STOP FAST TRACK FOR CORPORATE POWER GRAB

ABSTRACT: Bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress last Thursday to allow the President to submit “trade” agreements to Congress and require expedited consideration of them. There is opposition to this Fast Track consideration (formally known as Trade Promotion Authority) in both parties. There is also opposition to the “trade” agreements currently being negotiated themselves. One reason for this opposition is concern that the agreements benefit multi-national corporations (including foreign corporations) at the expense of local businesses, US workers and citizens, and national sovereignty.

Corporations, who have had access to the agreements’ negotiations (while the public has been kept in the dark), are lobbying to weaken current standards for food safety, labor, health, Internet freedom, the environment, and the financial industry. According to leaked documents, the US is pushing for multi-national corporations to be able to challenge countries’ laws and regulations in privately run international courts or tribunals. Concerns about such provisions stem in part from experiences under existing “trade” agreements. For example, under current “trade” treaties, tobacco corporations are suing or threatening to sue a range of countries over existing or proposed smoking reduction efforts. These legal actions are undermining the World Health Organization’s tobacco control efforts.

I urge you to contact your Representative in the US House and your Senators and tell them you do not want Fast Track authority approved. Full disclosure and debate of the provisions of “trade” agreements is what democracy requires, especially given the essentially irreversible nature of them.

FULL POST: Bipartisan legislation was introduced in Congress last Thursday to allow the President to submit “trade” agreements to Congress and require expedited consideration of them – on a quick timetable, with no amendments, and no filibuster. The bill would require that Congress have access to draft language as agreements are being negotiated (which is currently being kept secret); would specify protections for labor, the environment, and intellectual property; and would require provisions in agreements against currency and exchange rate manipulation. There is opposition to this Fast Track consideration (formally known as Trade Promotion Authority) in both parties, so it is unclear when or if this bill will move forward. Alternative bills that give Congress more say over “trade” agreements are likely to be introduced. (I put trade in quotes because recent “trade” agreements, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA], go well beyond trade issues and cover a broad range of legal and regulatory issues. The provisions for reducing trade barriers and increasing trade are only a small part of the agreements.)

The President and the supporters of the “trade” agreement (largely corporate America) want Fast Track authority for the two broad “trade” agreements mentioned in my previous post (1/8/14): the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) among a dozen Pacific Rim countries and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) [1] with 28 European countries. In addition, there is a global agreement on services (as opposed to manufactured goods) with about 50 countries that is currently being negotiated that would also be covered by the Fast Track authority. [2]

As I noted in my previous post (1/8/14), there is opposition to the “trade” agreements currently being negotiated and Fast Track consideration of them for 3 main reasons, one of which is concern that they benefit multi-national corporations (including foreign corporations) at the expense of local businesses, US workers and citizens, and national sovereignty (our ability to control what happens within the boundaries of the US). For example, a goal of TAFTA is to establish health and safety rules and regulations that would be standard across the US and EU. [3] Many people are concerned that this will lead to a race to the bottom, with the weakest standards winning out. For example, the US is demanding that the EU reduce restrictions on importation of genetically modified foods and hormone-treated beef. Europeans, however, want strong regulation of their food. Corporations, who have had access to the agreements’ negotiations (while the public has been kept in the dark), are lobbying to weaken current standards for food safety, labor, health, the environment, and the financial industry. [4]

In the TPP, according to leaked documents, the US is pushing for multi-national corporations to be able to challenge countries’ laws and regulations in privately run international courts or tribunals. This would result in a significant loss of national sovereignty. (This is a change to current rules under the World Trade Organization where countries’ own courts rule on such matters, although NAFTA included a similar but narrower provision for international tribunals.) The US is also advocating for expanded intellectual property protections, including long-term patents, and therefore monopolies, on drugs (similar to current US laws). It is also pushing to ban government agencies from negotiating lower drug prices with pharmaceutical corporations. (Such a ban is included in the US Medicare program and costs the program billions of dollars every year.) There is widespread concern that such provisions would increase drug prices, pharmaceutical corporations’ profits, and health care costs. This would seem to be borne out by the fact that drug prices are much higher in the US than in other countries. The US is also pushing for weak regulation of the financial industry. Leaked TPP documents have raised concerns among health, Internet freedom, environmental, and labor advocates over provisions supported by the US, the US Chamber of Commerce, and corporations in general. [5]

These concerns stem in part from experiences under existing “trade” agreements. For example, under existing “trade” treaties, tobacco corporations are suing or threatening to sue a range of countries (including Australia, Canada, Gabon, Namibia, New Zealand, Norway, Togo, Uganda, and Uruguay) over existing or proposed smoking reduction efforts. These legal actions are undermining the World Health Organization and its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, a public health treaty signed by 170 countries, whose goal is to reduce smoking and its negative health effects by limiting and controlling advertising, packaging, and sale of tobacco products. As a specific example, Philip Morris is suing Australia for its cigarette packaging law claiming it will reduce current and future profits. The suit is brought under a treaty between Australia and Hong Kong, and the case will be decided in a private, non-public proceeding of a private international tribunal of arbitrators in Singapore. Although the US says it wants the new TPP to promote public health, and specifically named tobacco as a concern, the US Chamber of Commerce objected because it felt that such public health provisions could allow the regulation of other products such as sugar and soda. [6]

My next post will focus on our 20 year experience with NAFTA and some of its implications for what could be expected with these new “trade” agreements.

In the meantime, I urge you to email, call, write, and, if you can, meet with your Representative in the US House and your Senators [7] and tell them you do not want Fast Track authority approved. These “trade” agreements are too important and too far reaching to be approved quickly and quietly. Full disclosure and debate of the provisions of “trade” agreements is what democracy requires, especially given the essentially irreversible nature of them.


[1]       Also known as the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership

[2]       Calmes, J., 1/9/14, “A proposal to speed up action on trade accords,” The New York Times

[3]       Dahlburg, J., 11/12/13, “US, EU restart trade talks,” The Boston Globe from the Associated Press

[4]       Todhunter, C., 10/4/13, “The US-EU Transatlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA): Big business corporate power grab,” Global Research (http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-eu-transatlantic-free-trade-agreement-tafta-big-business-corporate-power-grab/5352885)

[5]       Carter, Z., 12/8/13, “Obama faces backlash over new corporate powers in secret trade deal,” The Huffington Post

[6]       Tavernise, S., 12/13/13, “Tobacco firms’ strategy limits poorer nations’ smoking laws,” The New York Times

[7]       You can find contact information for your US Representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your US Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

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