there any justification for constructing a “strategic” stranglehold on Chinese commerce and shipping down the road whether via a preferential commercial arrangement or any other means.

      That Japan is in a particularly vulnerable position vis a vis geography, resources, markets etc., is obvious. But the wrong way to assure future viability is to follow the US or Japan’s own worst instincts and make of China an enemy.

      Besides, Japan has a higher calling: to break the clean/cheap energy barrier and remake the world.

  7. Patricia

    You wrote: “The US is deeply respected and admired — there’s an awful lot of history between the US and the rest of the world. While NSA snooping, Guantanamo, the War on Terror and George W. Bush leave a bad taste in the mouth for the rest of the world, they are just minor niggles when people stop and think about the US generally. We distinguish between your politicians and the people, the former being, at best, despaired over, but the latter being thought of with a great deal of affection.”

    Is that so, truly? Much more generous than I expect. Even in the Mid-East, Africa, and Latin America? I suspect you of giving us a pep talk, Clive, but perhaps that’s cynicism showing. (I despise my cynicism.)

    1. Clive

      You’re absolutely right Patricia — my comment was in a context of most (but by no means all !) of the Pacific Rim and Europe. The Middle East (and some of Central America too) have a pretty dismal opinion of the US from what I can tell. What you’ve ended up with is a similar situation to that of Britain — where we’ve a history of hapless meddling in foreign countries affairs, we’re (perhaps correctly) irredeemably distrusted.

      1. Clive

        Yes jrs, that poll got a lot of coverage — it’s worth keeping in mind that as with all polls how the question is framed makes a huge difference. If people were not explicitly directed to consider “the American people” then by default you think of “America” which is really the US government. And so dire was the George W. Bush era that even now it casts a long shadow.

        When Obama was first elected, it’s hard to recall now how much optimism there was especially in Europe — and the Middle East / Asia too — about how it was all going to be so much better now. So the same sort of polling — again, conducted in a non-specific way which leads the respondent to consider “America” not “Americans” would have been a lot more favourable.

        6 years on, how dumb we all feel. I was just about to write there something along the lines of “Obama still isn’t quite as awful as Bush…” but I’ve stopped. I think Obama is just as bad, taken overall. Just in a different way.

        Not that our lot over here are any improvement, mind you. And don’t even get me started on Japanese politics.

  8. Dwight

    The FISCO article states that because the US has not compromised at all in U.S.-Japan tariff negotiations, the Japanese government is shifting to a negotiating tactic of giving priority to maintenance of tariffs, without regard to its prior position of seeking early agreement. It then states that if the USTR continues to insist on complete elimination of agricultural tariffs, then Japan will “continue discussions” [implying delay], and will reduce the cooperation it has given toward agreement, such as explanation to developing countries of the benefits of and ways to cope with regulatory reform.

    I read this as a strong statement that the U.S. needs to compromise on agricultural tariffs if it wants Japan’s further cooperation. Is this the view of the Japanese business community, which I assume supports TPP? (I could certainly be wrong about that – what do Japanese banks and large manufacturers think of TPP?) Would the U.S. be willing to compromise on agricultural tariffs in order to get other parts of TPP, and would Congress pass TPP without elimination of agricultural tariffs? As an opponent of TPP for reasons not addressed in the FISCO article, I am concerned that this article suggests a way forward for Japan’s agreement on TPP.

    1. Clive

      Ah… That (the Japanese explanation of the benefits of reform and ways for devoloping countries to respond to it) is what will be reduced if the US keeps making unilateral demands. That makes more sense. Thanks Dwight. I couldn’t get my head around the way that was in list but contradicted what was said earlier in the sentence a bit.

      As for whether industry in Japan is pro- or anti- the TPP, that is one thing I’m watching for clues on. Nothing substantive from what I’ve read so far. Don’t know about you, but I really can’t tell which way the wind is blowing on that one yet.

      Personally, I didn’t read into the Fisco article that Japan was ready to cave on the TPP if it gets an opt out for agriculture subsidies — my view is that it suggests that Japan is hacked off with the whole US approach and is itself now taking a hard line on agriculture because that hard ball approach is what it sees the US doing.

      It will be fascinating to see where this all goes next. I just wish the stakes weren’t so high.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      The Japanese are world masters of bureaucratic gamesmanship. One of the things that they are best at is feigning cooperation while throwing sand in the gears. They smile pleasantly and do the least consequential 40% of what you asked them to do slowly, and have ready explanations as to why even that 40% is difficult to execute.

      Longwinded way of saying that Japanese delay is a death sentence.

  9. Chauncey Gardiner

    Really appreciate your post, Clive. Thank you! You captured me with the parsing of the language of the titles to these two agreements… so cleverly designed to facilitate their framing.

    Several weeks ago I contacted the office of my Congressional representative to express my opposition to “fast track” authority of these agreements. The email response under his name was basically that Congressional involvement in matters like this is an artifact of a bygone era and how important “TRADE” is to our region. There was no expressed awareness or acknowledgment about what this highly secretive document really is.

    Hope the State Department remains uninvolved, that this latest travesty is DOA, and that it is quietly put to sleep with no possibility of reawakening.

    1. Downunderer

      Thanks for quoting that statement from your Congressman, Chauncey Gardiner.

      I have long suspected that many officials who have publicly sworn an oath to the Constitution really do regard it as “an artifact of a bygone era “. But how many admit to this publicly?

