During the 2008 Presidential campaign, candidates Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton pledged to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement so as to remove provisions that limited the ability of national governments to legislate for protection of workers, consumers and the environment.
Not only have Obama and Clinton not done this, they have signed on to negotiations begun in the last days of the George W. Bush administration to create a new agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, with all the objectionable features of NAFTA raised to a new order of magnitude. The talks being being conducted in secret, with doors closed to Congress but 600 corporate representatives taking part as advisers. Fortunately some information has been leaked. Lori Wallach wrote a good summary of what’s at stake for the Nation magazine back in July.
Think of the TPP as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny. Indeed, only two of the twenty-six chapters of this corporate Trojan horse cover traditional trade matters. The rest embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation. They include new investor safeguards to ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources, and severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more.
The stakes are extremely high, because the TPP may well be the last “trade” agreement Washington negotiates. This is because if it’s completed, the TPP would remain open for any other country to join. In May US Trade Representative Ron Kirk said he “would love nothing more” than to have China join. In June Mexico and Canada entered the process, creating a NAFTA on steroids, with most of Asia to boot.
Countries would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to the TPP’s rules—in effect, a corporate coup d’état. The proposed pact would limit even how governments can spend their tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences that invest in the US economy would be banned, and “sweat-free,” human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged. If the TPP comes to fruition, its retrograde rules could be altered only if all countries agreed, regardless of domestic election outcomes or changes in public opinion. And unlike much domestic legislation, the TPP would have no expiration date.
Failure to conform domestic laws to the rules would subject countries to lawsuits before TPP tribunals empowered to authorize trade sanctions against member countries. The leaked investment chapter also shows that the TPP would expand the parallel legal system included in NAFTA. Called Investor-State Dispute Resolution, it empowers corporations to sue governments—outside their domestic court systems—over any action the corporations believe undermines their expected future profits or rights under the pact. Three-person international tribunals of attorneys from the private sector would hear these cases. The lawyers rotate between serving as “judges”—empowered to order governments to pay corporations unlimited amounts in fines—and representing the corporations that use this system to raid government treasuries. The NAFTA version of this scheme has forced governments to pay more than $350 million to corporations after suits against toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules and more.
TPP negotiators representing the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei are now meeting in Leesburg, Va., through Sunday (tomorrow). Representatives of Canada and Mexico will join the talks when they resume in December.
Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership began in 2005 among New Zealand, Vietnam and Chile, and Brunei joined in a few months later. It seems odd that these four particular countries would find common cause. I think it is likely that the Trans Pacific Partnership represents a corporate plan being pushed in many countries, and these four were the first to sign on.
President George W. Bush brought the United States into the TPP negotiations in mid-2008, and the other negotiating partners joined soon after. My main objection to the TPP is not to the specifics of what is being discussed. Reasonable people can differ as to how far copyright and drug patents should extend. My objection is that these issues would be removed from the democratic process and given over to a body representing corporations with a vested interest.
Trade representative Ron Kirk said the reason for keeping secret the texts of the negotiating positions and the draft agreements is that revealing such information led to the defeat of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas. From the democratic perspective, that is precisely the information ought to be revealed. As Lori Wallach said:
The goal was to complete the TPP this year. Thankfully, opposition by some countries to the most extreme corporate demands has slowed negotiations. Australia has announced it will not submit to the parallel corporate court system, and it and New Zealand have rejected a US proposal to allow pharmaceutical companies to challenge their government medicine formularies’ pricing decisions, which have managed to keep their drug costs much lower than in the United States. Every country has rejected the US proposal to extend drug patent monopolies. This text was leaked, allowing government health officials and activists in all the countries to fight back. Many countries have also rejected a US proposal that would forbid countries from using capital controls, taxes or other macro-prudential measures to limit the destructive power of financial speculators.
However, we face a race against time—much of the TPP text has been agreed on. Will the banksters, Big Pharma, Big Oil, agribusiness, tobacco multinationals and the other usual suspects get away with this massive assault on democracy? Will the public wake up to this threat and fight back, demanding either a fair deal or no deal? The Doha Round of WTO expansion, the FTAA and other corporate attacks via “trade” agreements were successfully derailed when citizens around the world took action to hold their governments accountable. Certainly in an election year, we are well poised to turn around the TPP as well.
And, no, I don’t think Mitt Romney would be any better on the Trans-Pacific Partnership than Barack Obama is. We Americans must look for redress to Congress and our constitutional system of checks and balances.
Click on NAFTA on Steroids for Lori Wallach’s complete article.
Click on Public Citizen Press Room for a report on the leaked provisions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Click on The Pacific free trade deal that’s anything but free for Dean Baker’s analysis in The Guardian.
Click on Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement | Electronic Frontier Foundation for a critique of the copyright and intellectual property provisions of the proposed agreement.
Click on Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement: Drone Strikes on People With AIDS? for a critique of the drug patent provisions of the proposed agreement.
Click on Backdoor Talks on Trans Pacific Trade Deal Aim to Globalize Corporatocracy for comment about the potential impact on workers’ rights and protections.
Click on Asia-Pacific trade talks entering delicate phase for a Reuters dispatch about the Leesburg talks.
Hat tip to my friend Hal Bauer for calling my attention to the Leesburg TPP talks.