TPPA circling the drain

Written By: - Date published: 2:58 pm, May 13th, 2015 - 40 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, us politics - Tags: ,

As widely reported today, the TPPA has taken a probably fatal hit in the US Senate. As ever, thanks to Gordon Campbell for excellent coverage:

Gordon Campbell on the death knell for the TPP

It is unusual for anyone to vote for an early execution, but that’s effectively what President Barack Obama’s friends in the US Senate have just done by bringing forward a procedural vote related to the Trans Pacific Partnership. If all had gone well in Washington this morning, this so-called “cloture” motion would have stopped the TPP’s opponents from stalling and stone-walling, and would have enabled a Senate vote ( before the Senate rises on May 22 ) on whether to give Obama the “ fast track “ Trade Promotion Authority he needs to pass the TPP intact, and not expose it to the slow death of clause-by -clause votes and amendments put up by every legislator in Washington with an axe to grind.

Well, the White House gamble has failed, spectacularly. Obama not only failed to rally the 60 votes he needed to achieve cloture, he fell short by a wide margin. Only 52 Senators voted for it. Sure, the cloture vote was only a curtain –raiser. It was a vote on whether to talk about a TPA vote, rather than a vote on TPA itself. Yet it was supposed to flush out a bloc of Democrats who are (a) in favour of granting TPA powers and ( b) in favour of the TPP itself. It was supposed to generate momentum in the Senate, which has always been seen as the easier hurdle for Obama to clear on TPA, at least in comparison to convincing the House to bestow such powers. The reverse has happened. The TPA/TPP campaign has fallen at its very first, easiest hurdle.

Long time expert and opponent Prof Jane Kelsey:

US Senate Vote Dooms Fast Track for Now, and Potentially the TPPA

‘The future of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is now in doubt, following President Obama’s failure to secure Senate support to advance Fast Track authority to a full debate and vote in Congress’, according to Auckland University Professor Jane Kelsey, who monitors the negotiations.

‘Time was running out with TPPA ministers due to meet in Guam from 26 to 28 May where they hoped to close the deal’, Professor Kelsey said. A number of countries, notably Japan, have said they will not make any final commitments unless the US President has Fast Track authority.

Obama needed 60 votes in the Senate to progress the Bill to its next stage, but could only secure 52. His own party deserted him, including senior Democrats. … There is even less support for Fast Track in the House of Representatives, which suggests the measure is doomed for now.

I for one hope that the setback proves terminal for the TPPA. I’m not opposed to trade agreements in general, but (1) the terms of this one were being dictated by big business and kept secret from voters, (2) the sections that were leaked looked bad for NZ, and (3) I had no faith in our current government to negotiate effectively. So, if the TPPA is dead, good riddance.

40 comments on “TPPA circling the drain”

  1. shorts 1

    prediction – it’ll be back in another form sooner than later (hope to eat my hat over this prediction)

    outcome – millions and millions of dollars wasted by all countries involved

    winner – mini bar stockists in many of the worlds finer hotels

  2. Detrie 2

    Good riddance indeed. Still, the fat corporate cats will try again no doubt. They just need to get more US and offshore politicians on their private payroll…

  3. dukeofurl 3

    I thought the Senate democrats were really after some legislation over currency manipulation by countries like China.
    China wasnt in the TPPA but that was more important to them.

    I understand only one democrat supported the vote to continue but Senate leaders are saying get the currency deal and some other issues together and then you could be looking at a deal.

    It looks like this is the end of the beginning rather than the beginning of the end.

    There are about 8 democrats that normally vote to support trade deals who noted no, so they are close going from 52 up to 60.

  4. Tracey 4

    It had the full back of the Republican Party

    Doesn’t that just about say it all?

  5. Wayne 5

    I suspect we have not seen the last of the congressional maneuverings on this.
    I do not think Obama is just going to roll over and say “oh well, too bad – what the next thing.” He and his team have put a strategic value on TPP, and he will do more yet to get TPP across the line. No doubt many meetings yet in the halls of Washington.

