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TPP vs. Democracy: Leaked Draft of Secretive Trade Deal Spells Out Plan for Corporate Power Grab

March 27, 2015
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WikiLeaks reveals negotiators planning to expand secret corporate tribunals

"With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty," said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. (Photo courtesy of Wikileaks)

“With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty,” said Lori Wallach of Public Citizen. (Photo courtesy of Wikileaks)

Newly leaked classified documents show that the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership deal, if it goes through as written, will dramatically expand the power of corporations to use closed-door tribunals to challenge—and supersede—domestic laws, including environmental, labor, and public health, and other protections.

The tribunals, made infamous under NAFTA, were exposed in the “Investment Chapter” from the TPP negotiations, which was released to the public by WikiLeaks on Wednesday.

“The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states,” said Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor. “This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. Similar tribunals have already been shown to chill the adoption of sane environmental protection, public health and public transport policies.”

Responding to the leak, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, declared: “With the veil of secrecy ripped back, finally everyone can see for themselves that the TPP would give multinational corporations extraordinary new powers that undermine our sovereignty, expose U.S. taxpayers to billions in new liability, and privilege foreign firms operating here with special rights not available to U.S. firms under U.S. law.”

The document reveals that negotiators plan to recycle language from past trade agreements to create the controversial “investor-state dispute settlement” system (ISDS). Under this framework, multinationals would be granted a parallel legal system in which they can sue governments, and therefore taxpayers, for loss of “expected future profit,” with the power to overrule national laws and judicial systems.

The language included in this draft is even worse than previously thought, because it excludes a minor safeguard included in a version leaked in 2012.

Public Citizen noted in a press statement that the latest draft “abandons a safeguard proposed in the 2012 leaked TPP investment text, which excluded public interest regulations from indirect expropriation claims, stating, ‘non-discriminatory regulatory actions… that are designed and applied to achieve legitimate public welfare objectives, such as the protection of public health, safety and the environment do not constitute indirect expropriation.'”

Such ISDS tribunals have become a cornerstone of so-called “free trade” deals and are included in 3,000 accords world-wide, according to The New York Times. They have been used to attack toxic bans, environmental regulations, access to medicines, and safety laws.

However, their inclusion in the TPP is expected to have an even greater impact, given the number of countries involved in the pact and the size of their economies.

Under negotiation since at least 2008, the deal includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These nations together represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP, making this the largest trade deal yet.

Analysts say the new revelations have broad implications.

“The TPP would empower companies from New Zealand, Australia and Japan with new rights to attack our federal and local laws,” said Patrick Woodall, Research director and senior policy advocate for Food & Water Watch, in a statement released Thursday. “For example, one natural gas company has already challenged a fracking moratorium in the Canadian province of Quebec under NAFTA’s investment provisions.”

Woodall added, “These corporate lawsuits have a chilling effect on communities that want to protect their citizenry but lack the resources to defend against a colossal corporate lawsuit, including the more than 250 localities (including New York state) that have banned or imposed moratoriums on fracking.”

Furthermore, Sean Flynn, associate director of the Program on Information Justice and Intellectual Property at American University, warned that the TPP “would give new rights to private companies to challenge limitations and exceptions to copyrights, patents, and other intellectual property rights.”

“The text contains the same provisions that are being used by Eli Lilly to challenge Canada’s invalidation of patent extensions for new uses of two medicines originally developed in the 1970s,” wrote Flynn. “The same language is also being used by Philip Morris to challenge Uruguay’s regulation of advertising on cigarette packages as an ‘expropriation” of their trademarks.'”

“But the TPP language goes farther,” Flynn added. “It includes a new footnote, not previously released as part of any other investment chapter and not included in the U.S. model investment text—clarifying that private expropriation actions can be brought to challenge ‘the cancellation or nullification of such [intellectual property] rights,’ as well as ‘exceptions to such rights.'”

The leaked chapter is dated January 20, 2015, meaning the text was drafted before the last two negotiation sessions in February and March. Nonetheless, experts say this and other leaks provide the best—and only—public information about what the deal holds in store, given the intense secrecy of the talks.

The cover of the chapter stipulates it must remain classified “four years from entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement enters into force, four years from the close of the negotiations”—in what the Times says is likely an acknowledgement of the “sensitivity” of the secret tribunals.

Global civil societies had already mounted vigorous opposition to the deal for years, with unions, environmental groups, anti-militarist movements, and feminist organizations fromNew Zealand to the Japan voicing concern that the agreement will harm ordinary people. Groups across the U.S. have staged mounting protests against an ongoing attempt by the administration of President Barack Obama to fast track the accord to completion.

Wednesday’s revelations are likely to add to controversy over the deal.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration is negotiating two other secret trade deals: theTransatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.

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Fast-Track Fight Accelerates As Vote Approaches

March 25, 2015
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Forces opposed to Fast Track authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement are stepping up their efforts as legislation stealthily approaches.

