Archive for the ‘TPP’ Category

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.

Why Is a Huge Trade Deal Being Kept Secret?

February 7, 2015

US President Barack Obama speaks to US T

Trade officials think transparency is a bad thing, but grassroots efforts are pressuring leaders to reveal the secret trade deal currently being negotiated. The TPP, defying public will, remains under lock and key.

The trade rules of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership between the United States and 11 Asian nations would cover nearly 40 percent of the world economy — but don’t ask what they are. Access to the text of the proposed deal is highly restricted.

Nevertheless, at last month’s World Economic Forum in Switzerland, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman defended the Obama administration from intensifying criticism of its refusal to release the full text of the proposed trade pact.

“We can always do better on transparency,” he said, but added that “there is no area of policy where there is closer collaboration between the executive and Congress than trade policy.”

Froman, who said his office has held more than 1,600 briefings with lawmakers over the TPP, asserted that his office also has released summaries of proposed provisions.

Yet the actual text of the agreement remains under lock and key. That represents a significant break from the Bush administration, which in 2001 published the text of a proposed multinational trade agreement with Latin American nations.

“It is incomprehensible to me that leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of the TPP, while at the same time, the elected officials of this country, representing the American people, have little or no knowledge of what’s in it,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in a letter to Froman last month.

Sanders’ office confirms that congressional lawmakers are permitted to view the text of the agreement only in the Trade Representative’s office, without their own staff members or experts present. They are not allowed to take copies of the agreement back to Capitol Hill for deeper, independent evaluation.

Despite those restrictions, specific details of the agreement’s text have surfaced from unauthorized leaks — some of which appear to contradict the Obama administration’s promises.

Froman, for instance, said in Switzerland that “none of [the trade participants] want to lower our health, safety or environmental standards,” yet one of the leaks showed the U.S. proposing to empower corporations to attempt to overturn domestic regulations, while critics say another leaked provision would help the pharmaceutical industry inflate the price of medicines in poor countries.

Froman and Roberto Carvalho de Azevedo, the director-general of the World Trade Organization, were asked at the World Economic Forum why the Obama administration is concealing the TPP from the public at the same time the European Union has just published the full text of a separate proposed trade agreement with the United States. If, as the Obama administration has argued, some confidentiality is necessary for frank negotiations, was the EU wrong to publish its full proposal?

Froman suggested that nations have varying definitions of transparency.

“It is very important that as we pursue these trade negotiations we do so in a way that takes into account input from the public, from our wide range of stakeholders, our processes — in our case, Congress — we each have different ways we engage in that process,” he said.

Azevedo said: “Honestly, this is something that the participants have to solve — the degree of openness and the degree of transparency.” Negotiations require a degree of balance between transparency and secrecy, he said, “otherwise they don’t move.”

That may be true, but the question is why? Why don’t trade advance when they are made public?

Perhaps because when citizens learn the details of such trade agreements, they don’t like them — and they end up putting pressure on their leaders to back off.

Trade officials seem to think that’s a bad thing. But transparency and subsequent grassroots pressure is better than secretly negotiating a trade deal that ends up defying public will.

Don’t Trade Away Our Health

February 2, 2015
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A secretive group met behind closed doors in New York this week. What they decided may lead to higher drug prices for you and hundreds of millions around the world.

Representatives from the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries convened to decide the future of their trade relations in the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (T.P.P.). Powerful companies appear to have been given influence over the proceedings, even as full access is withheld from many government officials from the partnership countries.

Among the topics negotiators have considered are some of the most contentious T.P.P. provisions — those relating to intellectual property rights. And we’re not talking just about music downloads and pirated DVDs. These rules could help big pharmaceutical companies maintain or increase their monopoly profits on brand-name drugs.

The secrecy of the T.P.P. negotiations makes them maddeningly opaque and hard to discuss. But we can get a pretty good idea of what’s happening, based on documents obtained by WikiLeaks from past meetings (they began in 2010), what we know of American influence in other trade agreements, and what others and myself have gleaned from talking to negotiators.

