To save free trade, kill TPP

The enemies of the Trans Pacific Partnership don't necessarily oppose free trade, but they're foursquare against the kind of corrupt, secretive negotiations that line the pockets of favored industries at the public's expense.

Trade deals like NAFTA and the WTO were intensely unpopular in the left, but still passed. Meanwhile, ACTA failed and TPP and TTIA are on the verge of collapse, because their opposition is very broad-based, thanks to the total illegitimacy of the process by which they are negotiated. When the former chief economist of the IMF says your procedure lacks legitimacy, you're doing it wrong.

Timothy B Lee argues that the vogue for doing trade agreements in secret and handing out party favors to select industries — like copyright term extension and investor-state dispute settlements — put the whole free trade project in bad odor.

I'm no fan of free trade agreements, but I think Lee is right. From my perspective as an activist campaigning against this kind of thing, I would prefer to have a simple story to tell about the procedural irregularities, which are easy to understand ("no one meets behind closed doors and threatens Members of Congress with jail for talking about the deal if they think the public would support it"). The actual substance of the deal — which is also highly objectionable — is usually also highly technical and difficult to convey. Mustache-twirling, sinister procedural irregularities are a gift to your opposition.

If free trade deals have a future, its transparency, and the legitimacy that transparency brings.

So if the TPP dies in Congress at the hands of congressional Democrats, it will be totally plausible that the deal died because liberals became fed up with special interest groups hijacking trade deals to win goodies for themselves. And if that becomes the conventional wisdom, it could be a powerful political constraint on the next president when he or she is negotiating future trade deals. And that could lead to future deals that give us beneficial trade liberalization plus a lot less corporate rent-seeking.

Why killing Obama's trade deal could be good for free trade [Timothy B. Lee/Vox]

(Image: Shhh, Grey World, CC-BY)