In comments that raised a cheer from many of the approximately 200 Labour Party members, trade unionists, economists and businesspeople attending the Labour Party's two Future of Work conference, former Clinton era US Labor Secretary Robert Reich said he had always supported free trade, but that the Trans-Pacific Partnership was "atrocious".
"Globalisation - never has a word gone so directly from obscurity to meaninglessness without an intervening period of coherence," said Reich. "Many of us still have in our heads that globalisation is trade. Well, trade is a part of it but it's a diminishing part of it. What we're seeing now is a trend for direct investment.
"The Trans-Pacific Partnership is probably the clearest manifestation of that move from trade. We talk about it as a trade agreement. It's not a trade agreement. It's an investment agreement. I've been a free trader for years and I think the TPP is atrocious because it is going to make it more and more difficult for democracies to decide on health and safety and environmental regulations and protect their people and even their housing stock. Very wealthy foreigners are buying up the housing stock."
Reich said he had warned 20 years ago about the dangers of political polarisation that would arise from economic policies that increased inequality.
"If we do not do something about stagnant median wages and widening inequality and job insecurity, the politics is going to get uglier and uglier, more and more polarised, and finally one day a demagogue comes along and takes over American politics," he said, to laughter at the obvious reference to the Republican candidacy of Donald Trump.
"That's not a joke," he riposted.
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