Corporations, Global Trade Treaties, and Democracy

I’ve been reading about the on-going Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty negotiations (“bigger than NAFTA”), and the larger question of the impact on democracy, human rights, sovereignty, the environment, and more, of these global treaties. With very little information and debate, Americans are finding that a new global, corporate veto is being created over sovereign law, the public interest, and a range of values of which the agenda of international corporations and perceived economic efficiency may not take account.

The Citizens Trade Campaign recently issued a background memo on TPP.  They say that secret negotiations are enabling international corporations to claim special rights to trump national laws:

Leaked Investment Texts Reveal Special Rights for Corporations

The document revealed that the United States and all but one other TPP country (Australia) have agreed to a so-called “investor-state” dispute resolution process that would grant transnational corporations special authority to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions in private tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems.

The memo adds that the World Trade Organization (the “WTO”) has already been very active in invalidating application of American laws:

Under the auspices of the World Trade Organization (WTO), the United States has lost more than 90% of the more than 65 cases brought against it by other countries. The United States has lost cases involving the Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, Country-of-Origin Labeling, Internet gambling restrictions and more.

The next step appears to be a move to allow a bypass of the government-to-government dispute process, and create a new “corporate right of action” to allow corporations to move directly against national laws that a corporation may claim violate trade rules:

The leaked texts show the TPP going beyond this “state-to-state” dispute resolution, by inviting individual corporations to initiate “regulatory takings” cases heard by private panels of attorneys specializing in international trade.

Again, here’s the full memo. The Citizens Trade Campaign has a lot of additional information on its website.

Here’s a perspective from the United Steelworkers and from the AFL-CIO labor unions.

Finally, here’s a link to a 2011 Council on Foreign Relations report, U.S. Trade and Investment Policy. The report concludes:  “Unless the United States develops and sustains a trade policy that yields greater benefits for Americans in job and wage growth, it will be difficult to build the political consensus needed to move forward.”

If you’re looking for transparency and reports from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (part of the Executive Office of the President) about the negotiations, you can try the agency’s website. Unfortunately, the USTO blog that purports to provide updates about the negotiations reads almost as parody: lots of “steps forward” and “progress” but alarmingly little information about what those steps are or where they are taking us.

This is an issue that bears a lot more scrutiny and debate.

About Jeff Clements

Jeff serves as President of American Promise. He has practiced law for three decades in public service and private practice, and is the author of Corporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy From Big Money & Global Corporations. He is also the founder of Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides sustainable financing to businesses in the local agriculture economy. Previously, Jeff has been a partner in a major Boston law firm and served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the public law enforcement bureau in the Attorney General’s Office in Massachusetts. Jeff has helped to start and been a board member of many non-profit organizations and businesses. Today, in addition to the board of American Promise, he serves on the vestry of Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord, Massachusetts. Twitter: @ClementsJeff
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