As Congress prepares to consider fast track legislation to essentially pre-approve (without reading) the still-secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) opponents are working to get the word out and register opposition. Seattle’s city council is preparing to vote on a resolution opposing fast track, and a number of organizations sent an open letter spelling out what an acceptable fast track process would do.

Seattle Resolution Against Fast Track

The Seattle city council is preparing to vote next Monday on a resolution opposing fast track.

The Washington Fair Trade Coalition is requesting that Seattle residents email and call City Council to support a strong resolution against fast track. They would also like people to come to the City Council meeting on Monday, March 30, from 2 p.m.-4 p.m. People should show up by 1:45 p.m.

(The entire Council can be emailed at once with a message written to council@seattle.gov. The general phone number for the Council is 206-684-8566.)

Open Letter To Senator Wyden Opposing Fast Track

A number of organizations signed an open letter to Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden expressing opposition to the old fast track process and listing minimum standards for a new process that the organizations would support.

The letter is titled, “Fast Track Trade Authority Must Be Replaced To Deliver Trade Agreement that Can Deliver Broad Benefits.” The letter was sent by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), Citizens Trade Campaign, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, National Farmers Union, Public Citizen, Sierra Club and the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

The previous letter asks for the following minimum standards in fast-track legislation:

1. Congressional role in selecting appropriate trade partners: Congress should set criteria, including with respect to human and labor rights compliance, environmental and public health standards, and market access opportunities for U.S. exporters, to determine whether a country is an appropriate trading partner for the United States. Congress must also have the opportunity to determine that a country proposed by the executive branch does not meet such criteria before negotiations commence and is unlikely to be an appropriate partner in the near term, in which case the trade agreement would not qualify for expedited procedures.

2. Mandatory negotiating objectives to ensure trade agreements deliver broad benefits: Congress should set mandatory negotiating objectives outlining what all U.S. trade agreements must and must not include. Congress must have the opportunity to add agreement-specific objectives.

3. Enhanced transparency to ensure meaningful congressional and public input: The Office of the United States Trade Representative must conduct broad, specific, and systematic congressional and public briefings on the progress that negotiators are making towards meeting the established negotiating objectives. In addition, negotiating texts should be made available to the public so that all stakeholders have the information to provide informed input to elected and appointed officials on the implications of the trade deal.

4. Congressional certification that trade goals have been met before trade negotiations are concluded: When executive branch negotiators believe that they have concluded negotiations, a final text must be released publicly and Congress must certify that the negotiating objectives have been satisfied before the text of a pact can be deemed final. Only such certification could trigger an expedited vote by Congress to approve the agreement.

5. Congressional approval of trade agreements and authorization for the executive branch to sign and enter into agreements: Congress would vote on trade agreements using expedited procedures only if the requirements enumerated above were met. Requiring explicit congressional approval to sign and enter into the agreement enables Congress to ensure that an agreement’s contents are acceptable at a time when changes could still be made, if necessary.

6. A mechanism for a sizeable minority of the House or Senate to obtain a vote on a resolution to remove an agreement from expedited consideration: As an additional safeguard, a sizeable minority in either chamber should be able to get a privileged floor vote in either chamber on a resolution to withdraw expedited consideration for any pact for a variety of reasons, such as lack of Congressional or public consultation/input or clear breach of negotiating objectives.

7. Trade negotiating authority must be considered in conjunction with related trade and economic policy legislation. For example, trade rules that cannot be enforced provide no real benefits for the American people, our environment, or our economy. Moreover, increased trade without concurrent investments in our infrastructure and workforce will surely result in lost opportunities. Addressing long-standing economic problems such as wage suppression and economic inequality will take more than new trade pacts.

Here is the letter:

March 23, 2015
Dear Senator:

Last fall, our organizations were joined by nearly 600 other unions and environmental, consumer, faith, family farm, civil rights, seniors, LGBT and other civil society organizations on a letter outlining the features of a trade authority mechanism that we would support. As negotiations on a prospective trade authority bill continue, we wanted to bring these criteria in the attached letter to your attention.

Given that the administration has failed to incorporate into the Trans-Pacific Partnership the enforceable disciplines against currency manipulation that bipartisan majorities in both the Senate and House support, it is even more critical now that Congress must not cede its leverage over the contents of American trade agreements.

Over the course of our nation’s history, Congress has regularly created new trade authority mechanisms as the subject matter of agreements has changed. In order to deal with today’s complex trade agreements and accelerating globalization, a 21st century trade authority that includes enhanced mechanisms for Congress to exercise its constitutional authority over trade agreements from start to finish is needed.

While it is important that Congress develop robust and binding negotiating mandates that outline what all U.S. trade agreements must and must not include, as detailed in the attached letter, even more important is the replacement of the outdated and failed Fast Track procedures.

