An important piece of legislation that is currently being considered in Congress consists of a trade deal proposed by Obama consisting of greater economic cooperation between the United States and several Asian nations. The purpose of the present sample essay provided by Ultius is to both discuss this trade deal in a comprehensive way.
The essay will begin with a description of what the deal would actually entail. Then, it will shift to a consideration of the opposition that the trade deal has evoked within Congress. After this, the essay will consider the implications of the trade deal for international affairs. Finally, it will reflect on the trade deal in light of the ideology of neoliberalism and globalization.
Description of Obama’s trade deal with Asia
The current situation regarding the trade deal under consideration here has been effectively summarized by Seib:
“Mr. Obama and his negotiators are working to finish the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal among 12 Pacific nations that has come to be known as TPP, while also fighting to win ‘fast track’ negotiating approval of the deal later this year” (paragraph 5).
Japan would be one of the leading trade partners of the United States within the arrangements of this deal. The other nations that are party to the deal are: Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Canada, Mexico, and Peru. The main purpose of the deal would be to strengthen economic relationships across the Pacific by establishing a new regulatory framework that can effectively provide parameters for investments, exports, and imports across the region. There are several such treaties already in place across the planet, and this is simply one more such treaty.
In fact, an earlier version of the TPP was already ratified by the four nations of Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, and Brunei in the year 2005. Present negotiations are thus essentially efforts to expand the scope of the treaty in order to include a larger number of nations within the agreement, including the United States. The actual text of the TPP that has been under negotiation over the course of the last several years has not been made available to the public.
However, the organization WikiLeaks has successfully released several passages from the document. The most recent leak has consisted of what is being called the Investment Chapter, of which WikiLeaks has affirmed that it
“highlights the intent of the TPP negotiating parties, led by the United States, to increase the power of global corporations by creating a supra-national court, or tribunal, where foreign firms can ‘sue’ states and [which] are designed to overrule the national court systems” (paragraph 5).
Such perceptions of the TPP have made it a highly controversial piece of legislation among several stakeholders, including the members of the Congress of the United States.
Opposition to the deal
Interestingly, it is not primarily the Republicans but rather the Democrats themselves who are responsible for the Congressional opposition to the TPP. As Weisman has written:
“Senate Democrats on Tuesday blocked consideration of giving President Obama power to accelerate a broad trade accord with Asia. After more than six years battling Republicans on everything from his signature health care legislation to simply keeping the government open, Mr. Obama is now at odds with his own party” (paragraphs 1-2).
In part, this is due to the fact that opposition to economic deregulation and the expansion of corporate power have been traditionally Democratic positions, with the Republicans actually being the ones who have supported a freer and less regulated global capitalist market. In particular, the Democrats would seem to be concerned with a specific provision with the legislation that could potentially enable TPP participants to depress the value of American currency. In any event, the main point here is that the Democrats themselves have turned against their own President’s policy with respect to the issue under consideration here.
In addition to the Democratic opposition, opposition has also emerged from the libertarian wing of the Republican Party, including members of the Tea Party such as Rand Paul (see Miller). The main issue on this front is that Obama is requesting enhanced executive authority in order to conduct the TPP trade negotiations, which is unacceptable from the perspective of those who believe in small government and strong checks on executive power.
So, essentially: mainstream Democrats would have no problems with expanding executive authority but disagree with what the President is actually trying to do; whereas the libertarian Republicans would perhaps agree with what the President is trying to do but have serious problems with expanding executive authority. Strangely, then, these two groups pragmatically come out on the same side of this issue. Obama’s main base of support for the TPP thus consists of mainstream Republicans.
The conflict between Obama and his own party gives indications of potentially turning bitter, which would significantly hamper his capacity to act productively over the course of the remainder of his presidency regarding other issues as well. Notably, Obama has been criticized for the nature of his response to prominent Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren’s criticism of the TPP. As Bartash has written:
“Democrats in the House and Senate will look out more for their own interests, even if that requires distancing themselves from Obama, and passage of the hotly contested trade pact could accelerate their move away from the White House. A colleague of Warren’s accused the president of being ‘disrespectful’ toward her and making their disagreement personal” (paragraph 7).
So, Obama stands at risk of alienating his own party from his agenda; and the Republicans are unlikely to support him on anything other than the TPP. The upshot would be that Obama’s presidency would wind down with no one being willing to support him any longer.
One of the most salient aspects of the TPP is that China is excluded from it. Obama has equivocated with respect to the significance of this fact. On the one hand, Obama has suggested that the TPP has little to do with China at all. Keane has cited the President as saying that the TPP
“is good for Americans and American workers regardless of what China’s doing,” and that “this is not simply a defensive agreement” (paragraph 3).
