By Elaine Magliaro
In Ferbruary, I wrote a post about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being another bad trade deal for the United States. (You can read that post here.) Many people—including some members of Congress—have complained about the “extreme” secrecy surrounding our country’s TPP negotiations with representatives of eleven other nations—Japan, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. This is especially concerning because President Obama wants to “fast track” the trade deal.
Fast tracking TPP would permit Obama to sign the trade agreement “without Congressional approval.” The signed agreement would then be sent to Congress to be “voted on after the fact under a special restricted procedure that forces a vote in 90 days, limits debate, and prevents Congress from responding to public pressure to amend the agreement’s most egregious anti-public interest provisions.” Allowing “fast-track” authorization would reportedly limit the ability of Congress “to address three major concerns with the TPP: the potentially harmful economic impacts of the deal, the very real prospect of the agreement superseding domestic policy in areas ranging from internet privacy to environmental and financial regulations and an unbalanced negotiating process and its likely outcome, both tipped towards corporate rather than public interest.”
Anna Meyer, the Food Campaigns Fellow at Green America, recently wrote an article about how passage of the TPP trade deal could potentially affect Americans’ health. Meyer said that TPP “treats food as just another global commodity to be traded and exchanged. This approach completely overlooks its vital importance to human life.” According to Meyer, “Leaked documents show that the treaties, which together cover nearly three quarters of the global economy, raise several major red flags for food safety.”
For example, they’d let American companies import food without extensive safety reviews — even when the exporting countries have far lower safety standards than the United States.
Two of the partner countries to the TPP, Vietnam and Malaysia, already have a bad history of exporting catfish, crab, and shrimp that have been pumped full of unapproved antibiotics and veterinary drugs that threaten human health. With an already strained inspection system, an increase in risky imports would almost certainly lead to an increase in foodborne illnesses.
These treaties could also expose Americans to toxic chemicals and pesticides that have been banned here but continue to be sold and used abroad.
They could further lead to the removal of country of origin labels, making it even more difficult to hold responsible parties accountable for disease outbreaks, and roll back the growing movements to label genetically engineered foods and promote more locally sourced fare.
Rich Bindell (Common Dreams) said that TPP “would open up U.S. supermarkets to a flood of imported fish from countries that farm fish with fungicides, antibiotics and other chemicals that are illegal to use in the United States. Since the volume of imported fish would increase but the number of inspectors at the border would not, the number of uninspected shipments of potentially unsafe fish could end up in a grocery store near you.”
Many previous free trade agreements have disenfranchised American workers, undermined domestic policies and undermined more sensible approaches to economic development that would help other nations to grow their economies. But the TPP would take this even further. It will harm working families by increasing our reliance on imported food instead of furthering our trust in sustainable, locally grown food production. It will wreak havoc on the environment by increasing the production and exportation of liquefied natural gas from fracking that has already contaminated our air and water. It would even challenge our right to know if the ingredients in our food have been genetically modified.
But the most frightening aspect of the TPP might be the authority it grants corporate entities to attack the sovereignty of local citizenry and governments to establish safeguards appropriate to their own communities. Many decisions about public health, infrastructure and the environment that are currently made by our local city councils or county governments using the democratic process could actually be overturned by international corporate tribunals. Why? Because if your town votes to ban water privatization or fracking, for example, that decision might challenge the financial interests of a multinational corporation. Tragically, the TPP would allow financial interests to dictate how we manage public resources or dismantle the system of local, state and even federal protections we currently have in place to regulate food and water.
A Warning from Senator Elizabeth Warren (Washington Post):
Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?
One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations. So if a Vietnamese company with U.S. operations wanted to challenge an increase in the U.S. minimum wage, it could use ISDS. But if an American labor union believed Vietnam was allowing Vietnamese companies to pay slave wages in violation of trade commitments, the union would have to make its case in the Vietnamese courts.
Warren added that giving foreign nations “special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal.” She said that if the “final TPP agreement includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the only winners will be multinational corporations.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership certainly doesn’t sound like it would be a good trade deal for the United States, does it?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): Another Bad Trade Deal for the United States Like NAFTA? (Flowers for Socrates)
This Trade Deal Will Make You Sick: The TPP could spell bad news for global food systems. (Other Words)
President Obama Trying to “Fast Track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a Trade Pact That Could Be Worse Than NAFTA (Res Ipsa Loquitor)
TPP is the Crazy Train, and Fast Track is the Highway to Hell: A quick guide to why the TPP and Fast Track would undermine Democracy and eliminate protections for food and water (Common Dreams)
The Trans-Pacific Partnership clause everyone should oppose (Washington Post)
If TPP were such a good thing why wouldn’t they make clear the overall features and enjoy popular demand for its passage? Could it possibly be that if they let anyone know what is in the agreement there would be a firestorm of controversy?
How many times does the administration think they can present the public with a pig in a poke without the public demanding to see exactly what we are getting.
