Are we witnessing the beginning of the end of
By Murray Dobbin
May 28, 2016 "Information
At the height
of the battle over the Canada-US Free Trade
Agreement in the 1980s, full page ads promised the
deal would bring "more jobs, better jobs."
were expensive, but easily afforded by Canada's 160
largest public corporations, who paid for them as
the Business Council on National Issues.
blitz was intended counter the effective campaign by
opponents who warned Canadians that tens of
thousands of manufacturing jobs would be lost.
won the battle for hearts and minds but lost the
1988 election on the issue, thus making Canada and
the US "free trade" guinea pigs.
such deals have been signed since, in spite of the
fact that the critics were right. Canada
lost some 334,000 jobs between 1988 and 1994 as
a direct result. Still, since 1988, the promoters of
these investment protection agreements have held
sway in large part because of massive support by
decades later, citizens around the world are waking
up and asking: just whom do governments govern for?
Battlegrounds in US and Europe
question is being raised loudly in the E.U. and the
U.S. In those two powerhouse economies, opposition
to such deals could save us from more of them. On
the line specifically are the Trans Pacific
Partnership (TPP) and Canada's proposed deal with
the E.U., the Comprehensive Economic and Trade
Agreement (CETA). If the U.S.-E.U. deal (the
Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership -
TTIP) fails CETA is unlikely to survive.
trade deals empower transnational corporations by
radically compromising the nation-state's capacity
for democratic governance. This emasculation of
democracy is accomplished in large part through the
investor-state provisions which allow corporations
to directly sue government for profits lost due to
environmental, health or other legislation.
sign these agreements enthusiastically promising
jobs and growth. But, while it has taken almost two
generations, millions of American workers simply no
longer believe the rhetoric.
Fuelling Trump and Sanders
Increasingly grim inequality has revealed the broken
promise and American workers are pissed. That is in
large part what drives the mind-boggling Trump
phenomenon in the U.S. It's not exactly class
warfare but Trump supporters sense the system as a
whole, political and economic, is truly broken.
support for Bernie Sanders is as close to class
conflict as the U.S. ever gets.
first time in over 30 years, these corporate rights
deals are a hot U.S. election issue with all three
remaining candidates opposing the Trans Pacific
important, the state apparatus itself is showing
cracks in its own consensus. This has taken the form
of leaks from within the U.S. government about the
TTIP and a government study of the benefits of the
TPP to the U.S. Both present genuine threats to the
future of these agreements in the U.S. And defeats
in the US could be the death knell for these deals
regarding the TTIP came right on the heels of the
typical reassuring noises from the Obama
administration regarding protection for labour and
the environment standards in the TTIP. According to
article titled "The Free-Trade Consensus Is
Dead" in The New Republic magazine, "documents
leaked by Greenpeace Netherlands revealed that U.S.
negotiators working on a trade deal with the
European Union have actually been pressuring their
trading partners to lower those same standards."
was a revelation to the French trade minister who
declared that the talks were "likely to stop
altogether" as a result. (In 1998 France killed the
Multilateral Agreement on Investment -- the largest
deal ever conceived.)
Alarms from within
nail in the coffin of free trade consensus in the
U.S. came from a U.S. International Trade Commission
analysis of the benefits the U.S. could expect
from the even larger deal, the TPP. The report,
released this past week, will be difficult for
promoters to explain away:
estimates a worsening balance of trade for 16 out of
25 U.S. agriculture, manufacturing, and services
sectors... Indeed, output in the manufacturing
sector would be $11.2 billion lower with TPP than
without it in 2032... the proposed 12-nation trade
deal will increase the U.S. global trade deficit by
$21.7 billion by 2032."
instances of clear resistance to the accepted wisdom
"free trade" deals be the beginning of the end of
I am not
suggesting that the governments of developed
countries are going to suddenly return to the good
old days of the post-war social contract. But what
has allowed them to proceed for three decades with
political impunity has been the power of ideology to
overwhelm evidence and reason.
Breaking the spell
held sway for so long it has been almost
impossible for ordinary citizens to imagine anything
different. But now they can -- not just because of
political outliers Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders
but because Hillary Clinton, a long-time, fervent
backer of neoliberal trade deals, is now
watering down such enthusiasm on the campaign
trail and even switching her position to oppose the
members of the political elite begin to question the
high priests of free trade the spell is broken and
all sorts of alternative political narratives
present themselves. It takes an accumulation of
unlikely suspects breaking with the consensus before
that happens and we have already
seen some high-profile defectors from the TPP --
including Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, economist
Jeffrey Sachs and in Canada RIM co-founder Jim
Balsillie. At first the Teflon seemed to hold but
there is always a lag time when it comes to cultural
warnings about trade deals stifling creativity
and consigning Canada to "colonialism" that costs us
billions of dollars aren't likely to be echoed any
time soon by most members of our corporate elite.
It is the
nature of ideology that if the medicine doesn't
work, increase the dose. Unless more Canadians speak
out on these investment protection agreements and
get behind their counterparts in the United States
and European Union, the Liberal government will keep
prescribing the same medicine.
Dobbin is an author, commentator and journalist. He
is the author of five books and is a former
columnist with Financial Post and Winnipeg Free
Press. He is a board member of Canadians for Tax
Fairness and on the advisory council of the Rideau
Institute. He lives in Powell River, BC.
It is unacceptable to slander, smear or engage in personal attacks on authors of articles posted on ICH.
Those engaging in that behavior will be banned from the comment section.
with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material
is distributed without profit to those who have
expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational
purposes. Information Clearing House has no
affiliation whatsoever with the originator of
this article nor is Information ClearingHouse
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)