Sort & Cull

TPP Eulogy

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

Three men were once discussing how each imagined their own funerals, the location of the service, hymns to be sung, possible content of the eulogy.

At one point, the most earnest of the group says that he hopes someone in the weeping congregation will speak up and remind the mourners of what a good family man he had been, kind and loving to his parents, siblings, wife and children.

Echoing the sentiment, his friend agrees that heartfelt testimonials from the pews would be nice, giving wonderful examples of how the deceased had sacrificed countless hours of service to both church and community.

Finally, the last of the deep thinkers nods at the dramatic impact of unplanned outbursts, but wonders if the spontaneity couldn't be more constructive, perhaps someone from the back of the mortuary chapel shaking an excited finger at the open casket and shouting, "Look, he's moving!"

Although arrangements remain pending, the official ceremony marking the demise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could take the shape of all but the latter. Such an eleventh-hour resurrection seems essentially precluded by a consensus now stretching from emergency room to embalming table to Ouija board: The TPP is as dead as a doorknob.

Whoever's in charge probably needs to book a large hall. My guess is that friend and foe will pack an overflowing crowd alike. While those who long championed the grand tariff-slashing treaty will swamp the aisles with sobs and gnashing teeth, legions of political enemies are also likely to personally deliver flowers just to make sure the body is cold and headed six feet under.

Yet if banking on a well-attended service is no problem, securing someone to deliver an evenly balanced and sincere homily might be considerably more difficult. If I can be of any service in that regard, permit me to submit the following as an audition eulogy. For what it's worth, I would memorialize TPP something like this:

"Exporters, Importers, Simplistic Politicians, lend me your ears. I come to bury TPP, not to praise it (at least not entirely).

"We sadly gather to bid farewell to the most ambitious trading agreement never to see the light of day. Fully launched in 2008 when 12 Pacific Rim countries minus China began to hammer out measures to lower non-tariff and tariff barriers to trade, as well as the establishment of an investor-state dispute settlement mechanism.

"Roughly seven years and 5,000 pages later, negotiators had seemingly reached an amazing and irresistible step toward area free trade. The agreement cuts over 18,000 tariffs. Tariffs on all U.S.-manufactured goods and almost all U.S. farm products would be eliminated completely, with most eliminations occurring immediately.

"There's good reason why today's wailing pallbearers are bereft representatives of the U.S. beef and pork industry. Please look the other way as they rent their garments in the ugly face of lost trade potential.

"For example, the TPP would have cut Japan's tariffs for chilled-frozen U.S. beef from 38% to 9% in 16 years. Additionally, the sweeping agreement obligated Japan to eliminate tariffs on processed beef products (currently as high as 50%). Vietnam, a small but promising market for U.S. beef, would have been required to eliminate duties in three to eight years.

"On the other hand, the TPP was set before its life-taking illness to eliminate Japan pork duties on 65% of tariff lines within 11 years and 80% of tariff lines within 16 years. Gate price duties were also expected to decline sharply.

"But the shining promise of this fallen hero went far beyond simply lining the pockets of U.S meat producers. Multiple sections and clauses uniquely addressed pressing environmental and human rights problems. TPP signatories were required to 'combat illegal fishing,' 'promote sustainable fisheries management practices,' 'protect wetlands and important natural areas,' 'combat wildlife trafficking and illegal logging,' and 'protect the marine environment from ship pollution.' Furthermore, the TPP sought to prohibit exploitative child labor and forced labor, ensure the right to collective bargaining, and outlaw employment discrimination.

"I can see by those bloodshot eyes and snotty noses what you all must be thinking. Given so many healthy attributes, how can the TPP be on the verge of the ultimate dirt nap? In short, blame the dangerous banana peels lining Election Year 2016.

"The first stone-thrower to inflict damage was left-of-center Bernie Sanders, the significant alternative for the Democratic presidential nomination that Hilary Clinton never saw coming. His 'feel-the-burn' rhetoric attacked the TPP as a stealer of U.S. jobs and an utter sop to corporate power. Purists on either end of the political spectrum cannot stand nuance, allowing Bernie to easily dismiss a recent report by the President's Council of Economic Advisers that estimated nearly 5 million people work in U.S. goods-exporting industries that could face a direct loss of competitive position relative to China if RCEP (i.e., the China-sponsored competitor to the TPP) were to give its member countries preferential access to the Japanese market over U.S. firms.

"The next TPP-hater to surface on the hustings was Mrs. Clinton herself, despite the fact she had once been an enthusiastic supporter along with her boss, President Barack Obama. Apparently, when it came to the need of calling the Bernie wing of the party back home, flip-flopping was seen as a small price to pay.

"Yet the fatal slap to the TPP, the one that knocked the sniffles into the death-rattles of pneumonia, came from the imperial hand of Donald J. Trump. Traditionally, Republicans represent the firewall of free trade, automatic boosters of deals far less aggressive than TPP. Yet no one twittered a corrective memo to the notoriously independent Trump, leaving him to hate the 'rigged' trade agreement as much as Sanders.

"Although the TPP had cold and clammy hands on Election Day last week, this noble and well-intended trade agreement still had a weak pulse. Some supporters still had hope that the lame-duck session of Congress might place it on the docket and somehow find the necessary votes. But early the next morning, when President-elect Trump claimed the electoral votes of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, such a remote possibility began circling the drain for the last time.

"Since Trump has started work putting together his new White House, he has underscored his intentions to rip up the TPP and throw the shreds in China's face. It sounds like he believes the U.S. is losing the globalization war and intends to do something about it.

"Many fear that such determined posturing will not just cancel TPP potential, but also lead to a trade war with China. That's got to be unnerving for beef exporters praying for China to open its long-closed door and pork processors currently pouring concrete to expand chain capacity in 2017.

"So rest in peace, TPP. If our new president is a man of his word, your days are done. I'll leave it at that."

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