Fast Track empowered a president to unilaterally select countries, determine the contents of agreements via negotiation, and sign and enter into them before Congress approved their texts, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ statutory negotiating objectives defined under the Fast Track delegation. Fast Track further empowered a president to write and submit legislation to implement the trade agreement and after skirting normal congressional review and mark-up to be guaranteed votes in both chambers within 90 days. Importantly, neither the implementing bill nor the underlying trade deal could be amended, regardless of whether a pact met Congress’ statutory negotiating objectives.

The 1988 Fast Track allowed either the Ways and Means or Finance Committees to remove an agreement from expedited consideration before a president signed it and allowed any member of Congress to submit a “disapproval resolution” removing a pact from Fast Track, however these processes proved insufficient to enforce some of Congress’ negotiating objectives with respect to the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization agreements.

This reinforces why a new trade authority process must ensure that Congress, not the executive branch, determines when Congress’ negotiating objectives have been satisfied as well as requirements for increased congressional and public oversight over the process. To ensure better trade deals that work for all of us, it must open up the negotiating process to public scrutiny. Further, completed agreements must only be subject to expedited consideration if and when Congress determines that the conditions of its delegation are met.

We urge you to seize the historic opportunity to replace the outdated Fast Track procedures that our organizations so strongly oppose and create a new trade negotiating and approval process that would help deliver trade agreements that could benefit workers, communities, and the environment and, therefore, rebuild broad support for trade agreements.

Sincerely,

American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO)

Citizens Trade Campaign
International Brotherhood of Teamsters
National Farmers Union
Public Citizen
Sierra Club
United Brotherhood of Carpenters

Dave Johnson is a contributing blogger for the Campaign for America’s Future.

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The TPP: What’s Hidden in the Fine Print?

March 18, 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: People Magazine)
Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: People Magazine)

By Elizabeth Warren, Elizabeth Warren’s Blog

17 March 15

 

he United States is in the final stages of secret, closed-door negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement with 11 other countries.

Who will benefit from it? One provision hidden in the fine print – “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” – may sound harmless, but don’t let that fool you: ISDS could let foreign companies challenge US laws without ever stepping in an American court.

That would undermine US sovereignty and tilt the playing field even further in favor of multinational corporations.

Sign my petition and spread the word: ISDS is a bad deal for America.

Here’s how ISDS would work: Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge that regulation in a US court.

But with ISDS, the company could skip the US courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the multinational company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in US courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions – and even billions – of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Really.

And if the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, giant corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with US operations wanted to challenge our refusal to import a dangerous chemical, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union or human rights group believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the American labor group would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts – and if an environmental group thought the Vietnamese company was dumping waste in their rivers in violation of the new trade agreement, they would have to go to a Vietnamese court as well. In other words, the great deal for corporations is only for corporations – everyone else is left out.

Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal for America. Sign my petition to say no to ISDS.

Opposing ISDS isn’t a partisan issue – even your Tea Party relatives should be worried about this dangerous provision:

    • Conservatives who believe in US sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals.
    • Libertarians should be offended that ISDS effectively would offer a free taxpayer subsidy to countries with weak legal systems.
  • And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinational corporations to weaken labor and environmental rules.

If a final TPP agreement includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the only winners will be multinational corporations. Join me in saying No to ISDS.

 

Do Corporations Really Need More Rights? Why Fast Track for the TPP Is a Bad Idea

March 15, 2015

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The TPP won’t expand U.S. exports, thus creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses—it will instead strengthen corporate rule. The international agreement undermines democracy, economic justice, the environment, human health and small business.

President Obama is currently pressing members of Congress to pass Fast-Track authority for a trade and investment agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If Fast Track passes, it means that Congress must approve or deny the TPP with minimal debate and no amendments. Astonishingly, our lawmakers have not seen the agreement they are being asked to expedite.

The rulings of these tribunals pre-empt national laws and the decisions of national courts.

The TPP is presented as an agreement to increase U.S. exports and jobs. But what is really at stake is democracy—in the United States as well as in the 11 other Pacific Rim countries that are parties to the TPP.

Given past agreements on which the TPP is modeled, including the North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA), TPP provisions will likely have significant implications for nearly every aspect of American life—including intellectual property rights, labor and environmental protections, consumer safety and product labeling, government procurement, and national resource management. Given the way these agreements are crafted, we can be quite certain that the implications will favor corporate profits over human well-being. And once the agreement is approved, its provisions will trump national and local laws, including the U.S. Constitution, and will not be subject to review or revision by any national legislative or judicial body—including the U.S. Supreme Court.

It is expected that the TPP will include an Investor State Dispute Settlement provision that gives foreign corporations the right to sue governments for lost profits due to laws—such as environmental standards and safeguards for workers—they claim deprive them of revenue they might otherwise have received. Such claims are settled in tribunals comprised of trade lawyers whose identities are secret. The rulings of these tribunals pre-empt national laws and the decisions of national courts and are not subject to review by any national judicial or legislative body.

