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 Clements is co-founder and chair of the board of Free Speech for People, a national non-partisan campaign to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, challenge excessive corporate power, and strengthen American democracy and republican self-government. He co-founded Free Speech For People in 2010, after representing several public interest organizations with a Supreme Court amicus brief in the Citizens United case. Jeff has served as Assistant Attorney General and Chief of the Public Protection Bureau in the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. As Bureau Chief, he led more than 100 staff in the enforcement of environmental, healthcare, financial services, civil rights, antitrust and consumer protection laws. In private practice, Jeff has been a partner at Mintz Levin in Boston, and in his own firm. Jeff also has served in leadership capacities on numerous boards, including that of the Portland Water District, a public agency responsible for protecting and delivering safe drinking water and ensuring proper treatment of wastewater for 160,000 people; Friends of Casco Bay, an environmental organization he co-founded with others to protect and enhance stewardship of Maine’s Casco Bay; and The Waldorf School in Lexington, Massachusetts. In 2012, Jeff co-founded Whaleback Partners LLC, which provides cost-effective capital to farmers and businesses engaged in local, sustainable agriculture. Jeff graduated with distinction in History and Government from Colby College in 1984, and magna cum laude from the Cornell Law School in 1988. He lives in Concord, Massachusetts with his wife and three children. Jeff Clements Twitter: @ClementsJeff Email: jclements@freespeechforpeople.org
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