Thursday, April 16, 2015– The United States Senate Committee on Finance met to discuss Tariff Policy in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Although there was some discussion on tariff policy, much of the hearing was a lead up to debate President Obama’s Congressional up-or-down vote on his Trade Promotion Authority or “Fast-Track.”
It may seem strange that Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s opening statement quoted the 4th paragraph of the 1941 Atlantic Charter:
“they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;”
Vilsack’s statement was probably a nod to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman’s controversial assertion in last year’s presentation to the Council on Foreign Relations where he traced Trade Promotion Authority to President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1934 Reciprocal Trade Agreement Act, that gave FDR the power to negotiate bilateral trade agreements without receiving prior congressional approval. Froman said that it was FDR that planted the seeds for today’s global trading system.
After Froman’s presentation, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, was quick to respond that, “Fast Track was first hatched by Richard Nixon, not FDR. And it only went into effect in the 1970s, not the 1930s.”
Technically speaking, Wallach may be correct in her response on specifics to that “Fast Track” partnership, but Froman was also correct in that the 1934 Recipricol Trade Agreement Act did authorize the President to enter into agreements with other nations for reductions of tariffs and other impediments to international trade and to put the reductions into effect through executive proclamation.
Since the 19th century, there have been a lot of international agreements made without Senate approval and Cornell Law has a good annotated site addressing the advance of executive agreements to trade and the historical revisions of Article II, Section 2 (The Executive shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties).
Vilsack’s statement, removed from the context of the Atlantic Charter and the idealism of the internationalism that led up to the formation of the United Nations, sounds more like a justification for perpetuating the economic hegemon that the rest of the world has had to endure over the last 60 years.
After FDR died in office, it was Truman who signed the UN Charter and dropped nuclear bombs on the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And it was Truman who forwarded the Economic Cooperation Act aka, the Marshall Plan to a world still reeling from the trauma of WW2.
To be clear, the Atlantic Charter (which I inserted below) is above all else a call to end colonialism. The Atlantic Charter was never a call for revising new colonial structures as a means to centralize and commodify the world’s raw materials to US controlled markets. This interpretation of economic multilateralism crept out of the neoliberal Washington Consensus, and the TPP has always sought to enshrine these Wall St. conspired global investment and trade rules.
Ever since the the TPP4 (Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partership) an exploratory pathfinder agreement signed between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore concluded– and which the US joined in 2009– it was clear that the TPP had more in common with Truman’s Economic Cooperation Act than any bilateral trade agreement.
In the TPP4, there is a section on Economic Cooperation (16.4) that shorthands the Marshall Plan:
“The aims of economic cooperation will be to build on existing agreements or arrangements already in place for trade and economic cooperation;” and… will encourage and participate in “stimulating and facilitating actions of public and/or private sectors in areas of economic interest including to explore opportunities in third markets.”
To continue to call the TPP a trade agreement ignores the fact that the TPP is an economic cooperation, not merely a trade agreement. Despite both Froman and Vilsack trying to allude to the idealism of mid-20 century internationalism, more and more we will begin to see the TPP for what it is– an aging bully waving his stick in the isolated corner of a schoolyard .
The Atlantic Charter
AUGUST 14, 1941
The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister, Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.
First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
Third, they respect the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them;
Fourth, they will endeavor, with due respect for their existing obligations, to further the enjoyment by all States, great or small, victor or vanquished, of access, on equal terms, to the trade and to the raw materials of the world which are needed for their economic prosperity;
Fifth, they desire to bring about the fullest collaboration between all nations in the economic field with the object of securing, for all, improved labor standards, economic advancement and social security;
Sixth, after the final destruction of the Nazi tyranny, they hope to see established a peace which will afford to all nations the means of dwelling in safety within their own boundaries, and which will afford assurance that all the men in all lands may live out their lives in freedom from fear and want;
Seventh, such a peace should enable all men to traverse the high seas and oceans without hindrance;
Eighth, they believe that all of the nations of the world, for realistic as well as spiritual reasons must come to the abandonment of the use of force. Since no future peace can be maintained if land, sea or air armaments continue to be employed by nations which threaten, or may threaten, aggression outside of their frontiers, they believe, pending the establishment of a wider and permanent system of general security, that the disarmament of such nations is essential. They will likewise aid and encourage all other practicable measure which will lighten for peace-loving peoples the crushing burden of armaments.