“TRADE” AGREEMENT SUPERSIZES CORPORATE POWER

ABSTRACT: The US is currently negotiating a trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The negotiations have been so secretive that most members of Congress have never seen a draft of the treaty and the public is mostly unaware of its existence. The mainstream (corporate) media have hardly mentioned the TPP, despite its target date for completion of December 2013.

Much of the TPP has nothing to do with trade; its focus is largely on providing legal rights to multi-national corporations so they can make profits without interference from government laws, regulations, or sovereignty. Foreign corporations would have the right to sue national or local governments if their laws, regulations, or actions negatively affected current or expected future profits. These suits would be resolved by an Investor-State Dispute Resolution system using an international tribunal (i.e., court).

Interestingly, conservatives have generally objected to the use of international precedents and tribunals that might impinge on US sovereignty and initiatives. However, they are generally supportive of the rights and power given to foreign corporations and international tribunals by the TPP.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty puts corporate interests ahead of American interests. I strongly urge you to call your US Senators to ask them to oppose “fast-track” rules for consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership “Trade” Treaty and to demand full disclosure and discussion of its provisions in Congress and with the public.

FULL POST: The US is currently negotiating a trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The negotiations have been so secretive that most members of Congress have never seen a draft of the treaty and the public is mostly unaware of its existence. Yet, Congress is going to be asked soon to vote on considering the treaty under “fast-track” rules that mean it would get a yes or no vote in Congress with limited debate and no amendments allowed. And once the treaty is approved, it has no expiration date and changes can only be made with the unanimous agreement of the participating countries. [1]

The mainstream (corporate) media have hardly mentioned the TPP, despite the fact that it includes 40% of the global economy, involves 12 (and potentially more) countries [2], has had 18 negotiating sessions, and has a target date for completion of December 2013.

Given that the tariffs among the participating countries are already low and that the US already has trade agreements with many of them (Canada, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Australia, and Singapore), there would seem to be little need for the TPP. However, much of the TPP has nothing to do with trade – only 5 of its 29 sections actually deal with trade. Its focus is largely on providing legal rights to multi-national corporations so they can make profits without interference from government laws, regulations, or sovereignty. It has been described as the most business-friendly “trade” agreement in history and as NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico) on steroids. (Most people view NAFTA as having been good for US corporations but as not having lived up to the promise that it would create jobs in the US, let alone good jobs with good wages.)

The only people with access to the negotiations and draft treaty language have been members of the US Trade Representative’s official Trade Advisory Committees. These individuals are sworn to secrecy, as are the negotiators for the other countries. Of the roughly 700 US advisory committee members, about 600 represent the business community, about 20 represent workers, and none represent citizens’ or civic groups.

The TPP benefits corporations, particularly foreign corporations, by

  • Strengthening patent, copyright, and intellectual property rights
  • Banning government contracting rules that favor domestic businesses (e.g., Buy America incentives)
  • Allowing government regulations to be challenged and overridden if they reduce a foreign corporation’s profits, including, for example, regulations of food safety, environmental impact, the financial system, public utilities and services, and working conditions (including minimum wage, overtime, safety, and child labor laws)
  • Giving special international tribunals (i.e., courts) the ability to overrule domestic laws and regulations if they would hurt foreign corporations profits
  • Creating a special visa program for highly-paid, white-collar professionals that bypasses all other immigration regulations and processes. [3]

Corporations would have a legal status equal to or superseding that of countries. Foreign corporations would have the right to sue national or local governments if their laws, regulations, or actions negatively affected current or expected future profits. [4] These suits would be resolved by an Investor-State Dispute Resolution system using an international tribunal (i.e., court). (Corporations are referred to as “investors.”) Basically, this is an alternative legal system that supersedes US courts and laws. The three person tribunals would operate behind closed doors and be made up of private lawyers. The same lawyers who serve as judges in one case might represent corporations in other cases. There is no appeal process and when a corporation wins, the losing government must pay the corporation for its “lost” profits and legal costs. (My next post will provide examples of how corporations are using similar rights under existing treaties and of the effects TPP is likely to have.)

Interestingly, conservatives have generally objected to the use of international precedents in making court decisions and writing US laws, and to the United Nations, treaties, and international human rights tribunals that might impinge on US sovereignty and initiatives. However, they are generally supportive of the rights and power given to foreign corporations and international tribunals by the TPP, despite the fact that they would clearly limit US sovereignty. The TPP would give foreign corporations greater rights than domestic firms and would expand incentives for US corporations to move investments and jobs overseas. [5]

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty puts corporate interests ahead of American interests. And it is widely viewed as benefitting large, international corporations, while hurting small businesses, small farmers, and workers, especially well paid blue and white collar workers. I strongly urge you to call your US Senators, and your Representative as well, to ask them to oppose “fast-track” rules for consideration of the Trans-Pacific Partnership “Trade” Treaty and to demand full disclosure and discussion of its provisions in Congress and with the public.

(You can find out who your Congress people are and get their contact information at: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm for your Senators and http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ for your Representative.)


[1]       Hightower, J., August 2013, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership is not about free trade. It’s a corporate coup d’état – against us!” The Hightower Lowdown

[2]       The negotiations currently include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Other countries are allowed to join in the future and China, Indonesia, and Russia are likely to join at some point.

[3]       Stangler, C., 9/2013, “MBAs without borders,” In These Times

[4]       Hauter, W., 8/22/13, “The un-American way: The Anti-democratic Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens food safety and public health,” OtherWords (www.commondreams.org/view/2013/08/22-3)

[5]       Moench, B., 6/25/12, “America: A fire sale to foreign corporations,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/06/25-0)

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