    • Sable 5.1

      I don’t mean to sound crass but I’d describe Obama as a limp dick in a suit. An ineffectual corporate creature hated by those who believe in their country on both the left and right of US politics and rightly so.

      It was rumored he would have a hard time pushing this crony capitalism deal. Its good to see people fighting back. Long may it continue…..

    • Tracey 5.2

      Well the party that you would expect to oppose him, is backing him, that is a clue to his Democrat colleagues.

      I can really see why he and Key get on so well (according to Key anyway)

      • dukeofurl 5.2.1

        Key would suck up to anybody.

        But the vote was a procedural one, so it might get some republican defectors when the actual legislation comes up.

        national does the same here, they will vote for a private members bill they dont like at first reading and then kill it later.

        Just reading the next days news , looks like the the other trade and currency issues will be separate legislation , which if passed Obama will veto, which means the TPP will get past the procedural vote, if they hold it again ( revotes are very common). And then only face getting a bare majority to pass for the TPP.

        • Wayne

          Looks like a Fast Track deal is being done for a Senate vote tomorrow.

          As soon as I saw that the last vote was a procedural vote, I assumed the next step would be intensive negotiations to hammer something out that most senators could live with. Thats how they seem to play the game in Washington.

          We shall see how it goes.

  6. Quicksilver 6

    Premature to say this thing is dead. Please keep your guard up on this one folks. Thank you to the wonderful Prof Jane Kelsey for keeping ignoramus’ like myself up with the play on this dangerous attack on our sovereignty.

    • Tracey 6.1

      Democrats may trade off something else they want for their agreement to this…

      Mr Mapp is quite excited so we may all be in very big trouble.

      • Sacha 6.1.1

        Just as our govt will have traded off IP and such matters in exchange for minimal movement in other areas they care about more, like mulk powder.

  7. Sable 7

    I hope this is indeed the case. This is a vile agreement that would turn us into the banana republic National so desperately seems to want…..

    • Macro 7.1

      We are not a banana Republic – we are a milk powder Republic. Bananas do grow here – but not very well. Bananas require a minimum temperature of 18 degrees to ripen. However, as the North Island becomes more frost free in winter with the warming climate I’m sure we can become a banana Republic.

  8. Melanie Scott 8

    I thoroughly endorse Quicksilver’s praise of Jane Kelsey. Thanks very much prof. Your hard work and tenacity is much appreciated.

    • AmaKiwi 8.1

      The US legislative process is complicated so no doubt the pro-TPPA gang are scheming tactics to try again. But time is running out because the US presidential race is gathering momentum. Those candidates all want to promise “a brighter future,” not get mired down in an ugly, secretive big business deal.

      Jane you’ve done excellent work. Thank you.

  9. esoteric pineapples 9

    This govt time and again has shown itself to be appalling at any negotiating table at which it sits. Worst.Poker Players. Ever!

    • AmaKiwi 9.1

      How can you say that? Key plays golf with Obama and the Hollywood big shots and has tea with Liz Windsor at Balmoral.

      Surely that’s worth billions of our money.

  10. mac1 10

    Much joy here at this news at the Grey Power Annual General Meeting, since opposition to the TPPA is part of GP policy.

    Let’s hope that the procedural disquiet in the American Senate continues into the TPPA itself and we don’t have to be further concerned here in New Zealand.

  11. any gloating is/was premature..

    ..the democrats have now folded – and given obama the green-light..

    • McGrath 11.1

      Definitely back on.

      Though I’m surprised they voted it down in the first place.

    • Wayne 11.2

      Well, you say they folded. They (the Democrats) would say they got what they wanted. though presumably some will still vote “no”.

      As long as it is less than 40, thats fine by me.

      Being probably the only pro TPP commenter on The Standard (but not in New Zealand).

      After all most people will accept John Key’s opinion way ahead of Jane Kelsey’s.