Also in the mold of NAFTA and similar previous pacts, the TPP is being drafted in secret. The main players at the negotiating table are trade officials from the party countries and representatives from the world’s largest global corporations.

Since negotiations began in 2005, the public, press, and members of Congress and their staff have been denied access to the TPP meetings and to drafts of the agreement. In stark contrast, according to a 2014 report byThe Washington Post, 566 advisory group members can view and comment on proposals. Of these members, 480 represent industry groups or trade associations and dominate the most important committees.

The secret gatherings of unelected government officials and corporate representatives in which agreements like the TPP are negotiated have become de facto transnational legislative bodies, drafting international laws the democratically elected legislative bodies of signatory countries then rubber stamp.

President Obama’s assurance that this time will be different carries little credibility.

Because such sweeping provisions supersede the U.S. Constitution, one might expect that their approval by the U.S. Congress would require the same high bar as a constitutional amendment. At a bare minimum, approval should be subject to the same review, debate, and approval process considered essential for any normal piece of legislation. Yet our elected representatives have time after time voted to approve such agreements under expedited rules that trade away the rights of people in favor of the rights of global corporations.

President Obama recently appeared on Seattle’s KOMO TV news making the claim that the TPP will expand U.S. exports, thus creating jobs and opportunities for small businesses. President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, and President George W. Bush all made the same promises on similar previous agreements.

But expanded trade not only means more exports; it also means more imports. Previous similar agreements have produced greater growth in U.S. imports than growth in U.S. exports. The result is a net loss of jobs, especially industrial jobs with good pay and benefits, and the closure of many small businesses. President Obama’s assurance that this time will be different carries little credibility, based on this historical experience.

These agreements are written by global corporations such as Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, Citibank, ExxonMobil, British Petroleum, HSBC, and JPMorgan. These companies are not in the business of creating jobs and benefiting small businesses. They are in the business of maximizing their own profits. In regard to small businesses, the agenda is to capture their markets, buy them out, or squeeze them to the bone as captive suppliers and contractors.

Because these trade and investment agreements are not in the public interest, their corporate and governmental sponsors go to great lengths to keep the negotiations secret. If the TPP provisions were truly beneficial, there presumably would be no need to press the members of Congress to expedite approval under Fast Track rules before the public and members of Congress have seen the text.

Members of Congress will surely receive copies of the TPP documents before their final vote on the actual agreement. But these agreements are typically more than a thousand pages of detailed legalese meaningful only to experienced trade lawyers. If past experience is any guide, our lawmakers will have little time to read the agreement, let alone do a meaningful assessment of its implications or discuss it with constituents before it is called to a vote.

The time has come to end the use of international agreements to strengthen corporate rule. In the case of the TPP, passing no agreement is better than passing one that undermines democracy, economic justice, the environment, human health, and small business. We have no need of stronger protections for corporate rights. Rejecting Fast Track will create the opportunity for a long-overdue public conversation on a new framework for international trade and investment agreements that strengthen democracy, hold global corporations accountable to the public interest, secure worker rights, raise working conditions, and strengthen environmental protections in every signatory country.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus has just released a report called “Principles for Trade: A Model for Global Progress.” The principles it outlines provide an excellent starting point for such a conversation:

  • Protect the authority of national legislative bodies to set trade policy
  • Restore balanced trade
  • Put workers first
  • Stop currency manipulation
  • Secure each nation’s right to give preference to national procurement
  • Protect the environment for future generations
  • Prioritize consumers above profits
  • Assure the right of national judicial systems to settle legal disputes with investors.
  • Secure affordable access to essential medicines and services
  • Respect human rights
  • Provide a safety net for vulnerable workers

As the vote on Fast Track approaches, this is a good time for citizens to call for a national and global public conversation about economic policies that put the interests of living people, living communities, and living Earth ahead of corporate profits.

It is also the right time for each of us to let our members of Congress know where we stand on Fast Track and the TPP and that we are paying close attention to how they vote.

We can have democracy and a prosperous, just, and sustainable human future. Or we can have corporate rule. We cannot have both.

David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of theLiving Economies Forum, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a member of the Club of Rome. His books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World, which will be released in an updated 20th anniversary edition in June 2015.

Justice Must Flow: Economic Democracy and the Water Commons
War on Medical Marijuana Comes to an End
Authors

Bio: David Korten is co-founder and board chair of YES! Magazine, co-chair of the New Economy Working Group, president of the Living Economies Forum, an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, and a member of the Club of Rome. His books include the international best-seller When Corporations Rule the World, which will be released in an updated 20th anniversary edition in June 2015.

