Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Socialist planning the alternative to capitalist free trade

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The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was signed in New Zealand last month by its twelve member countries in the Asia Pacific region: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, United States, Singapore, Japan and Vietnam.

The TPP is set to be the biggest trade deal in history as the member countries account for 40% of the world’s economy and more than 800 million people. While this trade agreement is being presented as a good thing to ordinary people, in reality it is a tool designed to protect the profit interests of big business.

Before the TPP capitalist governments have used other “free trade” agreements to extend the influence of big business and to subject weaker economies to bigger powers.

One of the clearest examples is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which led to the outsourcing of millions of US and Canadian jobs to Mexico. At the same time Mexico’s corn industry has been destroyed by cheap government-subsidised corn from US agribusinesses.

Some commentators have described the TPP as “NAFTA on steroids”. The TPP will weaken basic food safety protections as well as affordable medicine and environmental policies. Multinational corporations will be given the right to sue governments in unaccountable private tribunals for compensation from taxpayers for policies that result in projected profit losses.

Under NAFTA, the chemical corporation Ethyl sued the Canadian government because it had voted to ban a harmful gasoline additive, MMT. The company won $15 million and are now able to sell gas with MMT. Corporations have already collected hundreds of millions of dollars by suing governments, usually in developing countries, under existing treaties.

The TPP agreement would also have extensive negative ramifications for internet users’ freedom of speech and right to privacy. In particular this would be used to protect the profits of big media through the restriction of file sharing on the internet. Activists and whistle blowers will also face increasing risks resulting from online activity.

Most importantly the TPP is essentially the economic arm of the US’s “pivot to Asia”. The US see the TPP as an economic alliance aimed at containing the rise of China in the region. Obama has said that the TPP will allow “America and not countries like China to write the rules of the road in the 21st century”.

The TPP alongside the US’s plan to shift 60% of its naval power to the region by 2020, and Japan’s decision to change the law to allow participation in foreign conflicts, highlight the plans of the US and their allies.

With big business and imperialist interests clearly at the heart of the TPP it is no wonder that many governments are having trouble selling the agreement to ordinary people. The Obama administration signed into law “Fast Track” authority to avoid any debate or amendments to the TPP last year.

In Australia the government has repeatedly refused to submit the details of the deal to the Productivity Commission as a way of avoiding any independent scrutiny of the deal.

Although the agreement is signed, it still needs to be implemented by the twelve respective governments. Given that it is shrouded in secrecy and includes a raft of draconian measures, it is likely that the implementation of the TPP will provoke people and lead to some resistance.

In some countries there have already been protests against the TPP but disappointingly some opponents of the TPP have sought to confine their campaigns to defence of “national sovereignty” and “democracy”. These limited demands give the impression that it is possible for ordinary people to collaborate with the national ruling class to stop the TPP.

This is not the case as the various national governments that have signed the agreement have always been unashamed representatives of big business rule and have consistently allowed for the plunder of public resources by local and international capitalists alike.

To really defeat the big business interests behind this deal working class people from all countries need to unite against both nationalism and capitalism. Workers from different countries have more in common with each other than they do with exploiters and profiteers in their own countries.

Ultimately the struggle against the TPP is a struggle against the vicious profit-driven system of capitalism. Instead of big business trade agreements socialists fight for a democratically planned world economy that bases itself on human need rather than profit.

By Tim Tran


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