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Will the RCEP Kill the TPP and Why You Never Heard of Either One

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(This is the first of two posts regarding an extremely dangerous free trade treaty, known as the Transpacific Partnership, that is being negotiated in total secret – and a new treaty, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, that China and some ASEAN nations are promoting)

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Unless you subscribe to Public Citizen or the Kucinich Report (from retiring Congressman Dennis Kucinich), you won’t have heard of the top secret trade negotiations related to the Transpacific Partnership (TTP), aka the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The TPP is a “free” trade agreement like NAFTA or GATT (the treaty which created the WTO) but much worse. A major goal of US multinational corporations for the TPP is to impose on more countries a set of extreme foreign investor privileges and rights and their private enforcement through the notorious “investor-state” system. This system allows foreign corporations to challenge, at international tribunals, health, consumer safety, environmental, and other laws and regulations that affect both domestic and foreign firms. If a corporation “wins”, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. (See Investment rules harm public health). Thus TPP will virtually obliterate the right of member countries to protect labor rights, enforce environmental and food safety standards and otherwise protect their citizens from amoral and rapacious corporate profit-seeking.

RCEP stands for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This is a newly proposed free trade treaty coming out of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at their recent summit in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). Negotiations on RCEP are expected to start in earnest in 2013 (see ASEAN leaders begin RCEP negotiations). Outside of the Asian and Australian press, the RCEP has been virtually invisible in the corporate media.

The New (Old?) Trade War with China

The most important difference between the two free trade treaties is that TPP excludes China, Japan and Korea. RCEP would include all fifteen Asia countries comprising ASEAN, plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and exclude the US (See post-US world born in Phnom Penh). In other words, half the world’s population.

Both Korea and Japan have been invited to join TPP but are waffling, owing to harsh TPP provisions that potentially undermine their sovereignty and their economies.

Obama has deliberately excluded China, the world’s second largest economy, from TPP. Why? Because the US is engaged in a trade war with China and doing everything possible to isolate China economically and militarily (see Trade war in the Pacific).

With many Asian countries, especially Korea, Japan and Thailand, showing a clear preference for the less restrictive RCEP, the President’s end run around China, Congress and the American public may have backfired.

The TTP Treaty is Classified

The main reason you haven’t heard of the TPP is that the text of the secret trade treaty being negotiated on your behalf is classified top secret. Even though 600 corporations are allowed online access to the entire text, access is denied to the public members of Congress. Moreover the draft treaty contains specific provisions prohibiting its release to citizens of member countries until three years after ratification. Fortunately enough of the text has been leaked for numerous Republican and Democratic members of the House and Senate (which must approve all treaties) to be extremely hacked off about being denied input into TPP provisions. While NAFTA and GATT were being negotiated, former President Clinton kept Congress fully informed and even allowed them limited input.

Enter Wikileaks

Kiwi antiglobalization activists are gearing up in a big way for the latest round of TPP negotiations that started December 3rd in Auckland. We wouldn’t know about TPP in New Zealand, either, if Nicky Haggar, one of our foremost investigative journalists, hadn’t visited Julian Assange in London in December 2010 (see Wikileaks cloak and dagger) just before he surrendered to the London police. As people will recall, Assange released hundreds of thousands of diplomatic cables just before he was taken into custody. He gave Haggar a preview of the US-New Zealand cables, which is how we learned of the conditions US corporations sought to impose on New Zealand as part of the TPP.

According to prominent antiglobalization attorney and activist Jane Kelsey, “The cables confirmed that US firms have our GM (genetic modification) regulations, restrictions on foreign ownership of land and mineral resources, and intellectual property laws, including Pharmac, squarely in their sights.” (see Wikileaks exposes government duplicity). Pharmac is the semi-autonomous government agency that negotiates bulk discounts with pharmaceutical companies for drugs used in New Zealand’s National Health Service.

The American public also has really strong reasons to oppose the TPP. According to Public Citizen, the new treaty is likely to move a million more US jobs overseas, further reduce government oversight of banks, ban Buy American policies designed to promote the greening of the US economy, flood the US with unsafe food and products, empower corporations to attack US health and safety standards and reduce or eliminate Americans’ access to cheap generic drugs. The Electronic Frontier Foundation believes TPP copyright provisions will lead to wholesale Internet censorship. Another big concern for antiglobalization activists worldwide is that specific TPP provisions would allow corporations to directly sue governments. Presently, under NAFTA, the WTO and bilateral free trade agreements, only governments can file suit against countries that supposedly interfere with the ability of their corporations to conduct business.

To be continued, with a discussion of TPP as a lynchpin of Obama’s anti-China strategy

Cross posted at The Most Revolutionary Act and Our Salon

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