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With TPP at ‘Make-or-Break Point,’ Fast Track Foes Prepare for Battle

March 15, 2015
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While corporate-backed forces push for agreement, progressive lawmakers say trade deals should “improve the bottom lines” of people, not just multinationals

A banner at a 2013 TPP protest in Bellingham, Washington. (Photo: Backbone Campaign/flickr/cc)

The 12-nation, corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership “is at a make-or-break point,” according to Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb, who said that if the U.S. is able to overcome opposition from leading figures like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), the deal could be inked within weeks.

The Sydney Morning Herald, owned by Fairfax Media, reports: “Mr. Robb and other close observers have told Fairfax that negotiators are poised to strike a ground-breaking deal which would bring huge economic benefits to Australia and mark a major strategic win for the United States, as it wrestles with China for regional leadership.”

But, Robb added, Warren’s “ferocious attack on the TPP has caused Congress to baulk at giving the Obama administration the Fast-Track authority it needs to seal a deal during the only realistic window of political opportunity prior to the US presidential election in November 2016.”

Though hardly alone in her opposition, Warren has argued that implementation of the secretly negotiated trade deal would boost corporate power while making it harder to prevent another financial crisis. She has taken specific issue with ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement’ (ISDS) provisions, which she claims would “tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations.”

Stakeholders in the U.S. who have lined up against the agreement also see the next few weeks as a critical turning point in the fight over Fast Track and the so-called “free trade” deals that authority is designed to promote.

“We are going all out to oppose it: phone banks, leaf letting, door knocks in various congressional districts and Senate states in informing the general public, and we will continue this until we are successful in defeating it,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumkasaid during a reporter roundtable on Tuesday.

Should the trade agreement go through despite vociferous public opposition, “It will adversely affect the way working people view this administration and all those in the Democratic Party for a long time,” Trumka said. Democrats under pressure from the White House to support it should remember that the president won’t be on the ballot in 2016, he added. “He isn’t running again, they are.”

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, warned this week that “the TPP could sabotage the ability of the U.S. (and other nations) to respond to the climate crisis.”

Brune continued:

Senator Elizabeth Warren put her finger on the problem in an op-ed for theWashington Post: “Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?” Here’s a hint: The answer is definitely not “all of the above.” Multinational corporations—including some of the planet’s biggest polluters—could use the TPP to sue governments, in private trade tribunals, over laws and policies that they claimed would reduce their profits. The implications of this are profound: Corporate profits are more important than protections for clean air, clean water, climate stability, workers’ rights, and more.

This isn’t a hypothetical threat. Similar rules in other free trade deals have allowed corporations including ExxonMobil, Chevron, and Occidental Petroleum to bring approximately 600 cases against nearly 100 governments. Increasingly, corporations are using these perverse rules to challenge energy and climate policies, including a moratorium on fracking in Quebec; a nuclear energy phaseout and coal-fired power plant standards in Germany; and a pollution cleanup in Peru. TransCanada has even intimated that it would use similar rules in the North American Free Trade Agreement to challenge a U.S. decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline.

There is an alternative, the Congressional Progressive Caucus declared earlier this month—one that prioritizes workers rights, environmental and public health protections, and balanced trade deficits over corporate interests.

“As a global leader, the United States has a unique opportunity to shape the future of global trade agreements, so it is imperative that we get the rules right to strengthen global trading systems,” they wrote. “The U.S. must stop using trade agreements as investment deals for the world’s wealthiest corporations and instead prioritize higher wages, safer work and environmental standards and a healthier world economy. Trade agreements should improve the bottom lines of all Americans, not just of American corporations—or else we shouldn’t enter into them at all.”

Indeed, passing no agreement is better than passing this one, argued author and activist David Korten in an analysis published in YES! Magazine this week.

“The time has come to end the use of international agreements to strengthen corporate rule,” Korten stated. “We have no need of stronger protections for corporate rights.”

He added: “Rejecting Fast Track will create the opportunity for a long-overdue public conversation on a new framework for international trade and investment agreements that strengthen democracy, hold global corporations accountable to the public interest, secure worker rights, raise working conditions, and strengthen environmental protections in every signatory country.”

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Real Democracy Movement Launches Nationwide Actions Opposing Pacific Trade Deal