      Jane was wrong on the China FTA, and she is wrong on TPP. If she had supported the China FTA, at least to some extent, I might be more inclined to listen to her views more carefully on TPP. But Jane seems to be against virtually every single trade liberalisation measure, from GATT, WTO, NAFTA, ASEAN FTA, most trade bilaterals. Maybe Jane does support the EU and CER, though in the latter case I am sure she would have opposed it at its initial inception.

      • Tracey 11.2.1

        Again you misrepresent her position, presumably wilfully. Her objection, which you well know, is mostly to the behind closed door investor resolution provisions, but that wrecks your smearing story doesn’t it.

        She gives a shit about NZ sovereignty, you give a shit about a small number of people making more money. If you didn’t you would be able to say, from all your research and experience of these matters, when the median wage earners and below can expect the flow on effects… you would be able to say why we can’t know about the provisions (to preserve our negotiation position you say) but our allies are spying on us and we on them for commercial/trade purposes so no one’s position is a secret from anyone else.

        [Scoop copy tppinvestment.pdf]

        It confirms that National has agreed to let foreign investors like Philip Morris, Pfizer, Warners, Exxon Mobil or Microsoft sue New Zealand for damages in private offshore tribunals, claiming that new laws or policies breach their rights under the agreement.

        “My preliminary analysis confirms the concerns raised by lawyers in a recent letter calling for the exclusion of investor’s rights to sue, and much more”, Professor Kelsey said.

        “Philip Morris confirmed on the weekend it will use so-called free trade treaties to challenge our smoke free laws. At present, it would need to find a backdoor way to use an existing agreement. This TPP text would throw open the front door to them and all the other US firms that want to block new laws they don’t like.”

        Almost half the investor-state disputes currently before the World Bank’s tribunal at present relate to oil, mining or gas projects.”

        If you read more here

        You will see exactly what she objects to, and it is not free-trade per se as Mr Mapp misrepresents. It is the loss of our lawmaking ability through actual (or the threat of) legal action from large companies.

        • Wayne

          Actually I know Jane’s position well enough that I know I am not misrepresenting it. She has been against virtually every FTA. Sure she highlights points that are of greater concern than other aspects, but her overall position of general opposition to free trade deals is very consistent.

      • Tracey 11.2.2

        “most people will accept John Key’s opinion way ahead of Jane Kelsey’s.”

        Which is sad when you consider our PM doesn’t read reports.

        You, sir , have never opposed a single FTA, on the basis of your logic, your views must be dismissed.

        But that would be a silly notion frm an educated adults. Some of your views can be challenged for being factually inaccurate and your inability to answer questions, no need to resort to politically smearing.

        • Tautoko Mangō Mata

          Wayne, are people who accept John Key’s opinion happy with the fact that USA will be writing some of our laws in the process that they call certification?

          ” US officials send the other country a list of the changes the US requires to its laws and regulations. They then monitor compliance, and keep the pressure on until they are satisfied. Sometimes they even become involved in drafting the other party’s laws to ensure they will meet US requirements. This intrusion is problematic enough when the US bases its argument on vague or ambiguous provisions and terms – which is a common method of reaching a final agreement. On many occasions, the US has required other countries to comply with what the US says was agreed, even if that is not written in the text and there is no independent evidence to support its interpretation.”

        • Wayne

          In my view free trade is one of those issues where you can either be on the wrong side of history or on the right side.

          And in my view the far left is on the wrong side. I use far left here because many moderate left people favour free trade. And by free trade I mean according to the conventional standards as sett out in GATT and WTO.

          The Greens for instance say they favour fair trade, which seems to mean trade that is not free, with selective tarriffs and various trade protection regimes. In my view that is not free trade.

          It is hardly unreasonable to point out that Jane’s viewpoint on many issues is typically pretty left wing. It is simply a fact and she would not deny it.

          At least she doesn’t seem to be a Key hater, she simply has a different view to him.

          • Tracey

            Why did you post that as a reply to me when it didnt address a single thing I wrote?

