If you are one of the millions of people who watch network news to find out what’s going on in the world this might be news to you. On Thursday, November 5th, President Obama expressed to Congress his intent to ratify the secretly negotiated and written Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). It’s okay if you’re not quite sure what that is, as the media has blithely ignored it even though the U.S has been involved in the negotiations since 2009. Even when the long awaited and highly secretive text was recently released to the public there was nary a mention in the network news. This complete absence of coverage is not new. Media Matters conducted a study that revealed one single mention of TPP in the six months from August, 2013 to January, 2014. That was on PBS Newshour while the three major networks completely ignored it. This singular lack of coverage might easily lead one to conclude that TPP was/is unimportant, not newsworthy. When the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) issued a statement that the Trans-Pacific Partnership is “the most significant trade negotiation in a generation.”, it should probably deserve at least an “Oh, by the way, the U.S. is negotiating a trade agreement with eleven other countries that, together, represent 40% of the world’s GDP and a quarter of the world’s trade.” It’s only the largest, most encompassing trade agreement ever negotiated so there’s no reason to broadcast that to the public I guess. In as much as business and government are conjoined at the wallet, it only increases the suspicions that it can’t possibly be good for Average Joe or America as a whole. Justifiably, in my opinion, Americans should be wary of trade negotiations conducted in such intense secrecy. Negotiated secretly, written by lobbyists, corporate representatives and government officials and unpublicized. No reason for suspicion, right?
What happens now?
The President’s announcement initiated a 90 day period for Congress to review the agreement before legislators must vote on it. Due to the Fast Track Authority Congress previously granted to the President, legislators will have to vote yea or nay with no amendments permitted. In other words, take it or leave it, not a single word may be changed. Floor debate is limited to a maximum of 20 hours. Twenty hours to debate the merits or faults of a document comprising well over 5000 pages. Admittedly, Congress tied it’s own hands by granting fast track in the first place, effectively negating the democratic processes that are supposed to be the foundation of our political system. Again, no reason for suspicion?
Investor-State Dispute Settlement
One of the most troubling aspects of the agreement is the ISDS (Investor State Dispute Settlement), a mechanism by which foreign corporations and individuals can bring suit against governments for alleged violations of the agreement, effectively granting private firms the status of sovereign governments. These suits would never see the inside of a courtroom with an actual judge, but would, instead, be settled by a panel of three arbiters entirely outside any sovereign judicial system. Conversely, it’s a one-way street, no avenue is provided for governments or individuals to sue foreign investors (corporations). Previous trade agreements like CAFTA and NAFTA have also contained similar dispute settlement processes but the provision has been broadened in TPP. A list of the actions brought against governments under the provisions of previous FTA’s can be found here:
http://www.citizen.org/documents/investor-state-chart.pdf (copy/paste into your browser)
Though many of the claims were dismissed or never reached arbitration, what’s significant is the range of issues on which corporations and individuals filed suit against governments. From mining, nuclear waste disposal, prescription drugs, gasoline additives, financial instruments such as income trusts, even a funeral home conglomerate which challenged a Mississippi state court ruling in a private contract dispute and sought damages of $725 million dollars. This particular case was ultimately dismissed but, the article states, “The tribunal narrowly dismissed Loewen’s claim on procedural grounds. (The tribunal found that Loewen’s reorganization under U.S. bankruptcy laws as a U.S. corporation no longer qualified it as a “foreign investor” entitled to NAFTA protection.) However, the tribunal’s ruling “criticized the Mississippi proceedings in the strongest terms” and made clear that foreign corporations that lose tort cases in the United States can use NAFTA to attempt to evade liability by shifting the cost of their court damages to U.S. taxpayers.” The clear implication here is that, but for the loss of “foreign investor” status, Loewen might well have won their case and we taxpayers would’ve had to foot the bill.
The Power of ISDS
Just a taste of two of the many examples included in the document:
Metalclad v. Mexico:
A U.S. corporation sued Mexico after a local government refused to grant a building permit for a toxic waste facility. Local citizens, afraid the facility would pollute their water supply, had petitioned their government to deny the permit. Metalclad was awarded $16.2 million.
Renco v. Peru:
The Renco Group, owned by one of the wealthiest people in the United States, is suing the Peruvian government to avoid responsibility for cleaning up toxic waste caused by a smelter it owns in La Oroya, Peru. La Oroya’s residents have suffered serious health consequences from the pollution, but rather than address the role its smelter has played, Renco is demanding $800 million from the Peruvian government. The pollution in La Oroya has yet to be remediated and the case is pending.
Mexico was, in effect, punished for attempting to protect its environment and Peru is trying to get theirs cleaned up. Note that it was not the Mexican federal government but a local government’s action that prompted the suit. TPP does nothing to prevent the same from happening here and, in fact, the ISDS provision further enables it. What sense does it make that the taxpayers of this country should potentially be on the hook for millions of tax dollars because your city council or township supervisors denied a building permit to a foreign company wanting to construct a toxic waste facility?
According to an article in HuffPost, “One of the most controversial provisions in the talks includes new corporate empowerment language insisted upon by the U.S. government, which would allow foreign companies to challenge laws or regulations in a privately run international court. Under World Trade Organization treaties, this political power to contest government law is reserved for sovereign nations (emphasis mine). The U.S. has endorsed some corporate political powers in prior trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, but the scope of what laws can be challenged appears to be much broader in TPP negotiations.”
The Dangers Ahead
This dispute settlement process presents significant danger and potential to limit or even hinder federal, state and local governmental regulations that protect our environment, our jobs, our food and our health. From the article: “…of the more than $34 billion in the 18 pending claims under NAFTA-style deals, nearly all relate to environmental, energy, financial, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.”
We’ve seen past “free trade agreements” result in lost jobs due to the closing of thousands of manufacturing facilities, businesses relocating overseas and massive increases in our trade deficit despite strenuous reassurances from the government that such agreements would create jobs in this country and help our economy grow in the global environment. The size and scope of the Trans-Pacific Partnership dwarfs previous trade agreements and again the government wants us to believe that it’s good for America and its workers. What it actually does is relinquish a significant degree of control over how we conduct business in our own country.
This trade agreement, if ratified, and others soon to follow (TiSA, TTIP), may signal the beginning of the end of national sovereignty. The birth of a single corporate entity to conduct the world’s commerce, welcome to OneWorld, Inc. Having already usurped legal jurisdiction over the conduct of global business as well as control of that business through ISDS, it will be ever easier to subvert the autonomy of national governments, control the availability, distribution, and cost of goods and services and certainly to accumulate profits to those in control. This is not your everyday slippery slope folks, this is a fucking cliff.
Call, write or email your Congressmen and tell them they risk losing their job unless they reject this agreement.