Trade agreements are negotiated by the office of the United States Trade Representative, supposedly on behalf of the American people. Historically, though, the trade representative’s office has aligned itself with corporate interests. If big pharmaceutical companies hold sway — as the leaked documents indicate they do — the T.P.P. could block cheaper generic drugs from the market. Big Pharma’s profits would rise, at the expense of the health of patients and the budgets of consumers and governments.

There are two ways the office of the trade representative can use the T.P.P. to maintain or raise drug prices and profits.

The first is to restrict competition from generics. It’s axiomatic that more competition means lower prices. When companies have to fight for customers, they end up cutting their prices. When a patent expires, any company can enter the market with a generic version of a drug. The differences in prices between brand-name and generic drugs are mind- and budget-blowing. Just the availability of generics drives prices down: In generics-friendly India, for example, Gilead Sciences, which makes an effective hepatitis-C drug, recently announced that it would sell the drug for a little more than 1 percent of the $84,000 it charges here.

That’s why, since the United States opened up its domestic market to generics in 1984, they have grown from 19 percent of prescriptions to 86 percent, by some accounts saving the United States government, consumers and employers more than $100 billion a year. Drug companies stand to gain handsomely if the T.P.P. limits the sale of generics.

The second strategy is to undermine government regulation of drug prices. More competition is not the only way to keep down the prices of essential goods and services. Governments can also directly restrain prices through law, or effectively restrain them by denying reimbursement to patients for “overpriced” drugs — thus encouraging companies to bring down their prices to approved levels. These regulatory approaches are especially important in markets where competition is limited, as it is in the drug market. If the United States Trade Representative gets its way, the T.P.P. will limit the ability of partner countries to restrict prices. And the pharmaceutical companies surely hope the “standard” they help set in this agreement will become global — for example, by becoming the starting point for United States negotiations with the European Union over the same issues.

Americans might shrug at the prospect of soaring drug prices around the world. After all, the United States already allows drug companies to charge what they want. But that doesn’t mean we might not want to change things someday. Here again, the T.P.P. has us cornered: Trade agreements, and in particular individual provisions within them, are typically far more difficult to alter or repeal than domestic laws.

Environmental Groups Denounce Fast Track Trade Process

January 24, 2015
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Reprinted from Campaign For America’s Future

From flickr.com/photos/115237266@N06/12289397403/: LA activists against TPP
LA activists against TPP
(image by stopfasttrack)

The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the League of Conservation Voters and 41 other environmental groups sent a letter to Congress this week, asking them to oppose “fast track” trade promotion authority for upcoming trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). They asked Congress to instead set up an open, transparent trade negotiating system that gives stakeholders, other than just corporate representatives, input in the process.

The letter begins, “As leading U.S. environmental and science organizations, we write to express our strong opposition to ‘fast track’ trade promotion authority, and to urge you to oppose any legislation that would limit the ability of Congress to ensure that trade pacts deliver benefits for communities, workers, public health, and the environment.”

Background On Fast Track, TPP

Currently, trade negotiations are conducted in secret. Corporate representatives are part of the process, and the negotiators come from or expect to go into the corporate world. Stakeholders like environmental, consumer, labor, democracy, human rights, and other groups are excluded from the process.

Once these agreements are finalized, a process known as “fast track” is used to push the agreement through. Fast track asks Congress to forgo the usual process of careful deliberation, and vote within 90 days of Congress and the public first seeing the agreement. Congress also agrees in advance not to amend or filibuster the agreement. This sets up a rushed situation, in which massive corporate PR campaigns can pressure Congress to pass the agreement, and not “kill the whole thing” over problems that they might find. The public does not have time to digest the implications of the agreement and rally opposition, if warranted.

The letter from the environmental groups explains…

“Fast track was originally designed in the 1970s, when trade agreements focused on traditional trade issues such as cutting tariffs and lifting quotas. Today’s trade agreements, however, are about much more than tariffs and quotas and have significant implications for our environment, public health, and global climate.”

