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Trans Pacific Partnership Bad for the Middle Class, but How Bad? UPDATED

What you don’t know can hurt you. I think that’s a clear lesson of some so-called trade agreements the United States has signed over the last 20 years, and illustrated further by the few that have been defeated, most notably the Multilateral Agreement on Investment, negotiated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development from1995 to 1998, but then abandoned in the face of ever growing protests.

Haven’t heard of the Trans Pacific Partnership? That’s no surprise: while the negotiations are not really being conducted in secret (the Office of the US Trade Representative provides periodic updates here), the level of disclosure from the USTR office rarely ventures beyond bland statements like this:

On November 12, 2011, the Leaders of the nine Trans-Pacific Partnership Countries – Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States – announced the achievement of the broad outlines of an ambitious, 21st-century Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that will enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth, and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs.

The USTR website continues by claiming that the agreement will be “increasing American exports, supporting American jobs.” This is all too similar to the Clinton administration’s reporting on NAFTA, which would point out all the gains from increased exports while omitting any mention of increased imports (Journal of Commerce, Nov. 18, 1994, via Nexis, subscription required) which quickly turned a small trade surplus with Mexico into a huge trade deficit. Recent evidence suggests this may already be happening with Korea (thanks to Daniel Becker in private correspondence).

How do we evaluate the TPP? We have to see it as having at least three major elements: a trade agreement, an investment agreement, and an intellectual property agreement.

From the trade agreement alone, we can conclude that it is a bad deal for the middle class. As I explained last year, the Stolper-Samuelson Theorem in economics tells us that more trade is actually bad for labor in this country, because by global standards, the U.S. is labor-scarce (low population density), meaning that we expect trade to lead to more intense competition in labor-intensive goods, putting downward pressure on wages. Alas, that isn’t the end of it.

There is a lot of controversy about the investment side of the agreement. As discussed here by Daniel Becker, the investment chapter was leaked and published by the Citizens Trade Campaign. Before I discuss the TPP investment provisions, a little context on investment agreements first.

According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD),at the end of 2011 there were 3190 international investment agreements, of which 2860 were between two countries, usually known as bilateral investment treaties or BITs. Investment agreements can also be part of larger agreements, such as the investment chapter of NAFTA, the WTO’s Agreement on Trade-Related Investment Measures (TRIMS), and various regional trade agreements. Since the TRIMS agreement, in force since 1995, applies to all WTO members, it is a global benchmark; thus, people will refer to agreements with stronger provisions as “TRIMS+.”

The purpose of investment agreements is to protect foreign investors, which are by definition multinational corporations (MNCs). At the same time, they place no corresponding duties on investors, only on the host government. Most significantly, these agreements remove dispute settlement from the host country’s court system to binding arbitration in an outside body, most commonly the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID). As with domestic arbitration clauses, this removal from the courts favors the business interests involved. So the investment agreement element of the TPP will tend to be bad for host governments (the U.S. is host to more foreign investment than any other potential TPP country) and by extension the middle class.

But “how bad” is the question. This depends on what restrictions the agreement puts on governments. Originally, MNCs wanted to be protected against having their property nationalized (“expropriated”) by the host, but more recent agreements such as NAFTA’s investment chapter (Chapter 11; text here) have opened the way to defining “expropriation” in ways that include regulatory actions that may reduce the value of the investment, even if they are non-discriminatory among firms and taken in the public interest. This is why I say above that investment agreements are bad for the middle class, because it normally benefits from public interest regulation.

For these reasons, there is in fact significant pushback regarding the content of investment agreements. Three good sources for this are UNCTAD, the Vale Columbia Center on Sustainable International Investment, and the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

So what’s in the TPP investment chapter? As far as I can tell, nothing that isn’t already in NAFTA, other U.S. free trade agreements, or a U.S. bilateral investment treaty. The problem is, that’s bad enough. Under NAFTA, for example, Metalclad won a dispute against Mexico over a local government’s refusal to grant it a permit to open a hazardous waste facility, and was awarded $16.7 million. Ethyl Corporation successfully challenged a Canadian ban on the import of gasoline additive MMT, leading Canada to withdraw the ban and pay the company $13 million in compensation. To have unelected bodies that (in the words of Citizens Trade Campaign) “would not meet standards of transparency, consistency or due process common to TPP countries’ domestic legal systems” overturning democratically adopted laws or regulations is profoundly undemocratic.

At the same time, I think Becker reads a little too much into some of the language. He quotes section 12-6bis (Becker’s emphasis):

Notwithstanding Article 12.9.5(b) (Non-Conforming Measures, subsidies and grants carveout), each Party shall accord to investors of another Party, and to covered investments, non-discriminatory treatment with respect to measures it adopts or maintains relating to losses suffered by investments in its territory owing to armed conflict or civil strife.

 He goes on to speculate that this could give rise to compensation claims due to interpreting protests against the Keystone pipeline, or even strikes, as “civil strife.” However, the exact same language is in NAFTA’s investment chapter, and there have been no such claims in its entire history. Moreover, this is what we would expect since the language only pertains to government behavior (“it adopts”), not private behavior.

