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Thursday, November 06, 2014

All you need to know about the TPP "trade agreement" — corporate sovereignty

by Gaius Publius

A year or so ago I wrote that coming into office, Obama had four high-priority "legacy" items
 ▪ Health care “reform” — a privatized alternative to Medicare expansion
 ▪ A “Grand Bargain” in which social insurance benefits are rolled back
 ▪ Plentiful oil & gas, and passage of the Keystone pipeline
 ▪ Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement 
While he accomplished the first almost immediately, and while we now have "plentiful oil & gas" (not a good thing from a climate standpoint), the other three remain stalled. But look for each of them to re-rear its head, thanks to the strengthened bipartisan corporate majority in Congress. About TPP in particular, US News writes:
The Republican Party has won a majority in the Senate, possibly providing an opening for two pending U.S. free trade agreements. The U.S. is currently engaged in negotiations on two international pacts.

Republicans have traditionally been more supportive of trade agreements because of the potential to increase economic growth and business, while Democrats have been wary that such policies could negatively impact domestic jobs, labor standards and environmental regulation. The Obama administration has negotiated two such agreements – the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP] and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership [TTIP] – but the president hasn’t found [enough] backing from Senate Democrats, the chamber responsible for approving trade agreements.
Ignore the "Democrats-this" and "Republicans-that" party obfuscation in the article's lead. The writer is soon very clear — this is a bipartisan effort:
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, likely the new Senate majority leader, said Wednesday in Louisville that Republicans and President Barack Obama share an agenda on trade
Obama wants TPP and TTIP to be signed, so does McConnell, and there is bipartisan support for it in the Senate corporate caucus, just not enough support. However, as I wrote elsewhere, the corporate caucus in both the House and Senate has just been strengthened, meaning Obama and McConnell may get their "trade" agreements after all.

What's wrong with the TPP? Corporate sovereignty

Now for the main matter. What's wrong with these "trade agreements"? It all seems so complicated, but in fact the issue is a simple one. Corporate sovereignty.

Here to explain it clearly is British writer George Monbiot. In his discussion of the European version, the TTIP, he notes the following — it's "all you need to know" about any of these trade deals. Keep your eye on the phrase "investor-state disputes" — lawsuits by "investors" (corporations and other investing financial entities) against sovereign states:
The central problem is what the negotiators call investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). The treaty would allow corporations to sue governments before an arbitration panel ["tribunal"] composed of corporate lawyers, at which other people have no representation, and which is not subject to judicial review.

Already, thanks to the insertion of ISDS into much smaller trade treaties, big business is engaged in an orgy of litigation, whose purpose is to strike down any law that might impinge on its anticipated future profits. The tobacco firm Philip Morris is suing governments in Uruguay and Australia for trying to discourage people from smoking. The oil firm Occidental was awarded $2.3bn in compensation from Ecuador, which terminated the company’s drilling concession in the Amazon after finding that Occidental had broken Ecuadorean law. The Swedish company Vattenfall is suing the German government for shutting down nuclear power. An Australian firm is suing El Salvador’s government for $300m for refusing permission for a goldmine over concerns it would poison the drinking water.

The same mechanism, under TTIP, could be used to prevent UK governments from reversing the privatisation of the railways and the NHS, or from defending public health and the natural world against corporate greed. The corporate lawyers who sit on these panels are beholden only to the companies whose cases they adjudicate, who at other times are their employers.
Leaked clauses in the TPP would allow foreign banks to sue the U.S. to overturn bank regulations — a wet dream for Wall Street. Programs to "buy American" could be effectively outlawed, since the redress when a corporation wins in the "tribunals" is payment by the losing entity (the sovereign state or local government) of lost future profits.

Bottom line, this enshrines into the Constitution (via the Supremacy Clause) a set of corporate-controlled tribunals that are higher in standing than the U.S. Supreme Court.
This Constitution, and the Laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land;
Treaties like these — TPP, TTIP and all their cousins — create a network of enforceable international laws in which corporations hold sovereign power. That's all you need to know to explain and oppose them. (And if you're wondering why Barack Obama, of all people, would be in for them, I suggest you don't know Barack Obama.)