March 4, 2015
DemocracyMovement030415

Last Thursday, the FCC cast its historic vote on Net Neutrality guaranteeing a free and open Internet. Simultaneously, as Congress reconvenes after the congressional recess, they are preparing to bring Fast Track of the Trans-Pacific Partnership up for a vote. The Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy is confronting these two current issues of people power versus corporate power that will have a major impact on people’s lives. Firstly, the issue of Net Neutrality. A people-powered movement has convinced the FCC to reclassify the Internet to ensure equal access for all without discrimination. Kevin Zeese of Popular Resistance notes that “Net Neutrality is essential for the exercise of Freedom of Speech in the 21st Century. Now the telecom companies are trying to convince their puppets in Congress to undermine the FCC’s decision and once again, the people are fighting back.” Secondly, TPP and Fast Track. For three years a movement opposed to secretly negotiated corporate trade agreements has stopped Congress from giving President Obama Fast Track trade authority. Fast Track would allow him to sign these secret agreements and then push them through Congress without hearings or amendments, with only brief debate on and an up-or-down vote. These trade agreements are structured solely in the interest of corporate gain. The TPP and Fast Track are bringing together odd bedfellows like in Spokane, Wash., where Tea Party members and Occupiers are coming together in opposition. Eleanor Goldfield, a musician with Rooftop Revolutionaries and activist with the Rolling Rebellion, says passage of the TPP and Fast Track would “turn corporate personhood into corporate nationhood by creating international court systems and trade tribunals that allow corporations to challenge laws enacted by countries in the interest of public health, safety and justice.” With this sovereignty, corporations would hold sway over nearly every facet of our lives, from food to Internet access. As Julian Assange wrote, “If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.” In the month of February, people protested at the grassroots level, combining their efforts into a national movement for equal access Internet and against secret trade deals. Years of organizing have brought these issues to a head. Now, activists have been mobilizing throughout the congressional recess and coordinating high-visibility actions in cities from coast to coast. In Washington and Oregon, a “Fair Trade or BusTour” complete with hand-painted murals and packed with constituents visited undecided members of congress. In San Diego, Calif., community members took to highway overpasses to deliver representatives their message emblazoned on LED light panels. Across the U.S., activists used guerrilla light projection to illuminate monuments and building facades with slogans like “Don’t Let Comcast Choke Your Freedom,” “No Slow Lanes, Open & Equal Internet For All,” and “TPP Dismantles Democracy – StopFastTrack.com.” Multiple protests occurred at telecom companies like Comcast, AT&T and Time Warner Cable, who are second only to defense industries in the amount that they spend lobbying and buying favors from representatives who are supposed to serve We The People. Read more at Occupy.com.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Clause Everyone Should Oppose

February 27, 2015

Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis)
Senator Elizabeth Warren. (photo: Rick Friedman/Corbis)

By Elizabeth Warren, The Washington Post

26 February 15

 

he United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?

One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.

ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.

If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but itwouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?

If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.

Why create these rigged, pseudo-courts at all? What’s so wrong with the U.S. judicial system? Nothing, actually. But after World War II, some investors worried about plunking down their money in developing countries, where the legal systems were not as dependable. They were concerned that a corporation might build a plant one day only to watch a dictator confiscate it the next. To encourage foreign investment in countries with weak legal systems, the United States and other nations began to include ISDS in trade agreements.

Those justifications don’t make sense anymore, if they ever did. Countries in the TPP are hardly emerging economies with weak legal systems. Australia and Japan have well-developed, well-respected legal systems, and multinational corporations navigate those systems every day, but ISDS would preempt their courts too. And to the extent there are countries that are riskier politically, market competition can solve the problem. Countries that respect property rights and the rule of law — such as the United States — should be more competitive, and if a company wants to invest in a country with a weak legal system, then it should buy political-risk insurance.

The use of ISDS is on the rise around the globe. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims worldwide. But in 2012 alone, there were 58 cases. Recent casesinclude a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.

ISDS advocates point out that, so far, this process hasn’t harmed the United States. And our negotiators, who refuse to share the text of the TPP publicly, assure us that it will include a bigger, better version of ISDS that will protect our ability to regulate in the public interest. But with the number of ISDS cases exploding and more and more multinational corporations headquartered abroad, it is only a matter of time before such a challenge does serious damage here. Replacing the U.S. legal system with a complex and unnecessary alternative — on the assumption that nothing could possibly go wrong — seems like a really bad idea.

This isn’t a partisan issue. Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals. Libertarians should be offended that ISDS effectively would offer a free taxpayer subsidy to countries with weak legal systems. And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinationals to weaken labor and environmental rules.

Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal. If a final TPP agreement includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the only winners will be multinational corporations.

 

#FightFastTrack: Coalition Takes Aim at Lawmakers over Corporate-Friendly ‘Trade’ Agreement

February 20, 2015
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Environmental, labor, and community groups are staging public forums and creative direct actions urging their representatives to say no to a rushed TPP deal

People gather at Peace Arch Park in 2012 to oppose the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). (Photo: Caelie_Frampton/flickr/cc)
People gather at Peace Arch Park in 2012 to oppose the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP). (Photo: Caelie_Frampton/flickr/cc)

Environmental, labor, and community groups are organizing rallies, public forums, and creative direct actions this week urging their congressional representatives to say “no” to a renewed bid to rush through the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership “trade” deal by passing “fast track” legislation.