TPP is a massive agreement between the U.S. and 11 other countries. It has 29 “chapters” — only five of which cover trade issues at all. Other chapters cover things like rules limiting how countries regulate corporations, limiting how countries make laws that might limit corporation profits, and other rules that grant giant multinational corporations special protections from competition.

Instead of this corporate-dominated process, the environmental groups ask for an open, transparent process that delivers benefits for working people, not just for the owners of the largest corporations. From the letter:

“U.S. involvement in trade negotiations should be guided by democracy, transparency, political accountability and must lead to a ‘race to the top’ that provides real protections for communities, workers, and the environment. A new model of trade that delivers benefits for most Americans, promotes broadly shared prosperity, and safeguards the environment and public health is possible.”

Michael Brune, Executive Director of the Sierra Club said, “Trade should be done right — not just fast — to protect our families and neighbors from pollution and climate disruption. Fast-tracking flawed trade pacts is a deal-breaker. With fast track, we would be trading away clean air, clean water, and safe communities.”

Peter Lehner, Executive Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council: “Congress shouldn’t give a fast lane to trade pacts that don’t protect our public health and climate. These trade bills would give foreign corporations and governments the right to challenge our bedrock protections for clean air, safe drinking water, healthy food and proper chemical safeguards. We shouldn’t trade away our sovereignty. We need trade bills that tackle the 21st-century environmental challenges, not take us backwards.”

Click here to view the letter.

Signers of this letter include:

  • 350.org
  • Athens County (OH) Fracking Action Network
  • Berks Gas Truth
  • Catskill Mountainkeeper
  • Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy
  • Center for Biological Diversity
  • Center for International Environmental Law
  • Chesapeake Climate Action Network
  • Clean Economy Coalition of the Coastal Bend
  • Clean Water Action
  • The Delaware Riverkeeper
  • Defenders of Wildlife
  • Earthjustice
  • Earthworks
  • Energy Action Coalition
  • Environmental Action
  • Environmental Health Coalition
  • Environmental Investigation Agency
  • Food & Water Watch
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Friends of Merrymeeting Bay
  • Greenpeace USA
  • Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy
  • Institute for Policy Studies, Climate Policy Program
  • League of Conservation Voters
  • Natural Resources Defense Council
  • Oil Change International
  • Olympic Climate Action
  • Partnership for Policy Integrity
  • People Demanding Action
  • PODER (People Organized in Defense of Earth and Her Resources)
  • Progressive Democrats of America
  • Progressive Democrats of America Maryland
  • Rainforest Action Network
  • Safe Climate Campaign
  • Sierra Club
  • Southern Oregon Climate Action Now
  • Sustain US
  • Sustainable Energy and Economic Development (SEED) Coalition
  • The Texas Drought Project
  • Union of Concerned Scientists, Center for Science and Democracy
  • U.S. Climate Plan
  • Washington Environmental Council
  • Wild Earth Guardians

 

Dave Johnson is Founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest. Dave is a frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. He does a regular weekly segment on the popular Fairness (more…)

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Comment: TPP report raises serious questions about inequality and trade policy

January 18, 2015

September 26, 2013

As the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks continue behind closed doors, the case for the trade deal becomes more and more untenable. Reviews of the impacts of past free trade pacts, as well as modelling of the TPP, paint a grim picture of lower labor standards and greater inequality.

The Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) has been producing excellent critical research on globalization for over a decade. One of the center’s early publications, “The Scorecard on Globalization: 1980-2000” made a clear and accessible indictment of the right wing economics that took hold in the US and elsewhere in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was released when the debate over globalization was at its hottest, just before 9/11, and CEPR became a go-to source for documenting the results of twenty years (at that time) of market fundamentalism on income growth, life expectancy, health, and education.

