Curtain Raiser

Pulling Strings for a Bad Accord, Colltalers

Some 20-plus years ago, the concept of globalization had all the bells and whistles of a new promising era for humankind, one of elimination of political and physical barriers for all nations to congregate and share resources and riches equally.
A flurry of intercontinental trade agreements were soon envisioned, so to guarantee the free flow and access to goods and knowledge, already enjoyed by those living at the center of the developed world, for those living in its outskirts. Or so went the rationale behind these accords. On the surface, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) seems to follow just the same credo.
By now, we all should’ve known better, though. A considerably harsher reality had already settled in, even before the dawn of the new century. Behind such a rosy prospect of a truly global democracy, corporations and governments were busy making sure that their commercial interests would supersede those of developing nations’ regional, ethnic, and cultural needs and differences.
What’s now clear is that much of what globalization’s done is to consolidate an already unbalanced world, where permanently impoverished economies, and their starving masses, enslaved themselves to the benefit of those perennially perched at the top.
There’s no reason to believe that the TPP accord, now being pushed by the Obama administration, will be any different. Red flags went up already about its secrecy, as no full version of the agreement has been officially disclosed so far.
To be sure, the 12 countries engaged on the TPP signature – Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S., and Vietnam – represent a wide swath of diverse interests and social-economic clouts.
But that doesn’t mean that they and their neighbors won’t be affected in unequal ways, which may explain why its architects have kept everyone but a precious few in the dark about its content and implications. Take intellectual property, for instance.
As the always vilified (guess by who) Wikileaks has leaked a draft of provisions on the subject, grassroots organizations are truly alarmed with the prospect of its approval, since it seems to unfairly benefit big pharmaceutical laboratories, the entertainment, and broadcast industries, plus assorted conglomerates, and negatively affect free speech and due legal process.
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the Justice and Commerce departments, have been criticized for their attempt to strong arm already powerful commercial partners, giving them the ability to go after small governments and independent organizations for royalty rights violations, based on laws and regulations they have written themselves.
Among a range of issues, concern about the TPP is greater over access to medicines, such as cancer and new therapies, digital copyrights, privacy rights, liability for Internet providers, and patent plant genes, with the bloc led by the U.S. and Japan favoring big corporations, such as Hollywood producers, some broadcast and satellite firms, and even agricultural giant Monsanto.
Amid the debate over the TPP’s scope – if approved, it stands to control almost 40% of the world’s GDP, a quarter of global trade, and over 11% of the population -, there’s the U.S. president, who seems engaged in seeking its approval even if behind doors.
Having kicked the last two years of his term with a renewed focus on an array of social issues, it’s at least puzzling that President Obama would show such willingness to push for a deal benefiting exactly the forces that helped neutralize many of his initiatives.
However he sees his legacy being built, or bent out of shape, by his efforts to strengthen U.S.’s trade with the world, he’d do much better by adopting a more critical stance on the TPP or it may wind up actually undermining his credibility.
Jobs shipped overseas, by corporations taking advantage of tax loops, and onslaught of cheaper goods, produced by authoritarian regimes with lax labor laws, are but two of globalization’s arguably most nefarious consequences. Nafta, for instance, has been implicated in the weakening of several segments of the U.S. economy, as well as increased criminality in Mexico.
As the dream of a world economy, equal and magnanimous for both rich and impoverish nations, began cracking even before most dreamers were fully awake, and eventually destitute, in its place a nightmarish vision of an all powerful, and exceedingly wealthy, elite began to replace it on the ground. As it goes, we’re far from this process to have come to a full cycle.
Just last week, a new Oxfam report indicated that in a couple of years, the top 1% may own at least half, if not more, of the entire world’s wealth. On the present course, such lucky few may become, in effect, richer than the rest of the world combined.
The tide may not be completely on their side, or at least, not yet, however. Unlike previous years, the annual World Economic Forum that just ended in Davos, Switzerland, an event that usually highlights the priorities of just a minority, has failed to capture headlines this time around, obscured by way more relevant events around the globe. But don’t count them out just yet.
One of the earliest voices against the dire effects of globalization – and its combination of market deregulation, privatization of state assets, and unrestricted trade policies -, 2001 Nobel Economics Joseph Stiglitz is now in the rarefied position of having gotten it right all along, while so many remained blindfolded, or chose to believe in the myth of a self-correcting market.
Others followed, or at least humbly admitted they didn’t immediately see the risks of trade rules being written by socially unaccountable players such as big corporations. Paul Krugman, another Nobel winner (2008), comes to mind.
Both economists, and a growing spectrum of progressive forces, rights activists and labor organizations, are now ostensibly critical of trade agreements, such as the TPP, signed in secrecy and with little input from those expected to foot the bill.
Many of us still believe in a future where barriers and borders won’t prevent cooperation among people. But beyond yet another platitude about global communion and unrealistic prosperity ideals, must be the necessary drive to bridge distances and mend differences, so we can all stand a chance for survival, not just that 1%. Have a good one & Happy belated 461th Birthday, São Paulo. WC

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