“Senate Finance Committe Chair Orrin Hatch (R-UT) is saying he wants to reintroduce Fast Track legislation for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) this month — right after Members of Congress return from the Presidents Day recess,” explains Citizens Trade Campaign, referring to legislation that would allow the Obama administration to avoid transparency and full congressional review of the deal. “Now’s the time to tell Congress: no Fast Track for the TPP!”

“Fast track legislation could be introduced as early as next week,” Arthur Stamoulis, executive direct of Citizens Trade Campaign, told Common Dreams. “Fast track would allow harmful trade deals like the TPP be rushed through Congress. We need everyone to be telling their Congress members to put the breaks on.”

From California to Illinois to Connecticut, over 22 events are slated for the President’s Day recess (February 14 to 23), during which lawmakers are at home, in their districts. Organizers hail from labor, workers’ rights, environmental, and community organizations, and actions span from an overpass light brigade in San Diego to a public forum in New York.

While some events have already taken place, additional actions are scheduled for the coming days. Updates and commentary are being posted to Twitter:

Critics are blasting the highly-secretive Pacific “trade” deal under negotiation, which has been called “NAFTA on steroids,” as a tool for advancing U.S. and corporate power at the expense of environmental and public health.

In fact, many argue that it’s inaccurate to refer to the TPP as a “trade” deal at all, since the real prerogative is to protect corporate profits and protections.

The TPP negotiations between the U.S. and 11 other nations (Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia) are so secretive that even many members of Congress have not seen the text. This is despite the fact that the pact, if passed, would impact 40 percent of the world’s economy.

The information that is available to the public was leaked. Documents show that negotiators are pushing for inclusion of NAFTA’s infamous corporate tribunals, in which corporations “settle disputes” with governments in secrecy and trample domestic protections including public health and environmental regulations, completely circumventing their own national legal systems.

Furthermore, leaks show that the U.S. is pushing to expand the power of pharmaceutical companies to establish monopolies on life-saving drugs, and even laws regulating tobacco companies could be slashed.

The TPP would affect wages, climate protections, internet freedom, access to medicine, indigenous rights, food safety, financial regulations, and a whole lot more,” said Stamoulis. “It’s really a corporate power grab with the status of a trade agreement.”

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How Trade Deals Boost the Top 1% and Bust the Rest

February 17, 2015

Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)
Economist, professor, author and political commentator Robert Reich. (photo: Richard Morgenstein)

By Robert Reich, Robert Reich’s Blog

17 February 15

 

The ability to get health insurance independently from full-time jobs has empowered workers, evidence shows

uppose that by enacting a particular law we’d increase the U.S.Gross Domestic Product. But almost all that growth would go to the richest 1percent.

The rest of us could buy some products cheaper than before. But those gains would be offset by losses of jobs and wages.

This is pretty much what “free trade” has brought us over the last two decades.

I used to believe in trade agreements. That was before the wages of most Americans stagnated and a relative few at the top captured just about all the economic gains.

Recent trade agreements have been wins for big corporations and Wall Street, along with their executives and major shareholders. They get better access to foreign markets and billions of consumers.

They also get better protection for their intellectual property – patents, trademarks, and copyrights. And for their overseas factories, equipment, and financial assets.

But those deals haven’t been wins for most Americans.

The fact is, trade agreements are no longer really about trade. Worldwide tariffs are already low. Big American corporations no longer make many products in the United States for export abroad.

The biggest things big American corporations sell overseas are ideas, designs, franchises, brands, engineering solutions, instructions, and software.

Google, Apple, Uber, Facebook, Walmart, McDonalds, Microsoft, and Pfizer, for example, are making huge profits all over the world.

But those profits don’t depend on American labor — apart from a tiny group of managers, designers, and researchers in the U.S.

To the extent big American-based corporations any longer make stuff for export, they make most of it abroad and then export it from there, for sale all over the world — including for sale back here in the United States.

The Apple iPhone is assembled in China from components made in Japan, Singapore, and a half-dozen other locales. The only things coming from the U.S. are designs and instructions from a handful of engineers and managers in California.

Apple even stows most of its profits outside the U.S. so it doesn’t have to pay American taxes on them.

This is why big American companies are less interested than they once were in opening other countries to goods exported from the United States and made by American workers.

They’re more interested in making sure other countries don’t run off with their patented designs and trademarks. Or restrict where they can put and shift their profits.

In fact, today’s “trade agreements” should really be called “global corporate agreements” because they’re mostly about protecting the assets and profits of these global corporations rather than increasing American jobs and wages. The deals don’t even guard against currency manipulation by other nations.

According to Economic Policy Institute, the North American Free Trade Act cost U.S. workers almost 700,000 jobs, thereby pushing down American wages.

Since the passage of the Korea–U.S. Free Trade Agreement, America’s trade deficit with Korea has grown more than 80 percent, equivalent to a loss of more than 70,000 additional U.S. jobs.

The U.S. goods trade deficit with China increased $23.9 billion last year, to $342.6 billion. Again, the ultimate result has been to keep U.S. wages down.

