Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , ,

Thomas Friedman’s email account must have been hacked! Assuming the New York Times columnist doesn’t walk his offerings over to the paper’s editorial page office, what else could explain the appearance last night of an essay on trade under his byline so chock full of embarrassing mistakes and stale canards?

True, the column had a characteristically clever, Friedman-like premise: Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump shouldn’t be criticizing President Obama’s Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement because it contains exactly the kinds of tough-minded provisions that the champion deal-maker would insist on himself. Unfortunately, whoever really wrote the article revealed such ignorance that identity theft must have been committed.

To start, the impostor assumed that passages in a treaty’s text are remotely likely to change facts on the ground. But anyone as knowledgeable about trade policy as Friedman – who covered the beat for The Times in the 1990s – must realize that monitoring and enforcing rules on the books has never been a remotely strong suit of the U.S. government.

A big part of the reason is logistical.  As I’ve noted repeatedly, manufacturing complexes even in smallish developing countries like TPP signatory Vietnam are so vast that making provisions like new labor rights and environmental protections actually stick is impossible even for a superpower. Indeed, Washington struggles even to enforce such rules in the United States.

Another big reason has to do with the secretive nature of Asian governments like those in Vietnam and other TPP signatories such as Japan and Malaysia. Although the Pacific Rim trade pact does seek to curb the ways that these bureaucracies distort trade flows, anyone as familiar with the region as Friedman surely realizes that these regimes put few of their biggest decisions in writing, and make even fewer of them public. So as has long been the case, American officials will be hard-pressed even to identify violations of the new TPP provisions, let alone combat them effectively.

It’s also hard to imagine that the real Friedman would simply parrot the Obama administration talking point that TPP will greatly benefit Americans by eliminating tariffs in 18,000 product categories. How could he not have seen the documentation provided by Public Citizen (and refuted by exactly no one) that the United States doesn’t even sell overseas more than half of these products, and that its exports in most of the rest are miniscule?

And it’s positively inconceivable that the genuine Thomas Friedman would have claimed that “if we walk away from the TPP all our friends in the Pacific will just sign up for China’s R.C.E.P., or Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which will set trade rules in Asia….” He obviously would have known that six of the ten other TPP countries are clearly hedging their bets by signing on to the Chinese initiative, too. These including the biggest by far (Japan and Australia), along with Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore, Vietnam.

In other words, the real Thomas Friedman would never have written that a negotiator as good as Donald Trump would have okayed an agreement with this many gaping loopholes and other weaknesses. Let’s hope that the hacker(s) are caught before Friedman’s reputation takes on more water!

Advertisements