            You didnt write that she is left wing (not once – see above) and as such her opinion is wrong, you wrote that she always opposes FTA’s so her opinion is of less value/reliance.

            And yet again you lump the TPP into all previous Free Trade Agreements perpetuating the lie that the TPP is just another FTA when to the educate dit patently is not, but you seem happy to perpetuate that falsehood to “win” your argument.

            You know (don’t you?) that the TPP is not a FTA and not like FTA’s we have joined.

            You also seem to be struggling to address this question:

            “why we can’t know about the provisions (to preserve our negotiation position you say) but our allies are spying on us and we on them for commercial/trade purposes so no one’s position is a secret from anyone else”

            You can take the man out of politics but not the politics out of the man.

            PS If it werent for folk like Professor Kelsey we would know far less about TPP than we do.

          • Colonial Rawshark

            In my view free trade is one of those issues where you can either be on the wrong side of history or on the right side.

            History is written by the winners of the struggles between the elite and the powerful. Those winners don’t usually give any serious consideration to the million Mexican farmers dispossessed by NAFTA, the hundred thousand US plants closed down by outsourcing to China, or the Union Carbide executives who collected their bonuses and golden parachutes after poisoning thousands of Indians to death.

          • Tautoko Mangō Mata

            Wayne, TPPA is more of a set of rules written by corporates than a free trade agreement. Has any cost benefit analysis been done for NZ on the TPPA to show that the benefits would outweigh the costs? Why are the medical profession, nurses, teachers, environmentalists opposed to the TPPA? Your argument is because they are left wingers. You don’t consider the issues raised by these groups. How can this be called a Free Trade Agreement when we will pay more for medicines with longer patents, be sued if we make laws that would improve the health of our citizens but which might depress the market for sugary drinks, risk costly oil spills because our country couldn’t afford to protect our environment from litigious oil companies?

          • greywarshark

            Wayne’s Whine.

          • Macro

            There is a huge difference Wayne between what is fair trade and what is free trade. Free trade is not necessarily fair frade. The “far left” as you call us, is not opposed to trade per se – we just want it to be fair. Unfortunately many free trade agreements are agreements that favour the wealthy in societies. To open our borders to cheaper goods from overseas merely exports jobs from our country overseas. You may say well we need to be “competitive” ie we need to lower our price. The effect is a lowering of wages to level of the overseas supplier. It is a spiral to the bottom. All to the good of the wealthy of course. You see there are very valid reasons why those who aspire to social justice, and a fair deal for all, are not all that enamoured with “free trade” deals.

      • Grant 11.2.3

        Wayne. Perhaps you’d care to do some critical analysis of Joseph Stiglitz’ response to the TPPA. Seems to me that Kelsey keeps some heavy hitting intellectual company on this matter.

      • Jan Rivers 11.2.4


        Do you advocate the kind of ISDS tribunal currently being undertaken by Oceana Gold, a mining company active in New Zealand against the government of El Salvador described in this article or do you see a class of legitimate cases that these would address?

        I don’t think anyone in the National Party has demonstrated how NZ will be at no risk from such punitive and anti-democratic action given that they are

        A) increasing in number
        B)subject to developing case law (or the existing decisions of commercial lawyers
        C) are likely to have a chilling effect on future government action.

      • Draco T Bastard 11.2.5

        But Jane seems to be against virtually every single trade liberalisation measure, from GATT, WTO, NAFTA, ASEAN FTA, most trade bilaterals.

        Yeah, there’s a good reason for that. FTAs fuck over the poor so as to enrich the already rich.

      • The Murphey 11.2.6

        Q. Have you had access to the full text Wayne ?

        Q. Why do you keep using the term `free trade` ?

        Q. Corporations suing governments in private sessions acceptable to you ?

        Q. What’s the chatter at the lodge ?

  12. ianmac 12

    Damn! Phil reports that the Democrats have caved in to the demand to go ahead with TPPA.

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