STOP “TRADE” TREATIES THAT FAVOR BIG MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS

ABSTRACT: The Obama administration is in the final stages of negotiating two major “trade” treaties. It is pushing for Fast Track approval, which requires Congress to ratify them quickly (only 20 hours of debate on the thousands of pages in each treaty) with no amendments. These “trade” treaties primarily serve to enhance the power and profits of large multi-national corporations.

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has released a set of principles for trade including:

  • Trade treaties should promote balanced trade and reduction of the current US trade deficit;
  • Workers’ rights should be protected and assistance provided to those who are displaced;
  • Currency manipulation to gain unfair advantage in trade should be banned;
  • The environment should be protected and environmental laws should not be undermined;
  • Trade treaties must not supersede countries’ consumer protections;
  • Private court systems that bypass and supersede a countries’ court system must not be allowed;
  • Trade treaties must safeguard affordable access to essential medicine; and
  • Trade treaties should support the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

I encourage you to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to urge them to support the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s principles for trade, and to oppose these “trade” treaties and Fast Track approval of them.

FULL POST: The Obama administration is in the final stages of negotiating two major “trade” treaties, [1] the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). It is pushing for Fast Track approval, which requires Congress to ratify them quickly (only 20 hours of debate on the thousands of pages in each treaty) with no amendments to or filibustering of the language to which the administration has agreed. Despite the fact that a vote on the Fast Track approval process was delayed last week in Congress, it and these treaties will be back soon.

These “trade” treaties primarily serve to enhance the power and profits of large multi-national corporations. U.S. sovereignty and workers will be undermined, along with protections for our health, consumer and worker safety, the environment, and the stability of the financial system. Laws and regulations to protect public well-being are treated as illegal barriers to trade, although in reality it’s because they might be barriers to corporate profits. Multi-national corporations would be able to return to practices that were prohibited by the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts of the early 1970s and to the financial schemes that caused the 2008 Great Recession. [2] (See my posts of 1/13/14, 1/8/14, 9/13/13, 9/10/13, and 7/22/12 for more details.)

US Senator Elizabeth Warren has focused her opposition to the TPP on a provision called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). It gives foreign corporations special rights to challenge U.S. laws, rules, and regulations in international tribunals, instead of the normal process of going through the U.S. courts. They could win large financial awards for alleged loss of potential profits. Such awards would have to be paid by U.S. taxpayers without ever going to a U.S. court. This significantly undermines U.S. sovereignty. [3]

This ISDS provision is already in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and some other existing trade treaties. As a result, governments have paid hundreds of millions of dollars to multi-national corporations under decisions by international tribunals where high-priced corporate lawyers serve as the judges. The number of cases brought to these tribunals is growing and there were 58 cases in 2012 alone. For example, a French corporation sued Egypt because it raised its minimum wage, a Swedish corporation sued Germany because it is phasing out nuclear power after the Japanese Fukushima disaster, and Philip Morris is suing Uruguay to stop new tobacco regulations. Eli Lilly is suing Canada to overturn a decision by its Supreme Court that limits drug prices. [4]

As a candidate for President, Obama criticized ISDS provisions in NAFTA. He promised to oppose foreign corporations’ rights to sue governments over laws or regulations that protect public safety or promote the public interest. He has done an about face on this issue.

Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, has a great, 2 ½ minute video explaining why we should oppose Fast Track and the TPP. [5] He notes that although it is the largest trade treaty in history, involving almost 800 million people and 40% of the world’s economy, it is being negotiated in secret. The public, the media, and even Congress have been shut out from the process and denied access to draft documents. However, corporate leaders have been extensively involved. The leaked information that has come out indicates that the TPP will exacerbate inequality and the undermining of the middle class by facilitating the outsourcing of jobs. It will also undermine rules and regulations that protect people (but might reduce profits) and make drugs more costly by lengthening patent protections.

The TPP and TTIP will provide few if any benefits to the economy, jobs, wages, or our balance of trade. Past trade treaties, such as NAFTA, have resulted in documented job losses, declining wages for middle class workers, increased trade deficits, and increasing inequality. [6] (See my posts of 1/20/14 and 7/17/12 for more information.)

The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) has released a set of principles for trade. [7] Those principles include the following:

  • Trade treaties must allow open debate with full disclosure of their provisions, sufficient time to discuss them, and the opportunity to amend them;
  • Trade treaties should promote balanced trade and reduction of the current US trade deficit;
  • Workers’ rights should be protected and assistance provided to those who are displaced;
  • Currency manipulation to gain unfair advantage in trade should be banned;
  • Trade treaties must not limit the United States government’s ability to set contract guidelines, including giving a preference to domestic producers when making purchasing decisions;
  • The environment should be protected and countries’ environmental laws should not be undermined;
  • Trade treaties must not supersede countries’ food and safety standards, financial regulations, or other consumer protections;
  • Private court systems, such as Investor State Dispute Settlement tribunals, that bypass and supersede a countries’ court system must not be allowed;
  • Trade treaties must safeguard affordable access to essential medicine and not establish unfair drug patent protections that delay access to affordable generic drugs; and
  • Trade treaties should require signatory countries to implement and enforce domestic laws consistent with the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and should not prevent the U.S. or other nations from using trade benefits to promote human rights.

I encourage you to contact your U.S. Representative and Senators to urge them to support the Congressional Progressive Caucus’s principles for trade. In addition, I encourage you to urge your elected representatives to oppose these “trade” treaties and the Fast Track approval process for them.

[1]       I put trade in quotes because these and other recent “trade” treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), actually do little to reduce trade barriers (which are already quite low) or increase trade (which is already quite extensive). They primarily address a broad range of legal and regulatory issues.

[2]       Stiglitz, J., 3/15/14, “On the Wrong Side of Globalization,” The New York Times

[3]       Warren, E., 2/25/15, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose,” The Washington Post

[4]       Gallagher, K.P., 3/4/15, “Saving Obama from a bad trade deal,” The American Prospect

[5]       Reich, R., 1/29/15, “Robert Reich takes on the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3O_Sbbeqfdw

[6]       Meyerson, H., 1/14/14, “Free trade and the loss of U.S. jobs,” The Washington Post

[7]       Congressional Progressive Caucus, 3/6/15, “Principles for trade: A model for global progress,” http://cpc.grijalva.house.gov/uploads/Final%20Principles%20for%20Trade%203-4-151.pdf

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