For those of you interested in learning more about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), this article by David Deyen in The American Prospect is must reading.  Among other things, Deyen does something I haven’t seen anybody else do: scrutinize the Office of the Special Trade Representative (STR), the cabinet-level body with responsibility for international trade and investment policy.   Like the advisory committees whose input has largely shaped the US negotiating positions for the TPP, the STR represents a cross-section of corporate America, but little else.  Deyen quotes Florida’s Rep. Alan Grayson, who is  surely not overstating by much:

Three kinds of people work at USTR. People who were corporate lobbyists, people who want to become lobbyists, and people who were lobbyists and want to become lobbyists again.”

The result is a TPP that showers corporate special interests with favors.   How could it be otherwise?

Indeed, I would make a broader point that Deyen doesn’t make.  In any US government negotiation of international economic relations, the preferences of American business will inevitably loom large.  Who, after all, knows more about international economic transactions than internationally active corporations?  So it’s entirely natural that the people called upon to formulate policy and the people advising them would be representative of the corporate world.  The path of least resistance for any administration, even a mildly progressive one like Bill Clinton’s or Obama’s, is to accept this as natural and necessary.  It’s just the way the world works.

But what is natural if not inevitable isn’t necessarily desirable.  And the interests of corporate America don’t necessarily conform–often do not conform–with the interests of the people of the United States or of the peoples whose governments will sign the TPP.

An  aggressively progressive administration would have worked very deliberately from the beginning to ensure a broader representation of interests in the personnel of the STR and the private sector committees that advise it.  It would have made clear to its business advisers that the main objective of the TPP wasn’t to make the world more hospitable to American business, but to reflect the broad goals of progressive public policy, including protections for the environment, for labor and for consumers.   That wasn’t going to happen, which is why we have the TPP that we have.





  1. RG June 9, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    You call Clinton and Obama progressives, but I’m not so sure. How do you define progressive?

    • tonygreco June 9, 2015 at 11:54 pm

      Maybe I was over-generous to Clinton. I think it would be fair to describe him as a centrist. Obama isn’t as progressive as some of his admirers and many of his enemies think, but on balance, I think my characterization as “mildly progressive” is sound.
      Defining “progressive” is tricky, because there is much that is relative. A progressive emphasizes the critical role of government in mitigating the endemic inherent problems of capitalism: its injustice and cruelty, its neglect of public goods, and its tendencies to instability. Now, certainly Clinton and even conservatives understand that government must play an important role, but it’s a matter of degree of emphasis. To my mind, when Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over” he pretty much renounced any credible claim to being a progressive.

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