The Center publishes many useful special issue reports including a new one by David Rosnick on the effect of the proposed TPP trade agreement on wages. In my view this agreement will lower labor standards, strengthen the hand of management and ownership, and it has been negotiated in a profoundly anti-democratic manner. Rosnick adds a statistical estimation of the TPP’s possible effects on wages. He does this by critiquing a study produced by the pro-TPP Peterson Institute for International Economics.

His results are consistent with the predictions of standard academic trade theory. The so-called “factor price equalization” theorem states that wages and returns to capital will be equalized across countries that establish free trade. Since most of the countries currently expected to sign the agreement have lower wages than the US, orthodox trade theory predicts that wages would fall in the US if we enter the agreement.

Rosnik separates out the likely effects of TPP on different groups of people. Workers in the bottom quarter of the income distribution are unlikely to be affected much, as their income is determined more by the minimum wage rate. Those at the top of the income distribution will likely gain due to easier enforcement of copyrights and patents. These gains and losses are not large but they are consistent with the overall direction of economic policy since the Reagan era: increasing protection for capital incomes and increasing exposure of workers to competition from low wage countries.

This policy set has been more consistently applied under recent Democratic than under Republican Presidents. Reagan and both Bushes included some “protectionist” elements in their coalition but the Democrats under both Clinton and Obama are increasingly the party of Hollywood, trial lawyers, cultural liberals, the West Coast technology giants, and finance capital, with a certain kind of charity for the poor. Not bad people necessarily but generally the winners from recent globalization of capitalism.

TPP’s proponents rely on an old argument that free trade is beneficial even if some groups lose because, at least in theory, the winners – capital and those who have monopoly-like positions in the labor market – could compensate the losers and still have something left over. In this case, as even the pro-TPP studies indicate if you dig into them, the expected gains for the US are so small that no one is even talking about trying to compensate the losers. In fact, the issue here is not necessarily the gains and losses that economists are most comfortable estimating but the extension of corporate control over both the global economy and the global policy-making apparatus.

If the economic argument for free trade is that overall output will rise, the political argument is that it is always necessary to pursue freer trade so as to beat back the forces of protection. Thus for the Peterson Institute researchers it is better to have a less ambitious agreement soon than to wait for a better agreement as waiting might allow protectionist “special interests” to gain control of the agenda. Given the evident failure of the now decade old Doha round at the WTO this is not an idle fear. The people don’t support these agreements and so moving fast and more or less undercover has been the Obama administration’s TPP strategy.

Studies like Rosnick’s at CEPR and his opponents at Peterson create the impression that economists can predict things with a precision that they are simply not capable of. For one thing, Rosnick’s predicted effects are drawn from data on current and recent past trading patterns, not on the new ones that TPP might generate. More important, as Rosnick himself intimates, the effects of these agreements are swamped by large and unpredictable events such as 9/11, the financial crisis, etc.

Most American economists generally support free trade out of an almost religious belief in the power of markets and not because of empirical studies. Such studies tend to justify pre-determined beliefs rather than the other way round, in the case of the Peterson Institute study the beliefs of the political and economic elites. Increasing the effective labor pool and securing foreign property rights have been consistent aspects of American trade policy for a generation and a half. It is good that CEPR continues to expose specious claims to the contrary.

~ Richard McIntyre is the U.S. Trade Representative in the Economy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet.

How To Avoid Another Job-Killing Trade Fiasco Like NAFTA

January 18, 2015
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/17/2015 at 15:18:01

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Reprinted from Campaign For America’s Future

From flickr.com/photos/47422005@N04/10734398214/: Stop TPP
Stop TPP
(image by DonkeyHotey)

We all know how NAFTA turned out for us (for most of us, anyway). We all know how opening up trade with China turned out. It’s right in front of our faces. Who hasn’t seen the boarded-up downtowns of closed-down “factory towns”? Who hasn’t felt the fear of hearing, “We’re moving your job to China”? We all know what has happened to jobs, wages, factories, and the ability to buy things that are “made in America.”

But instead of saying “Oh my God, sorry, let’s see if we can fix this and bring back the jobs and factories and get wages back up,” our DC elites are instead pushing for even more of these job-killing, factory-closing trade deals. No wonder the public thinks that the government works against the interests of most of us. When it comes to these “trade” deals, the public is exactly right.