      Precisely the same Constitution that gives him his only legitimate power and authority also assigns to Congress a very active role in the negotiation of treaties. He seems to want to cherry-pick the parts of the Constitution that he likes and ignore the rest.

      This man should be impeached, pronto, for false swearing and dereliction of duty.

  10. Sorcha

    Great job here, Clive!

    I certainly understand the benefits that would be gained for major multinationals, to our actual detriment. As the Big Ag business continues its globalization trend, for example Shuanghui’s recent Smithfield Foods US acquisition, one might consider how that fact may “throw a wrench” into the mix beyond the typical angst for Monsanto and Cargill, etc. players.

  11. ToivoS

    I was under the impression that TPP was part of Obama’s pivot to Asia policy. That was certainly a major strategic plan and SOS Clinton spent weeks in Pacific rim countries pushing that policy. If TPP and the pivot are linked then it would seem only natural that State would step in to iron out the wrinkles.

    It also seemed when the pivot was first announced that Japan responded quickly by escalating the dispute with China over the Sendaku Islands. If I read the news correctly the US sort of got cold feet and restrained itself from backing Japan too strongly. Maybe, the lack of State getting involved in TPP right now is recognition that the pivot to Asia might be more difficult than they first imagined. Perhaps Kerry is just too busy with all of those negotiations with Israel, Syria and Iran to pay much attention. That would be ironic. The US announced that we were going to reduce our involvement in the Mideast so we would have more energy to confront China directly in the Western Pacific. But we can’t do it because all of our energy is still being consumed in the Mideast.

  12. psychohistorian

    I guess I am more jaded than others. That said, thanks for the quality posting, Clive.

    I think that the TPP is a strong arm approach to get Japan as well as all the Asian and other countries back under the “capitalist” umbrella. I hope it fails but am not deluded to think that it is a slam dunk. I think Japan can easily be brought to heel. They still are a US protectorate, may become an unlivable location because of Fukushima quite soon and are having the same outsourcing issues as the US. I look at Japan as a Asian political tool of the US empire…..they are tweaking China’s nose currently because they are being told to do so by the US, IMO.

  13. JPT

    Excellent work here, Clive! Thanks for opening a window on a different perspective than is usually readily available in the US. I’ll be passing it on to lots of friends and family presently. Any issue with these sorts of multi-national/global implications deserves exactly the nuanced, multifaceted accounting that our media is practically designed to prevent, and you do us all a great service by filling in the gaps.

    If I might be so bold, there was one thing I’d wanted to add…

    At the end of your piece, you wrote: “TPP is only crass political payback by Obama for services rendered. Chief amongst those are the services supplied by the multinationals: significant campaign donations.” This is certainly possible, but my (barely) educated guess is that a gift as grand as TPP likely has less to do with paying back past donations than making a down-payment on future ones.

    I mean, it’s not as though that “Obama Global Initiative” is going to fund itself…

  14. Fiver

    Posted in error to Banger, above. This is for Clive.

    It’s widely accepted that the most contentious issues are not trade-related at all, as in treatment of the Internet, granting of obscene protections for corporations at the expense of the public interest in areas like food safety, environment, pharma drugs, water, fracking etc.

    Like everything else Obama, he approves it first, then has to find a way to walk it back over the broken bodies of his base, to a safe place to punt to Clinton.

    Re Japan:

    It would be a great mistake for Japan to sign this deal under any circumstances, but particularly so from the perspective of a strategic military alliance with the US. The last thing Japan needs is to allow itself to be manipulated by the US into paranoid enmity with China, or even to consider re-arming under the rubric of “the Chinese threat”. Nor is there any justification for constructing a “strategic” stranglehold on Chinese commerce and shipping down the road whether via a preferential commercial arrangement or any other means.

    That Japan is in a particularly vulnerable position vis a vis geography, resources, markets etc., is obvious. But the wrong way to assure future viability is to follow the US or Japan’s own worst instincts and make of China an enemy.

    Besides, Japan has a higher calling: to break the clean/cheap energy barrier and remake the world.

    1. Clive

      Yes, I concur Fiver about Japan needing to be very cautious in allowing itself to slide passively into becoming a US proxy in trying to curtail China.

      The US has got a lot of form here. In the cold war Britain was treated by the US — not entirely unwillingly — as an unsinkable aircraft carrier. A similar mentality operated in pre-Castro Cuba, maybe not quite so much militarily (although this was still a factor) but definitely in the sense of being a US outpost. I’m always amazed why so few people consider why Guantanamo is where it is.

      Trying to get Japan to act as a front line against China would certainly be consistent with historic US thinking.

      China of course has hardly helped here with the establishment of the Air Defense Identification Zone. If anything was certain to get the Japanese hot under the collar, that would be it.

  15. Steve Smith


    Thank you for your nuanced and exquisitely detailed evaluation of the current TPP trade talks.These “negotiations”have scared the hell out of me,after seeing the true results of NAFTA ,ect….[ I.E,the gutting of american manufacturing jobs]…NPR had a excellent “discussion”between one of our our local congress critters,Pete Defazio,Vs a mr.Koch.[Mr Koch faired not well at all]

    I will not be convinced it is dead however…Hillery might make peace w/ Wallstreet by giving them this treat…Some of those at the top take a longer view than those of use in the day-today struggle to keep the lights on ,and food on the table…….

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