Max Weber once described politics as the slow boring of hard boards, and this is an apt description of the continuing efforts of the advocates of a globalised capitalism to grind down all the obstacles that might be posed by democratic government.
The dominance of global capital has been greatly enhanced by trade agreements such as those establishing the World Trade Organization. But, over time, the WTO has been less and less able to avoid public scrutiny and popular resistance. Moreover, it has an unfortunate tendency to stick to the rules even when US business doesn’t like the outcome. So, we’ve seen a steady shift to bilateral deals, in which the US can dictate the terms.
The Free Trade Agreement with Australia was one example. But, as the case of the AUS FTA showed, things don’t always work perfectly. The US pharmaceutical industry, which had hoped to destroy Australia’s pharmaceutial benefit scheme (PBS), made only marginal progress, and attempts to encode the content of the failed Multilateral Agreement on Investment
The “Trans-Pacific Partnership” now being negotiated between the US and a number of countries on the Pacific Rim represents something of a pivot. From the US viewpoint, the basic idea is to combine all the bilateral agreements on a “levelling up” basis, wiping out all the concessions made in individual deals.
Surprisingly, the Australian government is showing some resistance to US attempts to bypass Australian courts in favor of investor-friendly arbitration. I contributed to a book on all this, called No Ordinary Deal. I’m not sure if it’s available outside Australia (previous link) and NZ but it’s well worth reading if you can get it.
My main point was that the political climate is at least as important as the legal text – the retreat of the WTO from its anti-environmental stance of the 1990s (exemplified by its equivocal endorsement of the legality of border tax adjustments in the context of carbon pricing) is one example, as is the case of the PBS in Australia