Trade deals like NAFTA, and China have led to a massive, continuing trade deficit. That means we buy stuff from them, but they don’t buy stuff from us. So, our jobs and money drain away. It’s as simple as that. The trade deficit — $470 billion in 2013, around $500 billion for 2014 — is a direct measure of jobs, wages, factories, prosperity, and our future draining out of our country. Imagine if $500 billion of new orders came in every year to businesses that make and do things inside the US. Imagine the job creation, wage increases, and economic boom we would experience.

How do we avoid this happening again?

Here are a couple of simple questions to ask about any new trade bills:

1) “Are they committing to buy from us as much as they sell to us?” If the answer is “no” — or even just unclear — then why in the world would we be interested? That’s not a “deal,” and that’s not “trade.” Yet, almost every “trade deal” we have signed so far has resulted in other countries selling far more to us than they buy from us, draining jobs, wages, and prosperity from our country.

2) “Why should Congress pre-approve a trade agreement before we get a chance to read and fully analyze it?” This question is about a process called “Fast Track” — whereby Congress agrees to essentially pre-approve trade deals even before reading them. With Fast Track, Congress agrees to pass the trade deal within 90 days of first seeing it, with no changes allowed. Obviously, this sets up a rigged process, in which the big corporations are able to launch into a full-scale PR campaign to apply maximum pressure. The intention is to keep the public from having a chance to analyze the consequences of signing the deal, and rallying opposition. The inability to make any changes makes everything about whether Congress will “kill the whole hard-negotiated deal” instead of being about what is actually in the deal.

It’s Coming At Us Very Soon

One of the biggest things coming down the road in DC is trade legislation. The administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and wants to have an “accomplishment” on their record. They feel they can find “common ground” with Republicans to push this through (most Democrats oppose.) Meanwhile the giant multinational corporations have been preparing a huge PR campaign to help push it through. The corporate money is flowing, the lobbyists are salivating, the corporate-aligned politicians are standing with their hands out.

Take a look at this chart of the “trade deficit” and notice that the timeline matches up with the ever-increasing economic pressure your family and your community have been feeling for some time. If you don’t like the way these past trade deals have turned out, then you aren’t going to like the way the next round turns out at all.


US trade in goods and services — balance of payments
(image by Gov Census)

Call your Senators and member of Congress and ask these questions. Tell your member of Congress not to vote for “Fast Track” approval of trade deals — or at the very least to wait until the deal has been made public and the public has had a chance to analyze it before they vote on Fast Track.

 

Dave Johnson is Founder and principal author at Seeing the Forest. Dave is a frequent public speaker and talk-radio guest and a leading participant in the progressive blogging community. He does a regular weekly segment on the popular Fairness (more…)

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It’s time to knock the Trans-Pacific Partnership off the “Fast Track”

January 13, 2015
OpEdNews Op Eds 1/12/2015 at 15:34:16

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Reprinted from Hightower Lowdown

New trade pacts create secret, pro-corporate tribunals that use their powers to eviscerate our democratic laws


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When I was just a tyke, my momma warned me not to eat anything unless I knew where it came from. Sensible advice — so good that even Congress has acted on it.

In 2002, responding to public demand, lawmakers decided that you and I have a need and a right to know where the meat sold in supermarkets comes from. Thus, Congress enacted a simple and straightforward law called COOL (Country Of Origin Labeling), requiring meat marketers to tell us right on their packages whether the enclosed steak, pork chops, lamb shanks, chicken wings, etc., are products of the USA, Mexico, China, or Whereintheworldistan.

This is useful information that empowers us consumers. Whether you have health concerns about imported meat or just prefer to have your food dollars go to American farmers and ranchers, COOL lets each of us know the source so we can decide such matters for ourselves. And that is precisely why global agribusiness giants hate it. Foreign meat producers (especially the US food conglomerates that have moved their meat production and slaughtering operations to nations that pay low wages and/or aren’t fussy about health inspections) don’t want you knowing or deciding. They’ve been all over Washington officials, saying they want the #@$&! labeling law repealed.

