TPP update – watch out for last-minute negotiations in the next few weeks

When we last left the TPP, it was on life support.

That was waaaay back in early August, when supposedly final negotiations in Hawaii completely broke down over fairly major differences. This gave hope to folks like me who have long been terrified of this insidious “trade” agreement.

(For some background on the Trans Pacific Partnership, see my summary here.)

But just as zombies are hell-bent on devouring brains, international corporate interests are hell-bent on extracting profits and rents wherever they can, and so the pressure to get a deal done – and soon! – is relentless.

Part of the big rush is related to Canada’s upcoming election; negotiators seem determined to seal the deal before we go to the polls October 19th. For the life of me, I’m not sure what they’re worried about; as Green Party candidate Paul Manly points out, the Big Three Parties are uniformly in favour of this sovereignty-destroying, regulation-eroding, wage-suppressing calamity of a treaty. Regardless of this election’s outcome, Capital will get what it wants out of these negotiations.

Another major component of the time pressure has to do with next year’s US election. Due to arcane Senate rules, any treaty must wait several months before receiving approval, meaning a deal must be sealed within the next few months to avoid running into the heavy-duty American election season, when nothing of substance can get done because the parties become completely incapable of cooperating.

(And we trust these people to make decisions on our behalf?)

Over the past week, negotiators from Mexico, Japan, Canada, and the United States met in Washington to try to resolve outstanding disputes surrounding the auto sector. But it seems that they weren’t able to resolve their differences, at least according to this Japan Times article:

In the latest working-level talks in Washington, which through Friday, Japan, the U.S., Canada and Mexico discussed rules of origin to determine how much auto parts produced in the envisioned TPP free trade region need to be used in finished vehicles for them to enjoy tariff cuts or elimination.

The local content rules would directly affect employment in auto parts industries and therefore are a politically important issue, negotiations said.

“We had constructive discussions, but have yet to reach a consensus. We will continue working,” Takeo Mori, Japan’s ambassador for economic diplomacy told reporters after the four-way meeting.

And while the Japanese at least seem to be holding out hope for the process, there’s reason to be doubtful:

Tokyo had hoped that the automotive talks among Japan, the U.S., Canada and Mexico would make progress and provide an impetus to negotiations on other sensitive issues. However, the four countries failed to produce solid results.

If the next TPP ministerial meeting is pushed back beyond the Oct. 19 general election in Canada, the overall TPP negotiations among the 12 countries could be put on hold due partly to Canada’s work to form a new Cabinet after the election, sources said.

The 12 countries are accelerating work to arrange the next ministerial session while taking political schedules and other factors in each nation into consideration, but the efforts could run into trouble.

In short, if a deal doesn’t get done in the next month or so, it’ll likely be 2017 – or later – before the TPP gets ratified. Hence the shuttle diplomacy in Washington over auto regulations.

Even if the auto parts issue could be satisfactorily resolved, that would still leave the major contentions between New Zealand (acting on behalf of international dairy conglomerate Fonterra) and Canada over the latter’s system of supply management and dairy quotas. This debate is unfolding amidst a global milk glut which is driving down prices internationally and would seem to strengthen the case for quotas, as even Bloomberg concedes.

Speaking of New Zealand, activists down there have the right idea about this bullshit agreement. Last month around twenty five thousand of people took to the streets demonstrating against the TPP in cities across New Zealand – something I have a hard time imagining happening here, where most Canadians have never heard of the deal. Today in Wellington – perhaps literally as you’re reading this – protestors organized under the name “Show Us Ya Text” are marching on New Zealand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade to (non-violently) seize the text of the TPP. So solidarity with the folks in New Zealand trying to raise a ruckus about this awful treaty – your government may be trying to screw us over, but they’re also trying to screw you over. We’re all in this one together.

Given how high the stakes are and how close the deal is to slipping away, I have a funny feeling that we’re going to see some desperate last-minute negotiations. And if Harper slips in the polls, it wouldn’t be surprising if he thought that cobbling together a “major trade deal” in the final weeks of the election campaign was the path to victory. Never mind about what’s actually in the damn thing – the public won’t get to read it, by some accounts, until four years after it’s ratified.

If you’re attending all-candidate meeting or if you get your door knocked by canvassers, please consider bringing up the TPP. And for all our sake, don’t vote for any candidate who supports this terrible deal. Meanwhile, watch out for a hastily-thrown-together negotiating marathon sometime within the next two to three weeks. There’s too much potential profit on the table for the major players in this negotiation to let this opportunity slip away.

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