Posted 9 months ago on July 10, 2013, 3:47 p.m. EST by LeoYo
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Stopping the TPP: A Victory in the Global Revolt Against Corporate Domination
Wednesday, 10 July 2013 09:20 By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Truthout | News Analysis
We are in the midst of an epic battle between the people of the world and transnational corporations. Wealthy governments and corporations are merging in a global system in which private corporations have absolute power over your life. This is a battle the people can win and when we do it will show that we can defeat corporate power on issue after issue.
The 1999 battle in Seattle to stop the World Trade Organization (WTO) from granting increased power to transnational corporations and the negative consequences of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) created broad public awareness about the ways that ‘free trade’ hurts people and the planet. As a result, in the past few decades, the WTO has effectively been unable to move forward with its neoliberal economic agenda. And the United States was forced to move to smaller country-by-country trade agreements, many of which were stopped by public pressure.
The Obama administration is currently mired in an ambitious project to accomplish both the continuation of the WTO’s agenda and a restructuring of NAFTA in ways that place corporate property rights over protection of people and the environment. Using the friendly term, ‘partnership,’ the administration is negotiating a sweeping free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could potentially involve the entire Pacific Rim as well as a sister agreement with European nations. This is being done largely in secret and in a way that subverts the democratic process. Former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, who now has a lucrative job in the private sector advising transnational corporations for the law firm Gibson Dunn, said that if people knew what was in the TPP, there would be no way to get it signed into law. As he told one interviewer, if the text were made public negotiators would be walking away from the negotiations because they would be very unpopular.
The new US Trade Representative, Obama’s classmate Michael Froman who worked at CitiGroup, and the more than 600 corporate advisers involved in writing the TPP, have direct access to the text of the treaty, but members of Congress have only limited access and the public and media are excluded. Recent calls for transparency by members of Congress have been denied, so the extent of what we know comes from leaks.
We do know that the TPP is less about trade and more about entrenching corporate property rights. It will establish a judicial system that gives corporations greater power than sovereign nations and bypasses the democratic process. The TPP will affect the global economy so that corporations control all aspects of our lives from wages, food safety, the price of medications and our rights to clean water and air to Internet freedom and more.
The breadth of this corporate power grab may also be its downfall because it is an opportunity for solidarity. A broad coalition of organizations from the entire North American continent in solidarity with groups in other Pacific Rim nations are working together to demand transparency and a democratic process for the TPP. These groups are calling for an end to the failed model of free trade and for a new type of trade that honors the rights of people and the planet.
Corporate Property Rights and Profits Come First
Protests in Seattle in 1999 were successful in stopping the WTO meetings being held there. The next set of meetings took place in Doha, Qatar, a place of highly restricted access, in 2001. The Doha Round still has not concluded because the member nations have not been able to come to a consensus, particularly because of the unwillingness of the US to give up agricultural subsidies.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership and it’s sister, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP, known as “TAFTA”), are the Obama administration’s response to the failure of the WTO. These two treaties will aim to not only give multinational corporations all of the deregulation and legal rights they sought through the WTO, but are intended to go even further. With the inclusion of Canada and Mexico, the Obama administration will live up to its promise to renegotiate NAFTA, but not in the way that he alluded to during his 2008 presidential campaign.
In 2008, candidate Obama said on multiple occasions that one of the first things he would do as president would be to ‘fix’ NAFTA so that there was greater protection of worker rights and the environment and so that corporations would not be able to undermine laws that are in the public’s interest. Perhaps his true intentions were mistakenly revealed by a senior economic adviser to the campaign, Austan Goolsbee, who informed the Canadian government that Obama’s rhetoric on NAFTA should be understood as “more about political positioning than a clear articulation of policy plans.” After his inauguration, Obama dropped any action on trade including negotiation of the TPP which had started under President Bush. Then he announced in late 2009 that the US would participate in trade talks with Pacific Rim countries. Since then, there have been 17 rounds of negotiations, and the 18th is scheduled for this month in Malaysia. Reports from negotiators are that the Obama administration is pushing hardest for an agreement that would strengthen corporations and increase their profits even if it meant the people suffered.
The general tone of the TPP negotiations is typical of the US approach to other nations when it comes to the economy. The US dominates the agenda, with allies when needed, and bullies smaller nations into accepting provisions that will harm their population. Civil society groups are invited to the rounds of talks, but in reality, they do not have influence over what is included. “Stakeholder” briefings, where civil society groups can ask questions of the trade representatives, are a lesson in evasive non-answers. Mostly, the inclusion of civil society is to give the appearance of an open process. How can stakeholders participate when the contents are secret, except for leaked sections?
As an example of harmful policies, through leaked text it is known that the TPP gives pharmaceutical and medical device corporations the ability to ‘evergreen’ their patents and prevents governments from negotiating fair prices. This keeps the price of medications and other necessary health goods high and prevents generics. Similar provisions in other free trade agreements raised the cost of medications by 20 percent or more resulting in a negative impact on public health. These provisions will make life-saving medications unaffordable and increase disease and death, particularly in poorer countries, all so that corporations can make unreasonable profits. They will also undermine top public health systems in Japan and Australia.
Another example is the investor rights provision which will allow ‘foreign’ investors to sue a nation if their laws interfere with trade, allowing corporations to sue in trade tribunals for loss of “expected profits.” This means a corporation will be able to sue a nation if a labor, environmental or consumer protection law decreases the profits the corporation planned on making. The trade tribunal will be staffed by judges who are mainly corporate lawyers on temporary leave from their corporate jobs. Essentially the United States will be giving up its national sovereignty to foreign investors, as will other countries.
Will this legal right be abused? It already is. Kristen Beifus of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition tells us that a corporation, Lone Pine Resources which is incorporated in Delaware, is suing the Canadian government for $250 million. It passed itself off as an American corporation in order to sue, but it is headquartered in Calgary and does all of its business in Canada. Lone Pine Resources is suing because it spent money to set up a fracking operation in Quebec, but then a fracking moratorium was passed. Richard McIntyre, who serves as the US Trade Representative for the Green Shadow Cabinet, states that agreements such as the TPP are not really about trade at all. They are designed to protect the property rights of foreign investors in a way that works outside of the traditional legal system. Corporations can make claims against governments in a way that bypasses the democratic process. In effect, this will give a corporation the power to force a country, particularly smaller countries, to change its laws. Countries will learn that they cannot pass laws in the public interest without expensive litigation.
Suppose a country has an environmental or labor protection law in place. Under the TPP, a corporation will be able to sue that country for loss of expected profits if the law means it must do things like pay higher wages, comply with work safety provisions clean up toxics in the environment or handle its waste safely. The country will then face a choice of paying millions of dollars or changing its law. Poor countries, such as Vietnam, will not really have a choice because they cannot afford to pay an expensive fine.
McIntyre concludes that the current free trade process is really a debate about property rights and corporations having more rights than people. Although there are labor and environmental standards in free trade agreements, McIntyre calls these a “hollow victory” because they are very vague and there is no way to enforce them.