My first inclination is to support trade because, ideally, it ties nations together peacefully and helps the economies of all nations involved. I support trade because, ideally, I think it’s a path toward that utopian ideal where nationalism and ethnic hatred fades and democratic cosmopolitanism prevails.
However, way back in November of 1999, Two of my friends, reminded me of what being on the Left meant by dragging me out to the WTO demonstration in Seattle. This set off several years of rethinking what trade means. It reminded me how often the reality differs substantially from the ideal. The reality is that the rules and policy of global trade is mostly made by a small number of powerful officials in poorly publicized meetings. Secret deals are made and influenced by the money and lobbyists under the control of huge transnational businesses. Like military and foreign policy treaties, most nations leave the discussion and assembly of trade treaties to their executives branch of government. This has some advantages but at the same time it’s profoundly undemocratic process.
Usually the only time the citizens or their houses of parliament get to hear about or have any input on trade treaties is after they’ve mostly being finished in back room deals. This not true for the lobbyists and functionaries of giant global corporations. They have the money and the power to get access. They know about and guide the treaty process in every step.
And it’s under this profoundly secretive and undemocratic process that NAFTA, the WTO and now TPP have been created:
But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can all act in stable, democratic countries to bring the assembly of trade treaties out into the open and under the control of ordinary people, the people are most directly effected by those treaties. The demonstrators of the Battle of Seattle wanted trade treaties that, instead of only respecting the profits and power of multinational companies, also respected the environment, respected strong and healthy labor unions and to respected the human rights of people in every country involved.
The WTO demonstrators were, at the very least, successful in dragging this process out into the open for public discussion. But as the secretive attempt to fast track the ratification of the TransPacific Partnership shows, the corporate lobbyists still have too much control of the process.