Jon Huntsman’s economic plan should dispel any rumors of his moderation. It eliminates the Earned Income Tax and the child tax credit to pay for a reduction of the top marginal tax rate to 23%. I don’t think I need to go any further. It’s a reverse-Robin Hood special. And he’s barely scraping past 1% in the polls, so there’s no need to discuss him, anyway.
I do want to highlight his section on trade, however, to make a point.
• Pass pending free trade deals with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.
• Push for new free trade agreements with Japan, India, and Taiwan.
• Support the Doha round of World Trade Organization talks.
At first glance, this looks like a doubling down on the Obama agenda, adding trade deals with some of Asia’s biggest countries to the pending deals on the table. But this isn’t a doubling down as much as a mirroring. In fact, the Obama Administration’s work in this space could be seen as even broader.
Next week in Chicago, the Administration kicks off the eighth round of Trans-Pacific free trade agreement talks with multiple Asian nations. The nine-day negotiation includes talks with Vietnam, Brunei Darussalam, Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand, Australia, Peru and Chile, but whatever comes out of the talks is intended to be a “docking agreement” to which larger nations in Asia and South America can sign up. That would include Japan, India and Taiwan; heck, it could include mainland China. This has been in the works for many years, and the Obama Administration has been negotiating since late 2009. The soft deadline for a Trans-Pacific FTA is November, just two months from now.
The President has made the excuse that the three pending trade deals were not his work, but remnants from the Bush Administration. You cannot say that about the Trans-Pacific FTA, although some work was done on it in 2008. If this come out looking all that different from the Korea, Panama and Colombia deals, or NAFTA for that matter, I’d be surprised. So far we don’t know; there has been no release of draft texts or anything about the negotiations. The only people with knowledge of the agreements are the hundreds of corporate executives who are “official trade advisors” and who will be present in Chicago.
Public Citizen writes that two of the nations participating in the talks have a questionable labor and human rights track record:
Two prospective Trans-Pacific FTA countries — Vietnam and Brunei — are undemocratic, and have serious and well-documented human and labor rights problems. With labor unions, human rights groups and many Democrats in Congress demanding the inclusion of enforceable labor standards in U.S. trade policy, Vietnam and Brunei’s participation in the FTA talks presents huge challenges for U.S. negotiators.
The State Department’s 2010 Report on Human Rights Practices noted that workers in Vietnam are prohibited from joining or forming any union that is not controlled by the government. On political freedoms, the State Department reported that, in 2010, “political opposition movements were prohibited. The government increased its suppression of dissent, arresting at least 25 political activists, convicting 14 dissidents arrested in 2008, 2009, and 2010, and denying the appeals of another 10 dissidents convicted at the end of 2009.”
In Brunei, there is virtually “no trade union activity in the country and there is no legal basis for either collective bargaining or strikes,” according to the International Trade Union Confederation.
Both these nations don’t want the inclusion of enforceable labor standards in these deals, and other countries like Malaysia agree. This is the Colombia FTA all over again.
Public Citizen is also concerned about access to medicine in the deal. A leaked text of part of the Trans-Pacific FTA includes language on intellectual property that would protect brand-name drugs with patent protections over generics for seven years. This goes beyond World Trade Organization standards. Eight Democratic members of Congress wrote to Ron Kirk opposing this measure, which would decrease access to medicine in countries that sign on to the agreement.
The most populous countries in the deal already have working free trade agreements with the US; this seems to be a way to build a “docking agremeent” that other countries will use as the basis for a deal. It would represent the working standard under which other countries would demand more concessions. It recreates NAFTA, only with a global scope.
Multiple civil society groups will hold a protest on the eve of the talks in Chicago, on Labor Day.
“We’re working to drag the trade negotiations out of the shadows and make some very basic demands around issues that are of crucial concern to people’s lives,” Lauren Cumbia, deputy director of Stand Up! Chicago, told reporters in a conference call. “The point is, people are going to be very active.”
Cumbia estimated between 500 and 1,500 activists would take part in a Sept. 5 Labor Day rally in Chicago’s Grant Park against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pact, followed by a march to the hotel where talks are set for Sept. 6-15.
They also plan to deliver 10,000 postcards to negotiators calling for strong labor and environmental provisions in the pact and language ensuring “respect for family farms” and the ability of poor people to have access to affordable life-saving medicine, she said.
This isn’t happening with much fanfare, but it goes far beyond what even Republicans believe is possible on trade. The resulting NAFTA copycat could be used virtually everywhere.