But who cares what they want? COOL is America’s law, and American courts upheld it when the agribusiness powers tried to strike it down. It’s also solidly supported by our people — a 2013 Consumer’s Union poll found that a whopping 90 percent of Americans favor the right-to-know label! That’s such an overwhelming majority that even the anti-consumer Republicans now in charge of Congress are not about to mess with it. So that’s that.

WARNING: Mind-exploding Outrage Ahead. Unfortunately, that’s not that. Unbeknownst to most people, a cabal of corporate and political elites (including Presidents Clinton, Bush II, and Obama) has stealthfully negotiated international trade deals during the past two-plus decades that have fabricated, piece by piece, what now amounts to a privatized world government. It’s a secretive, autocratic, plutocratic, bureaucratic government of, by, and for multinational corporations. Most astonishingly, it has been empowered [Second warning: Take a deep breath before reading on] to eviscerate laws and policies enacted by our own elected officials.

Embedded in these voluminous agreements are rules limiting what our domestic governments are permitted to do, plus new rights and privileges for corporations enforced through supra-national closed-door tribunals. This adds up to a privately gated “government.” A corporation from a foreign country that has signed on to these deals can directly attack the real government in countries where it has a subsidiary. They can demand cash compensation from us taxpayers for any action by our government that they think harms their profit picture.

I realize that this sounds like something from a 007 spy fantasy. When I’ve spoken about it at various events, audiences are incredulous at first, looking at me with expressions that say, “That can’t be true. Can it?”

Alas, it’s all too real. And if the World Trade Organization tribunals like the one that sacked COOL were not bad enough, such trade documents as NAFTA and CAFTA — all approved by our own legislatures in the name of “job creation” — give foreign corporations even more direct power to overturn our laws. The slimy little secret of these trade deals is that they have little to do with trade and everything to do with enhancing corporate sovereignty over public governments and the interests of all other people — including labor, environmentalists, consumers, privacy defenders, et al. Here’s how the privatized government system works:

A so-called trade agreement includes a process called ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement). This is a devilish bit of legalistic hocus-pocus that elevates mere corporations to the status of “corporate states,” putting them on par with our nation states. It allows them to go to foreign tribunals staffed by corporate lawyers and sue governments to demand taxpayer compensation for a particular national, state, or local law — the offending law could be anything from an environmental regulation to a community’s “Buy Local” ordinance. (Under WTO rules, the complaining corporation gets its home nation’s government to sue on its behalf, while NAFTA and CAFTA rules allow corporations to challenge sovereign nations directly.)Even if the law that a foreign corporation wants struck down serves a clear and legitimate public interest and has been properly enacted, ISDS clauses decree that the corporation wins its case simply if it shows that the government’s law might restrict the “expected future profits” of corporate investors.

These corporate challenges are not made in our nation’s courts, but in special, private tribunals created by the World Bank and the United Nations.

Each case is heard and decided by three “tribunalists” drawn from a pool of private attorneys. These attorneys, especially those who routinely rotate between being judges in one case and being employed as a corporate lawyer in the next, tend to be biased in favor of corporate challengers. Even though tribunalists serve as judge and jury, they are subject only to the most minimal conflict-of-interest rules.

These faceless, bureaucratic tribunalists are not accountable to any electorate. They decide cases behind closed doors, and their decisions are final — there is no appeal of their ruling to a real court. World Bank tribunals even keep their written rulings secret.

Only corporations can initiate challenges, and only they and the defending government can be part of the proceedings — no intervention is allowed by affected parties. Workers, local residents, small business owners, et al., are locked out.

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Jim Hightower is an American populist, spreading his message of democratic hope via national radio commentaries, columns, books, his award-winning monthly newsletter (The Hightower Lowdown) and barnstorming tours all across America.

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