Plenty of negatives have emerged from the ongoing presidential campaign: open bigotry has become more acceptable than it’s been for decades, foul language is more fashionable and so are pantsuits, and much more.
But one big positive also stands out. As now written, the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement is probably dead. And the way it’s now written is the only version that that counts for now, because sometime in the next few months, Congress must vote it up or down — no amendments allowed.
Unless it’s voted on in the December “lame duck” session of Congress — where the votes of folks voted out in November still count — this pet agreement of President Obama’s is virtually dead. The booing the treaty got whenever mentioned at both Democratic and Republican national conventions last summer gave some notion how unpopular this agreement has become. It may be safe for folks departing Congress to vote for it, but not anyone who hopes for reelection two years from now after some TPP provisions would begin to bite.
Yes, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton at one time supported it. She says she took another look and now wants it defeated. The flip-flop, she says, stemmed from a more detailed reading of the treaty. It also came after a hot campaign by Vermont Sen. Bernard Sanders which made the TPP a major negative talking point.
Meanwhile, Republican nominee Donald Trump denounced the treaty as “insanity,” adding that it greatly favors China — even though China is not a party to it.
So this agreement is almost certainly a campaign casualty, a big change from when its passage was rated as very likely.
Its demise will be well deserved, for TPP — whose text was secret through years of haggling among 12 nations (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the USA) has virtually all the negatives of the North American Free Trade Agreement, better known as NAFTA, while adding no discernible new advantages for America.
Not only would this agreement likely send many thousands of American jobs abroad, just as labor leaders — and Trump — contend NAFTA has done, but like that treaty, it includes a key feature infringing mightily on America’s very sovereignty.
This takes the form of an international tribunal of lawyers from a variety of countries that’s empowered to override some laws of member countries and even to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court.
That has happened before in cases involving everything from dolphin-safe tuna fishing off Southern California to this state’s rules on gasoline additives, and it’s happening right now, with Canadian lawyers using NAFTA to challenge Obama’s right to cancel the once-planned Keystone XL pipeline project because denying the project could cost jobs in Canada.
That claim might be correct. But denial of the project also might prevent huge oil spills in pristine countryside and forests, not to mention spoilage of vital farmland.
Even if the Canadian oil industry is right about lost jobs and even if there would be few or no negative Keystone consequences in this country, the very fact that another country can go outside the U.S. legal system with impunity on an issue vital to many Americans is just plain wrong. And by itself enough to merit killing the new treaty.
But just because this agreement should be voted down in its present form doesn’t mean it must stay dead. The same negotiators who met secretly for almost five years to produce the present text now know what Americans dislike about their work product. They can rewrite it to leave American sovereignty intact. They can make it more protective of American workers and their jobs. And then bring it back for another vote.
For some kind of treaty among the 12 nations in on this one — or at least most of them — might be an effective counter to China’s increasing trade power in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.
While opposition to the current treaty resonates with working class voters eagerly courted by Clinton and Trump, an improved agreement might actually help them.
And that might be enough to gain back both Republican and Democratic votes in Congress lost to the presidential politics of 2016.
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Elias is author of the current book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated second edition. His email address is email@example.com.