“TRADE” AGREEMENTS & CORPORATE POWER

ABSTRACT: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” treaty that is currently being negotiated (see post of 9/10) would give corporations the right to sue governments if their laws, regulations, or actions negatively affect current or expected future profits. Under existing trade agreements, over $380 million has already been paid to corporations by governments. Furthermore, there are 18 pending suits by corporations against governments for $14 billion. Corporations will use or set up foreign subsidiaries to file suits under investor-state dispute resolution provisions of trade treaties (corporations are referred to as “investors”), thereby avoiding a country’s legal system and relying instead on the international tribunals (i.e., courts) created by the treaties.

The TPP would require countries to allow corporations to compete for the delivery of public services. The result could well be that some people cannot afford a corporation’s fees for basic, formerly universal, public services (such as water).

If ratified, the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty would enhance the power and rights of corporations while weakening US sovereignty. Given its unlimited term and the virtual impossibility of making changes (which require the unanimous consent of the parties), it amounts to a Constitutional change that gives foreign corporations equal (if not greater) legal status and power than the US and other governments. Furthermore, it would foster a race to the bottom for public health, the environment, and workers, especially well-paid blue and white collar workers, as jobs continue to move overseas and compensation and safety are attacked as limiting profits.

The secrecy and potency of the TPP make it feel like a conspiracy among our corporate and political elite to give corporations the ultimate power in our society. 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.

FULL POST: The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” treaty that is currently being negotiated (see post of 9/10) would give corporations the right to sue governments if their laws, regulations, or actions negatively affect current or expected future profits. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the US, Canada, and Mexico and other treaties that are already in place give corporations similar rights. Under existing trade agreements, over $380 million has already been paid to corporations by governments. Furthermore, there are 18 pending suits by corporations against governments for $14 billion. [1] For example, Chevron is suing Ecuador over its environmental laws, Eli Lilly is suing Canada over its patent laws, and European investment firms are suing Egypt over its minimum wage laws. [2]

Philip Morris is suing Australia over its cigarette labeling laws. However, because the US – Australia trade agreement doesn’t include investor-state dispute resolution provisions (corporations are referred to as “investors”) that allow such suits, Philip Morris is using other trade treaties and its Swiss and Hong Kong subsidiaries to file its suits. [3] Corporations will use or set up foreign subsidiaries to file suits under investor-state dispute resolution provisions of trade treaties, thereby avoiding a country’s legal system and relying instead on the international tribunals created by the treaties.

Other examples of corporations suing governments include:

  • Under NAFTA, a US corporation sued and received $13 million from Canada, which then reversed its ban on a gasoline additive that contains a known human neurotoxin.
  • Another US corporation has filed a $250 million investor-state suit against Canada under NAFTA because of its ban on fracking.
  • A French and a US company have succeeded in separate suits totaling close to $300 million against Argentina because its federal government failed to override 2 provinces’ limits on water rate increases after water systems were privatized in a period of economic distress, even though it would have been an unconstitutional intervention in provincial affairs for the federal government to do so. [4]
  • (There are many more examples and much more information on the TPP at www.citizen.org/TPP.)

The TPP language would require countries to allow corporations to compete for the delivery of public services, such as water and sewer, electricity, education, and transportation services. The result could well be, as has occurred in Argentina and other South American countries, that some people cannot afford a corporation’s fees for basic, formerly universal, public services (such as water), or that a distinctly two-tiered system emerges with high quality services for those who can afford to pay and poorer quality services for those who can’t. [5]

If the TPP is ratified by the US, it would, for example, undermine efforts to make the giant international mining corporation Rio Tinto abide by the Clean Air Act at its massive copper mine west of Salt Lake City. [6] Under the TPP, US and local regulations could be nullified or forced to change in areas such as:

  • Worker safety and the minimum wage
  • Importation of food and food labeling
  • Fracking for and exportation of natural gas
  • The length of patent protection on drugs (which could raise drug prices by delaying availability of generic versions of drugs)
  • The separation of banking from financial speculation that has been proposed as part of the answer to the 2008 financial collapse (i.e., reinstating Glass-Steagall provisions). Furthermore, TPP would prohibit a transaction tax on the buying and selling of securities, derivatives, and other financial instruments (as has been proposed in the US and as is being implemented in Europe).

If ratified, the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty would enhance the power and rights of corporations while weakening US sovereignty. Given its unlimited term and the virtual impossibility of making changes (which require the unanimous consent of the parties), it amounts to a Constitutional change that gives foreign corporations equal (if not greater) legal status and power than the US and other governments. This is in total contradiction to the design of US democracy where there is a balance of power, checks and balances, elections every two years, and law making that can change policies and the course of the country on a regular basis.

Furthermore, it would foster a race to the bottom for public health and the environment by giving corporations the right to challenge health and environmental laws and regulations in pursuit of ever higher profits. Similarly, it would foster a race to the bottom for workers, especially well-paid blue and white collar workers, as jobs continue to move overseas (as they have done under NAFTA), and compensation and safety are attacked as limiting profits.

I’m not one who generally buys conspiracy theories, but the secrecy and potency of the TPP make it feel like a conspiracy among our corporate and political elite to give corporations, which are totally focused on maximizing profits, the ultimate power in our society. Therefore, corporations, not our governments or other civic organizations, would determine our well-being as individuals, communities, and nations, as well as, ultimately, the well-being of our planet. 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]       Public Citizen, retrieved 9/9/13, “TPP’s investment rules harm public access to essential services,” www.citizen.org/TPP

[2]       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

[3]       Public Citizen, retrieved 9/9/13, “TPP’s investment rules harm public health,” www.citizen.org/TPP

[4]       Public Citizen, retrieved 9/9/13, “TPP’s investment rules harm the environment,” www.citizen.org/TPP

[5]       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

[6]       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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