A pig in a poke

I’m doing some work on the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, currently being negotiated in secret by diplomats and business representatives from 12 countries. Two facts of interest
(a) Australia’s Trade Minister Andrew Robb is claiming that a final agreement might be reached by mid-March. While this looks over-optimistic, it implies there is a near-final text
(b) Obama has sought “fast-track” negotiating authority, but there is no sign that this is going to happen soon, given that quite a few Democrats oppose the deal outright, and many Republicans are hostile to anything that would give Obama more authority.

The idea of “fast track” is that the Administration cuts a deal and Congress is bound (by having agreed to the fast-track rules) to give it a Yes/No vote, with no amendments. The assumption (I think) is that, if amendments were permitted, they would proliferate to the point where the legislation would fail to implement the agreement with other parties, who might then back out. Of course, the result is that Congress is, in effect, buying a pig in a poke. Given the unlikelihood of an outright rejection of such a massive deal, they have to accept whatever Obama puts before them. The flip-side is can no individual Congressperson has to explain why they didn’t seek protection for whatever local ox might be gored by the deal: they can respond that they had no choice.

My question is: Suppose that the final text is agreed and made public before fast-track authority is granted. What would be the chances of Congress agreeing to a Yes/No vote, and what difference would it make? There are a lot of issues to be raised here about international relations, trade agreements and US politics, none of which I have a clear feel for. So, I’d be interested to hear what others think.

28 thoughts on “A pig in a poke

  1. It’s hard to say if ratifying the TPP is a good thing without knowing the detail of what it says. My strong preference is for unilateral trade liberalisation rather than bilateral and multilateral agreements but that doesn’t mean I’d always oppose instances of the latter.

    In process terms most laws are drafted in relative secrecy before parliament gets a look in. I’m okay with that. However I would prefer a significant delay between proposed legislation passing a vote in the lower house and being up for a vote in the upper house. Say three months. That way public debate has a chance to get it’s boots on and identify concerns and publicise them. We make new laws with too much haste.

  2. @James Wimberley

    I just finished reading Naomi Klein’s highly disappointing book “This Changes Everything”. [1] One of the few good points about her book was that it highlighted a problem also highlighted in Justice French’s speech. Namely that these international trade agreements have already seriously impeded nations in their attempts to foster changes from highly polluting fossil fuels to renewable energy.

    Note 1. I call Naomi Klein’s book highly disappointing because it is;

    (1) Journalistic and anecdotal rather than scholarly;
    (2) Poorly organised;
    (3) Lacking an analytical backbone; and
    (4) Poorly written and prolix.

    It some ways it was well researched but Klein seems not to know how to organise her material or analyse it properly. The basic thesis is correct, namely that capitalism is systemically incapable of changing in the ways needed to prevent climate change. But Klein did not develop out any analytical understanding of why capitalism is incapable of making the necessary changes. Nor did she develop any analysis of how the system needs to change except for some rather vague statements about protests and public ownership.

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