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International Trade Agreements: Win-Win or Lose-Lose?

by John Brian Shannon | June 11, 2015

The secrecy surrounding these agreements is a complete non-starter for me.

The obsessive secrecy is enough to tell me everything about this being a corporatist agenda on the one hand — and a latter-day containment policy concerning China (or any country that crosses the U.S.A.) on the other.

It really muddles the difference between trade and governance as many commentators have said.

Elizabeth Warren, as usual, has it right; “If transparency would make it harder to sell the final product to the public, it raises serious questions about the desirability of what is being negotiated.” — Elizabeth Warren (paraphrased by Professor Dani Rodrik)


Yet, having said all of that, I’m strongly in favour of international trade agreements!

TTIP protest in London, UK

TTIP protesters in London, UK (Aug 2014)

What NAFTA could’ve been, vs. what it became

To this day I’m a strong proponent of NAFTA — but NAFTA had the potential to be so much more.

Instead, some of the more mediocre minds took over what was a grand overriding vision of peace, order, and good governance for all of North America — and one of the vehicles to help make that happen was the original NAFTA agreement, which was to be followed up by additional agreements, e.g. NAFTA II and NAFTA III.

But because it was handled so badly, the public mood turned against NAFTA and all talk of later NAFTA agreements were dropped like a stone

To state it a different way; The corporatist agenda greedily precluded the long term interests of North America.

And what did we get in exchange from corporations for opening up the North American market thereby allowing corporations to make additional billions per year?

They took their NAFTA windfall profits they had earned in North America to Asia, and 2/3rds of North American manufacturing jobs went to Asia, as well.

Thanks for that.

But it’s not the fault of corporations. They’re in business to make money for their shareholders — which increasingly, means the 1 percent.

To one person, the actions of these corporations might seem profoundly ungrateful to North America — while to another person, these corporations acted in their best interests.

It depends who you work for, I guess…

If you’re a person who works for 1 percent of the population, then this result is acceptable to you. If you’re a person who works for the 99 percent, then this is a wicked bit of business indeed.

Occupy Wall Street protests and other anti-corporate sentiments didn’t materialize out of thin air.

The Occupy movement happened because 99 percent of the population suddenly realized that both the corporations and government were ‘against’ the little guy — you know, the people who actually pay the bills and fight in wars — not the cabal of the 1 percent and their government acolytes

If we pass TTIP and TPP in a shroud of secrecy to further satisfy the corporatist agenda the #OWS protests will seem a minor historical disruption by comparison. (Just a friendly warning from someone who believes in trade agreements)

Some look for advantages between signatories of trade agreements

Which completely misses the point.

In the NAFTA example, many people were spending endless hours trying to decide if the NAFTA agreement benefited Canada? Did it benefit the U.S. more? Or perhaps Mexico was the main beneficiary?

NAFTA was about lowering barriers to improve the free flow of trade between the North American partners with the goal of making North American products and services more competitive in all respects — against other trading blocs or nations. Not against each other.

THAT is what NAFTA was about. Which many people missed originally, or have since forgotten.

It’s too bad that the subsequent windfall profits ended up strengthening the Asian economy instead of the North American economy where all of those profits had been earned

So; Are those corporations ‘traitors’ to North Americans — or are those corporations ‘heroes’ to their shareholders?

The answer is glaringly obvious.

If you’re a one percenter (or a government acolyte of the 1%) then these corporations were ‘doing their duty to shareholders’ under legal boundaries set by government policymakers and financial regulators, even though the optics look incredibly bad for both corporations and government policymakers.

If you’re a ninety-nine percenter you probably view these corporations as ‘traitors’ to North America — even though these corporations followed the letter of the law. Everything else is just spin for you.

A summary of NAFTA?

1. It could’ve been so much more.

2. The corporations made additional billions (maybe even trillions) due to NAFTA, and in that respect it scores a clear win for corporations — but they have lost much of the support and good will of ‘We the People’ in the process.

3. The additional revenue made by corporations due to the NAFTA agreement are now in China not doing a damn thing for the North American economy where those windfall NAFTA profits were earned, making NAFTA the third-largest transfer of wealth in modern history.

(a: The largest wealth transfer in modern history was from the Old world to the New world, b: the second-largest wealth transfer in modern history was from the West to the oil rich Kingdoms, since 1932)

4. NAFTA was a major instrument in the creation of the 1 percent and the societal problems that have since flowed from rising inequality.

Unprecedented in modern history, the 1 percent own more wealth than 1/2 of the world’s population and by 2030 the 1 percent will own 3/4 of the world’s total wealth.

Leaving only 1/4 of the world’s wealth for the 99 percent to exist on, going forward…

Can you say… inequality? Or how about… protest marches? This time with billions of protesters.

As productivity has only little room for improvement in the developed world, the only other factor to allow the present economic paradigm to continue is falling incomes for the 99 percent

If you don’t recognize that as a looming societal apocalypse, you’re not an economist.

If you are an economist, I apologize in advance for your nightmares.

It looks like it’s up to citizens to stop policies that are clearly skewed to benefit the 1 percent and are increasingly detrimental to the 99 percent.

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