U.S. transnational corporations are working behind the scenes to change the rules governing them. You may say ‘big deal, this doesn’t affect me’. However if you use the internet, view movies, take pharmaceuticals, want a clean and safe environment, believe in democracy, etc., you likely will be negatively impacted.
Media’s Failure to Inform
Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), based on the fatally flawed NAFTA model, currently involve twelve nations in the Pacific region and have been underway since 2010. Mainstream media’s coverage about these negotiations has been essentially nonexistent. When mentioned, the media reports that the negotiations are about trade instead of being about easing rules governing transnational corporations.
Why the Lack of Transparency?
This May, Senator Elizabeth Warren said: “From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the deal in the upcoming trade talks. So the question is, Why are the trade talks secret? You’ll love this answer. Boy, the things you learn on Capitol Hill,” Warren said. “I actually have had supporters of the deal say to me ‘They have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.’”
Undue Corporate Influence on U.S. Negotiating Positions
In 2012 Senator Ron Wyden, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, whose office is responsible for conducting oversight over the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and trade negotiations, said: “Yet, the majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.”
In a May 2012 letter, thirty law professors from multiple countries involved with the TPP negotiations made the same point about corporate representation. They said:
The only private individuals in the US who have ongoing access to the US proposals on intellectual property matters are on an Industry Trade Advisory Committee (ITAC) which is dominated by brand name pharmaceutical manufacturers and the Hollywood entertainment industry.
There is no representation on this committee for consumers, libraries, students, health advocacy or patient groups, or others users of intellectual property, and minimal representation of other affected businesses, such as generic drug manufacturers or internet service providers. We would never create US law or regulation through such a biased and closed process.
Investor-State Dispute Settlements Threaten Sovereignty
In June 2012 a draft of the TPP’s Investment Chapter was leaked. According to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: “Via closed-door negotiations, U.S. officials are rewriting swaths of U.S. law that have nothing to do with trade, and in a move that will infuriate left and right alike, have agreed to submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of foreign tribunals that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to foreign corporations that don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms do. U.S. trade officials are secretly limiting Internet freedoms, restricting financial regulation, extending medicine patents and giving corporations a whole host of other powers.”
State legislators are greatly concerned about the threat to states’ ability to maintain their sovereignty and to protect rules protecting their citizens. For example, Maine State Representative Sharon Treat, one of the drafters of a July 2012 letter from 130 members of state legislatures from all 50 states, said: “The U.S. government should not be negotiating trade deals that undercut responsible state and federal laws enacted to protect public health and the environment, preserve the stability of our financial system, or make sure working conditions are safe and healthy.”
In addition, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) strongly opposes this investor-state dispute resolution process. Its position is:
NCSL will not support Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) or Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with investment chapters that provide greater substantive or procedural rights to foreign companies than U.S. companies enjoy under the U.S. Constitution. Specifically, NCSL will not support any BIT or FTA that provides for investor/state dispute resolution. NCSL firmly believes that when a state adopts a non-discriminatory law or regulation intended to serve a public purpose, it shall not constitute a violation of an investment agreement or treaty, even if the change in the legal environment thwarts the foreign investors’ previous expectations.
NCSL believes that BIT and FTA implementing legislation must include provisions that deny any private action in U.S. courts or before international dispute resolution panels to enforce international trade or investment agreements. Implementing legislation must also include provisions stating that neither the decisions of international dispute resolution panels nor international trade and investment agreements themselves are binding on the states as a matter of U.S. law.
More Financial Deregulation
Given the recent financial crisis, it’s alarming that financial deregulation will likely be pushed in the TPP. A letter from 100 economists to the TPP negotiators expressed concern and stated:
We, the undersigned economists, write to you regarding the capital transfers provisions in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). We are concerned that if recent U.S. treaties are used as the model for the TPPA, the agreement will unduly limit the authority of participating parties to prevent and mitigate financial crises.
They went on to point out the importance of capital controls. “While capital controls and other capital management techniques are no panacea for financial instability, there is an emerging consensus that they are an important part of the macro-economic toolkit. Indeed, all G-20 leaders endorsed the following statement at the 2011 Cannes Summit:
Capital flow management measures may constitute part of a broader approach to protect economies from shocks. In circumstances of high and volatile capital flows, capital flow management measures can complement and be employed alongside, rather than substitute for, appropriate monetary, exchange rate, foreign reserve management and prudential policies.
Fast Tracking of the Agreement
President Obama has sought trade promotion authority (‘fast track’) to get TPP through Congress. Fast track usurps Congress’s constitutional authority over trade issues. Congress would have a very limited time to debate the deal and would not be allowed to make any changes. Fortunately, Congress has not yet abrogated its responsibility over trade issues. It is important to keep pressure on Congress to deny Obama this authority.
Represent Public Interest, not Transnational Corporations
Let your representative and senators know that you want them to oppose both fast track and the TPP. If they fail to do this, they are sending a clear message to voters.