Transparency Denied in Globalization and Trade
The U.S. government is currently negotiating two huge new “free trade” agreements behind closed doors — deals modeled after the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) pact that sent hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs overseas, exacerbated income inequality and empowered foreign corporations to demand taxpayer compensation for health and environmental policies.
If you haven’t heard much about these sweeping NAFTA-style pacts, there’s a good reason: the Obama administration and the corporate lobby backing these deals have made a concerted effort to hide them from public scrutiny. A small group of unelected negotiators directly advised by hundreds of corporations are negotiating these pacts, which would bind democratically-enacted non-trade policies, while the public and press are denied access to the draft texts. The administration intends to try to push the secretive pacts through Congress with an extraordinary procedure that would limit Congress’ oversight to an expedited vote with no amendments and limited debate.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Biggest Deal You Haven’t Heard Of
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive, controversial "free trade" agreement currently being pushed by big corporations and negotiated behind closed doors by officials from the United States and 11 other countries — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. In one fell swoop, this secretive deal could offshore millions of American jobs, increase income inequality, roll back Wall Street reforms, threaten Internet freedom, raise medicine prices, and expose the U.S. to unsafe food and products.
We only know about the TPP's threats thanks to leaks — the public is not allowed to see the draft TPP text. Even members of Congress, after being denied the text for years, are now only provided limited access, unaccompanied by staff, and under the condition that they not share what they read with the rest of us. Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate "trade advisors" have special access. The TPP has been under negotiation for five years, and the Obama administration wants to sign the deal by late 2014. But opposition to the TPP is growing at home and in many of the other countries involved.
The Trans-Atlantic “Free Trade” Agreement: A Backdoor Attack on Consumer and Environmental Safeguards
For over a decade, the largest U.S. and European banks, agribusinesses and other powerful industry groups have pushed for a new U.S. "trade" deal with Europe — the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), which corporate proponents have tried to rebrand as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The deal would roll back safety standards, energy and climate policies and financial regulations on both sides of the Atlantic. Launched in July 2013, TAFTA negotiations are closed to the public, while official corporate "trade advisors" have special access.
In the official document outlining TAFTA, the Obama administration has made clear that TAFTA will not primarily target trade, but "behind-the-border" policies such as health, environmental and financial protections. U.S. and EU corporations call these safeguards on which we all rely "trade irritants," and have asked that they be eliminated via TAFTA. Administration officials have thus far refused to allow the public or press to see the specific proposals being negotiated.
Fast Track: An Assault on Congressional Oversight
Fast Track was an extreme and rarely-used procedure that empowered executive branch negotiators advised by large corporations to skirt Congress and the public and use “trade” agreements to rewrite policies that affect our daily lives — from the stability of our jobs to the safety of our food. Fast Track allowed the executive branch to unilaterally select partner countries for “trade” pacts, decide the agreements’ contents, and then negotiate and sign the agreements — all before Congress had a vote on the matter. Normal congressional committee processes were forbidden, meaning that the executive branch was empowered to write lengthy legislation on its own with no review or amendments. These executive-authored bills altered wide swaths of U.S. law unrelated to trade — food safety, immigration visas, energy policy, medicine patents and more — to conform our domestic policies to each agreement’s requirements. Unlike any other legislation, both the House and Senate were required to vote on a Fast Tracked trade agreement within 90 days of the White House submitting it. No floor amendments were allowed and debate was limited.
As a candidate, President Obama said he would replace this anti-democratic process. But now he is asking Congress to grant him Fast Track’s extraordinary authority — in part to try to overcome growing public and congressional opposition to his controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) deals. To prevent an expansion of this unfair “trade” model, Congress must not allow the executive branch to once again gain Fast Track’s undemocratic powers.
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A Shadow Legal System: Empowering Foreign Corporations to Bypass our Courts, Challenge Basic Protections in Extrajudicial Tribunals
Among the most dangerous but least known parts of today’s “trade” agreements are extraordinary new rights and privileges that empower foreign corporations to skirt domestic courts and directly challenge any policy or action of a sovereign government before extrajudicial tribunals. Comprised of three private attorneys unaccountable to any electorate, the tribunals are authorized to order unlimited sums of taxpayer compensation for health, environmental, financial and other public interest policies seen as undermining the corporations’ “expected future profits.” There is no outside appeal. Many of these attorneys rotate between acting as tribunal “judges” and as the lawyers launching cases against the government on behalf of the corporations.
This shadowy “investor-state” system has already been included in U.S. “free trade” agreements, forcing taxpayers to pay firms more than $430 million for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, and water and timber policies. Just under U.S. pacts, more than $38 billion remains pending in corporate claims against medicine patent policies, pollution cleanup requirements, climate and energy laws, and other public interest polices. Deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) would vastly expand the investor-state threat, newly empowering thousands of foreign corporations to demand compensation for the policies on which we rely. But some countries are now beginning to challenge this outrageous system.
- Chevron v. Ecuador: in response to Chevron attempt to evade $9.5 billion domestic ruling for Amazon pollution, a tribunal directs Ecuador’s government to violate its Constitution, casts aside two decades of court rulings, and declares that rights granted to Ecuadorians no longer exist
- Eli Lilly v. Canada: a U.S. pharmaceutical corporation challenges Canada’s legal standard for patents and pushes for greater monopoly patent protections, which increase the cost of medicines for consumers and governments
- Renco v. Peru: a U.S. corporations tries to evade its contractual commitment to clean up its metal smelter contamination in one of the world’s most polluted towns
- Oxy v. Ecuador: a tribunal fabricates a new foreign investor right and uses “egregious” logic to hit Ecuador with a more than $2 billion penalty in the largest-ever investor-state award
- RDC v. Guatemala: a tribunal ignores trade pact text and the opinions of four sovereign States, imports another tribunal’s sweeping interpretation of foreign firms’ rights, and rules against Guatemala
- Loewen v. United States: a tribunal decides that foreign corporations unhappy with domestic court decisions can demand bailout from taxpayers