However, Obama is also on record as having made diametrically opposite statements in this regard. For example, this is what Seib has quoted Obama has having said:
“If we don’t write the rules, China will write the rules out in that region. We will be shut out—American businesses and American agriculture. That will mean a loss of U.S. jobs” (paragraph 2).
So, on the one hand, Obama has stated that the TPP has nothing to do with China and does not constitute a defensive course of action; whereas on the other, he has stated that it is specifically necessary to pass the TPP in order to defend the United States against an expansion in the Chinese sphere of influence.
This, of course, constitutes a logical contradiction. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that Obama has compromised the truth of the matter at one point or another, in the interest of simply saying whatever would successfully convince the relevant audience to support the passage of the TPP. It is not possible for Obama’s push for the TPP to be both independent from considerations of China and specifically motivated as a defense against China. Only of these propositions can ultimately be true.
Within the contemporary global political context, there is in fact every reason to believe that Obama’s push for the TPP actually does have a great deal to do with concerns over China. It is a well-known fact that China has emerged as a major economic power over the course of the last few decades; and in a meaningful sense, this could eventually turn into a serious threat against American global hegemony.
If Obama chose not to explicitly acknowledge this, then perhaps this is because of a desire on his part to avoid explicitly antagonizing China, or openly acknowledging that the United States does in fact consider China as a threat against its own global power. In any event, it seems likely that the talk about what is good for the American worker is more a matter of mere rhetoric than anything else.
It is fairly clear that the TPP has far more to do with political relations at the transnational level than it does with more immediate considerations of the actual quality of life of ordinary Americans. The actual motivations underlying Obama’s advocacy of the TPP have been anything but transparent; and the fact that his own party has turned against him should clearly be interpreted as a cause for concern.
Ideological reflection of the trade deal
At the ideological level, the TPP is surely part and parcel with the broader economic ideology of neoliberalism and trend of globalization, through which a global free market has been increasingly established across the face of the planet, even at the expense of the sovereignty of individual nation-states (see Scheurman). This is made clear by the documents that have been made publicly available thus far by WikiLeaks.
The Republican Party has always supported this kind of economic development; and it is thus logical that the Republicans in Congress have been Obama’s main source of support for the TPP. Obama’s position regarding the TPP is in fact more congruent with the traditional platform of the Republicans than it is with the traditional platform of the Democrats. From what can be seen from the WikiLeaks documents, it would seem that there are several passages in the TPP that would primarily benefit not the common American worker but rather the leaders of transnational conglomerates.
It is somewhat odd, however, that the Democrats have rebelled against their President in such an apparently open way. Historically, there has been a more or less bipartisan consensus in favor of globalization in general. For example, several important steps in the globalization process were taken under the presidency of Bill Clinton. Real opposition against globalization as such has generally tended to come only from the far left of the political spectrum—for example, from groups that adhere to anarchist ideals (see Graeber).
As the TPP is more or less similar to other trade agreements from the past, then, it is somewhat atypical of the Democrats to oppose it in such a unified way. This could perhaps be attributed in part to the political situation within Congress at the present time, and in part to potentially controversial aspects of the TPP that may be known to members of Congress but not to the general American public. In any event, what is clear is that Obama is at ideological and pragmatic odds with his own party, and that this has created a relatively volatile situation within the federal government.
In summary, this essay has consisted of a discussion of the potential Asia trade deal proposed by Obama. The essay has described the deal, discussed opposition to deal, considered the international implications of the deal, and reflected on the deal from an ideological perspective. One of the most salient aspects of the situation surrounding the deal is that it may have implications for the relationship between the United States and China.
Another is that Obama is in fact struggling against his own party in order to get the deal passed. The deal would further the cause of globalization. This explains why Obama’s primary allies in Congress now are, ironically, the Republicans. Clearly, the President is walking on dangerous grounds.
Bartash, Jeffry. “Fight over Asia Free-Trade Deal Could Turn Obama into a Lame Duck.” Market Watch. 13 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.
Graeber, David. Direct Action: An Ethnography. Oakland: AK Press, 2008. Print.
Keane, Angela Greiling. “Obama Says Asia Trade Deal with Abe Is No Threat to China.” Bloomberg. 28 Apr. 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.
Miller, S. A. “Tea Party, Dems Join Forces to Put Obama’s Asia Trade Deal in Jeopardy.” Washington Times. 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.
Scheurman, William. “Globalization.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. 2014. Web. 4 Nov. 2014.
Seib, Gerald, F. “Obama Presses Case for Asia Trade Deal, Warns Failure Would Benefit China.” Wall Street Journal. 27 Apr. 2015.
Weisman, Jonathan. “Senate Democrats Foil Obama on Asia Trade Deal.” New York Times. 12 May 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.
WikiLeaks. “Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TTP)—Investment Chapter.” WikiLeaks, 25 Mar. 2015. Web. 20 May 2015.