The old-style trade agreements of the 1960s and 1970s increased worldwide demand for products made by American workers, and thereby helped push up American wages.

The new-style global corporate agreements mainly enhance corporate and financial profits, and push down wages.

That’s why big corporations and Wall Street are so enthusiastic about the upcoming Trans Pacific Partnership – the giant deal among countries responsible for 40 percent of the global economy.

That deal would give giant corporations even more patent protection overseas. It would also guard their overseas profits.

And it would allow them to challenge any nation’s health, safety, and environmental laws that stand in the way of their profits – including our own.

The Administration calls the Trans Pacific Partnership a key part of its “strategy to make U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region a top priority.

Translated: The White House thinks it will help the U.S. contain China’s power and influence.

But it will make giant U.S. global corporations even more powerful and influential.

White House strategists seem to think such corporations are accountable to the U.S. government. Wrong. At most, they’re answerable to their shareholders, who demand high share prices whatever that requires.

I’ve seen first-hand how effective Wall Street and big corporations are at wielding influence — using lobbyists, campaign donations, and subtle promises of future jobs to get the global deals they want.

Global deals like the Trans Pacific Partnership will boost the profits of Wall Street and big corporations, and make the richest 1 percent even richer.

But they’ll bust the rest of America.

 

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, Written in Secrecy, Could Cost U.S. Jobs

February 13, 2015

Photo via http://www.michaelgeist.ca

This originally appeared as a guest editorial in the Seattle Times.

Sometime this year, President Obama will ask Congress to approve a new trade agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

Everyone I know is in favor of trade. We take pride when Washington State produces and exports airplanes, apples, soft white wheat and software.

It should be obvious, however, that we can have good trade policy or bad trade policy.

We should understand that the TPP has been negotiated in secrecy. More than 600 corporate lobbyists have had direct access to the negotiating texts. They serve as formal advisers in the negotiations and have constant communication with U.S. negotiators. Meanwhile, Congress and the public are unable to get or discuss copies of the deal.

As the negotiations conclude, we can assume that corporate lobbyists achieved the terms and provisions they want in the final texts. This process is designed to favor the interests of global corporations, while sweeping aside public interests.

The trade provisions in TPP are not controversial. Since tariffs are already low, Washington state producers would have the same access to foreign markets with or without TPP. Economists project that the net increase in economic activity from TPP will be a fraction of 1 percent.

The remaining provisions are very controversial. We know from news leaks and public statements that TPP would grant global corporations new legal rights, expand monopoly protections for pharmaceuticals and relax Wall Street regulations. These would happen while weakening our worker and environmental protections, limiting policy options in public health and restricting Internet freedom. TPP is really about power relationships, granting more power and influence to global corporations — who already have plenty of both.

Since the passage of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, our cumulative trade deficit has grown by almost $10 trillion nationally. It has cost Washington state 10,800 manufacturing jobs, as of 2010. Under the recent U.S.-Korea trade deal, our trade deficit with Korea ballooned, costing thousands more U.S. jobs.

The public should also know about “investor-state provisions,” which prioritize corporate profits over public interest and allow foreign corporations to seek sanctions and damages from national governments. These suits are heard in private trade tribunals, where corporations challenge laws they believe reduce their profits, including worker protections, public-health programs and policies that reduce the use of fossil fuels.

Similar provisions in other NAFTA-style trade deals have already allowed global corporations to launch nearly 600 challenges against almost 100 governments. These tribunals decide cases based on language in the trade deals. They are not bound by our legal tradition or the U.S. Constitution.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s recent letter to the U.S. trade representative called attention to this so-called investor-state dispute settlement mechanism: “This mechanism provides foreign investors with both greater procedural and substantive rights than domestic companies by providing foreign companies access to extrajudicial panels and by giving them the opportunity to be awarded compensation for government measures that … would not be considered a violation of property rights protections under U.S. law. … It certainly appears that we are susceptible to losing a case if the legal reasoning used in favor of U.S. investors under certain cases in the past were to be applied against our country’s policies in the future. In its current form, the liabilities of investor-state provisions outweigh their potential value.”

NAFTA-style trade deals like TPP would thwart generations of U.S. legal tradition, and restrict our policy options for dealing with climate change, wage stagnation and income inequality. A European diplomat, Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, speaking in Seattle at the World Affairs Council meeting in October 2013, said global businesses would welcome this outcome. He concluded, “These agreements will determine how life is organized in 2050.”

We have learned two things about NAFTA-style free trade agreements: They are not free and they are not trade. Having experienced 20 years of deindustrialization, job loss, and concentration of wealth and influence from NAFTA and similar trade deals, we can add: They don’t work and their distortions of power relationships weaken democracy.

Stan Sorscher is representative with the Society for Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace (SPEEA) and president of Washington Fair Trade Coalition.


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