Friday, June 12, 2015

Why does Obama want the trade deals?

And why these trade deals on these specific terms? His reasoning and negotiating stance are opaque. This is never a good place to be on anything, especially if you are President.

Here's William Finnegan in the New Yorker:
Nearly every constituency in the Democratic Party opposes it; and the more they learn about it, the more they oppose it. And yet their leader, Obama, wants it badly.
But why? Maybe it’s a better agreement—better for the American middle class, for American workers—than it seems in the leaked drafts, where it appears bent to the will of multinational corporations. John Kerry, the Secretary of State, and Ashton Carter, the Secretary of Defense, co-authored a column on Monday in USA Today arguing, in evangelical tones, that the T.P.P. will usher in a glorious new era of American-led prosperity, a “global race to the top” for all parties. Meanwhile, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. sees only a race to the bottom. Organized labor, by all accounts, plans to punish any elected Democrat who supports the T.P.P., or even supports fast-track for Obama, in the next campaign. It’s difficult, again, to evaluate the agreement when we can’t see it. And it will be difficult for Congress to do its job if its members can’t study each part of the many-tentacled T.P.P. on its merits, but must simply vote yes or no on the whole shebang. What’s the rush? Is it simply Obama’s wish to make his mark on history and to complete his pivot toward Asia before his time is up? Politicians are often accused of supporting pro-corporate policies to please wealthy backers, looking toward the next campaign. That can’t be Obama’s motive now.
And John Cassidy:

On one of the specific issues Warren raised, about whether the trade deal could be used to undermine the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial reform act, Obama might be right, although we’ll have to take it on trust; the text of the provisional agreement is classified. (When Senator Barbara Boxer went to inspect it in a secure room at the Capitol, a guard told her she couldn’t take notes.) A number of legal experts, however, including Yale’s Judith Resnik and Harvard’s Laurence Tribe, have raised similar concerns to the ones Warren expressed, warning that the T.P.P. could allow corporations and investors to challenge the laws and policies of member countries, including the United States, outside the scope of their existing legal system. In a recent letter to congressional leaders, the experts referred to a known provision of the T.P.P., which would see disputes resolved not by the courts but by a new conflict-resolution panel, the prospective makeup of which is far from clear. This panel “risks undermining democratic norms because laws and regulations enacted by democratically elected officials are put at risk in a process insulated from democratic input,” they warned.
President Obama hasn’t addressed all of these concerns, and he has also failed to provide much backing for his assertion that the T.P.P. would be beneficial to the middle class. The most widely quoted study of the deal’s likely effect, which was carried out by three economists associated with the pro-free-trade Peterson Institute for International Economics, found that its impact would be modest. By 2025, the study said, the deal would boost over-all U.S. income by about 0.4 per cent of G.D.P. If this is accurate, the new trade deal won’t have much effect either way on American incomes.
But that isn’t the full story. In an important recent paper, Josh Bivens, of the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute, pointed out that estimates like the one produced by the Peterson Institute don’t take into account the distributional aspects of trade agreements. The traditional argument for free trade is that it reallocates resources, workers included, to their most productive uses, and that this causes over-all income and output to rise. But this churning process doesn’t only create winners, such as consumers who can buy lower-cost imported goods. It also creates losers, such as the Maytag-plant workers in Illinois and many others who make things that poorer countries can produce more cheaply because they have lower wages.

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