So, that’s two strikes against the agreement. The third strike is intellectual property, something Matt Yglesias caught over a year ago. As I analyzed then, the TPP “would ban government health services from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies.” Given that many countries already do this and the U.S. ought to do it to help rein in health costs, if these provisions stay in the final agreement it will be a very bad development.

Hooray for baseball season, but that’s three strikes against the TPP. This is a bad deal that will put further downward pressure on real wages which have gone 40 years since reaching their peak, that will undermine governments’ ability to regulate, and will strengthen a small group of pharmaceutical, software, entertainment, and publishing companies at the expense of the rest of us.

Update: Citizens Trade Campaign reports that  the U.S. has listed numerous target policies among its TPP negotiating partners, including everything from health care policies in New Zealand to Malaysia’s ban on imports of pork and alcohol, both of which are forbidden to the Muslims who make up the majority of the population.

Original article cross-posted at Middle Class Political Economist.

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Courts and intellectual property rights

Caught from the Washington Post…and also interesting knowing theTrans Pacific agreements allowing multinational CEOs and firms to sue in domestic courts:

Apple patents were violated by Samsung, jury rules
Apple won a sweeping victory in its landmark patent dispute against Samsung when a Silicon Valley jury ruled Friday that a series of popular smartphone and tablet features — from the rounded rectangle shape to the way screens slide and bounce to the touch — are proprietary Apple innovations.

Tokyo court finds no Samsung infringement on Apple patent in latest in global battle
A Japanese court on Friday dismissed Apple’s patent infringement claim against Samsung, a significant legal bounceback for the South Korean tech giant as the rivals wage a global battle over intellectual property. A Tokyo District Court ruled in a preliminary session that Samsung didn’t violate patents with its technology for synchronizing music and video between computers and smartphones or tablets. The ruling, the latest in a series of lawsuits and counter-lawsuits spanning at least nine countries and four continents, comes one week after a U.S. court dealt Samsung a costly defeat that could lead to an injunction against some of its devices. Samsung shares rose after the Friday verdict, helping the company recover from sharp losses earlier in the week, reports Chico Harlan:

Chinese firms put intellectual property lawsuits to work
U.S. companies have long accused the Chinese of stealing their intellectual property. But now some in China are pointing the finger back. In recent months, Apple has been slapped with lawsuits in China alleging that the most valuable company in U.S. history is infringing on patents and trademarks with a range of its products, from the iPhone voice assistant Siri to the Snow Leopard operating system. Many U.S. firms are used to accusing the Chinese of mimicking their products. But the lawsuits being filed in Chinese courts are evidence of a growing awareness in this country that intellectual property can be a valuable tool — for protecting your ideas and for squeezing money out of other companies, too, reports Jia Lynn Yang:

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World Trade Organization ruling, IMF to rule

rdan

The New York Times carries a story that is actually probably of more import than Fed announcement of not renewing the Treasury Bond program.

Wednesday’s ruling goes to the heart of one of the biggest trade issues pending between China and the West: whether intellectual property, like copyrighted songs, books and movies, should be granted the same kind of protection from discriminatory trade practices as manufactured goods.

In its petition to the W.T.O., the United States particularly criticized China’s requirement that most copyrighted material be imported through a few government-designated companies, which tend to be wholly owned or majority-owned by the government.

The panel condemned this, saying in its report that “it also appears that foreign individuals and enterprises, including those not invested or registered in China, are accorded treatment less favorable than that accorded to enterprises in China with respect to the right to trade.”

China in particular has been an enthusiastic supporter of the W.T.O. since its admittance in 2001, because the group’s free-trade rules have made it hard for other countries to impose antidumping and antisubsidy limits on Chinese exports. But the Chinese government has not removed heavy taxes on imported auto parts that were condemned by another W.T.O. panel in July 2008.

Economic planners in Beijing have ordered government agencies not to buy imported goods for the country’s nearly $600 billion stimulus program except when no domestically produced goods are available. The government has set high domestic content requirements for the wind and solar power industries, and has rejected bids even by multinationals that erected factories in China to supply the local market.

The panel stopped short of endorsing an American requests for a ruling on whether Chinese censorship had unfairly restricted imports. The panel said that this question was outside its purview; for the same reason, the panel also declined to rule on whether China’s approval processes were too onerous for would-be distributors of imported entertainment.

Another example of a trade issue is noted that is recurring as well:

As the International Trade Commission considers comments on its recommendation to impose tariffs on Chinese tire imports, President Obama stands at a crossroads in the fight to rebuild the American economy.

President Obama has made a commitment in the past to uphold previously signed trade agreements. China, however, is violating these agreements by flooding the market with a massive 300 percent increase in tire imports in an attempt to wipe out American tire manufacturers. In 2004, China sent 14 million tires to the U.S. valued at $453 million. By last year, that had increased to 46 million tires valued at $1.7 billion.

This affects Canada as well, since many tires are made up north. Is the climate different enough from ‘no tariffs’ days to make for a different response? How does a trade policy respond to deal with these issues as we make adjustments in people’s livelihoods? What are the rules of this market situation?

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