Often viewed as highly contentious, the rubric of free-trade involves numerous nuances that can be polarizing. Does international free trade promote Masonic ideals? Proponents of international free trade argue that treaties, such as The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), help to spread the value of freedom and reinforce the rule of law. Similarly, Freemasonry promotes freedom of thought, speech, and action for all Mankind, regardless of race, religion, or gender.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)
In a globalized world, the United States is seeking to expand international free trade in a manner that addresses 21st century issues. Described as “the cornerstone” of President Obama’s economic policy in the Pacific region, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed U.S. treaty with eleven countries, including: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. According to the Brookings Institute, these nations together account for about one-third of all international trade.
The TPP is intended to enhance trade and investment; promote innovation, economic growth and development; and support the creation of jobs. The proposed agreement began in 2005 as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement. Participating countries set the goal of wrapping up negotiations in 2012, but contentious issues created stumbling blocks in the areas of agriculture, intellectual property, services, and investments. The total GDP of the twelve countries involved with the TPP comprises 40 percent of global GDP, and the proposed benefits of the trade agreement are estimated at $295 billion annually.
As the major proponent of the treaty, The Obama Administration has argued that the TPP will open up the United States to all kinds of new markets and business. Agribusiness is one area expected to see a large benefit from the TPP by allowing certain U.S. companies new avenues for the sale of their products. Moreover, the Obama Administration stated that the TPP will increase labor and environmental protections in the TPP countries and globally by forcing nations to meet the standards negotiated under the treaty, thereby essentially “leveling the playing field” for American businesses that must currently meet high levels of regulation in these areas.
As one of the primary goals in his trade agenda, President Obama advocated diligently for the implementation of the TPP. After seven years of negotiations, a final agreement was reached between the 12 countries on October 5, 2015. The text of the agreement will have to be signed and ratified following the national procedures of each of the individual countries.
Controversies Surrounding the TPP
The largest controversy surrounding the TPP is that was that it was being negotiated behind closed doors. The governments involved argue that such conditions are necessary in order to reach agreements, which involve complex issues related to multilateral trade and global investments. The U.S. government responded to complaints regarding the secrecy of ongoing investigations stating, “In order to reach agreements that each participating government can fully embrace, negotiators need to communicate with each other with a high degree of candor, creativity, and mutual trust.” In the interest of all governments involved, it has become routine practice for proposals and communications related to negotiated treaties to be kept confidential.
Another issue regarding the TPP is whether it would actually improve labor conditions. In a document entitled, Broken Promises, Senator Elizabeth Warren outlined ‘lack of enforcement’ as one of the major criticisms of free trade agreements.
“By now, we have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican Presidents. Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers. But this analysis reveals that the rhetoric has not matched the reality.” – Senator Elizabeth Warren
Senator Warren highlights that there have been widespread enforcement problems with the free trade agreements enacted in the past two decades. The U.S. State Department has written several reports revealed persistent inadequacies related to reducing child labor and enforcing labor rights in countries that have signed free trade agreements with the United States.
Yet another controversy involves legal issues surrounding the agreement. Leaked chapters of the TPP have intellectual property advocates, such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation, concerned that the TPP over-extends copyright laws and fair use rules. Doctors Without Borders has voiced concern that the TPP could unfairly impact citizens in third world countries by making it more expensive to obtain generic drugs, thus restricting access to medicine for some of the poorest individuals world-wide.
Freemasonry and Free Trade
Does free-trade promote Freemasonic ideals? According to the 2012 Index of Economic Freedom, countries with the most trade freedom have higher per capita GDPs, lower incidences of hunger, lower rates of unemployment, and cleaner environments than countries at the bottom of the trade freedom scale.
Freemasonry stands as a global organization dedicated to improving the lives of all people through charity and brotherly love.Moreover, free trade among nations has been shown to promote peaceful international relations. When free-trade exists across political boundaries, the world becomes more integrated as individuals and companies interact. As President George Washington wrote in 1791, Masonry was “founded in justice and benevolence,” and “the grand object of Masonry is to promote the happiness of the human race.”