Remember NAFTA, negotiated by George H.W. Bush and pimped by Bill Clinton? Oh the beauty of purchased bi-partisanship.
Oh what the hell. What’s wrong with a little over arsenic sprayed GMO foods…..
GMO Labeling: Nation’s ‘Biggest Food Fight’ Hits DC
By Anastasia Pantsios, EcoWatch
25 March 15
Since the posting of this article this morning, Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) filed legislation in Congress today to prevent states from giving their citizens the right to know whether the food they buy was made with genetically modified ingredients, or GMOs.
ood products containing genetically modified ingredients (GMOs) are labeled in 64 countries all around the world, including Japan, China, Russia, Australia and the European Union. In many countries, consumers’ right to know what they’re eating is uncontroversial.
Not so in the U.S. While a vast majority of American consumers would like this information, industrial-scale food companies and chemical companies like Monsanto and DuPont that developed GMO crops and the pesticides and herbicides they’re engineered to resist don’t think they need it. While three states—Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island—have passed GMO labeling laws, ballot issues in California, Colorado and Oregon have gone down to defeat, thanks to massive spending by Monsanto, DuPont and the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the corporate food business.
Now the battle has shifted to the national level, where the corporations that benefit from GMOs are pushing for the so-called DARK (Denying Americans the Right to Know) Act, introduced by Kansas Congressman Mike Pompeo, which would preempt states from setting up their own GMO labeling systems and bar them from defining “natural” foods as free from GMOs. Food safety advocates and consumer groups are fighting back, supporting a national mandatory labeling bill called the Genetically Engineered Food Right to Know Act, re-introduced in February by a group of congressional Democrats.
This morning, the House Agriculture Committee held a hearing on a national GMO labeling law. Following the hearing, Tom Colicchio, cofounder of Food Policy Action, Just Label It chairman Gary Hirshberg, Environmental Working Group (EWG) president Ken Cook and EWG vice president of governmental affairs Scott Faber held a teleconference to offer their thoughts on the bills, on GMO labeling in general and on the hearing, which Faber called “probably the most biased and unbalanced hearing in history of Congress.”
Colicchio rebutted one of the main arguments made by the companies battling against labeling: that it would dramatically increase food costs.
“The opposition would suggest that costs to consumers will skyrocket,” he said. “Manufacturers change labels all the time. Also the idea that we have to create a whole new system to track food—that’s already in place. A lot of this is scare tactics to get people to think prices will go through the roof and we don’t see that.”
Cook pointed out that it’s something people overwhelmingly want—as many as 90 percent, according to one poll.
“More than 1.4 million responded to a petition to label genetically engineered ingredients,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more state action. Seventy bills were proposed in 30 states in last two years. The food companies are coming to Washington for a big government solution because of a consumer uprising that caught them off guard. This is designed for one reason and one reason alone—to extinguish this consumer uprising that these companies thought would never happen in the U.S. They thought [GMO labeling] was a European phenomenon.”
There’s been a push by GMO supporters to declare their safety for consumption a “settled” issue and compare those questioning it to climate deniers, despite the lack of solid evidence either way. Science Guy Bill Nye earned a flurry of attention recently when he appeared to walk back on his skepticism about safety claims following a meeting with Monsanto.
But Hirshberg pointed out that even if that debate WERE settled in favor of GMOs, there’s still a big problem.
“There have been all kinds of exaggerations on both sides of the labeling debate—what I think we can call the biggest food fight in America,” he said. “But one fact that is not in dispute is that genetically engineered foods have led to enormous increases in herbicide use because crops are engineered to be tolerant of herbicides. In many cases farmers become dependent on an herbicide spiral and more resistant weeds, leading to stronger chemicals.”
He cited a U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) study that found the herbicide glyphosate, sold by Monsanto as Roundup which its “Roundup Ready” crops are engineered to resist, is found in most of the water sources in the Midwest.
“Higher yields [a commonly cited benefit of GMO crops] may come to pass, but 90 percent are engineered to tolerate more chemicals,” he said. “So it’s no surprise that companies selling these are chemical companies. We’ve been told since 1996, since the first herbicide-tolerant corn was introduced, that glyphosate is safe but as of Friday, we now know that what scientists have been saying for some time: the World Health Organization (WHO) has said glyphosate is probably a carcinogen. And it’s in our rainwater, streams and air.”
Organics, one of the fastest growing food market segments, are GMO-free, and that’s got the corporate food industry worried. (photo: Shutterstock)
Organics, one of the fastest growing food market segments, are GMO-free, and that’s got the corporate food
industry worried. (photo: Shutterstock)
Hirshberg said he believed that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has the power now to require GMO labeling, which the DARK Act would block, and brushed aside another common industry claim, that labeling would be equivalent to telling consumers to avoid a product, pointing out that orange juices made from concentrate must be labeled and it’s only considered a point of information, not a warning.
“This is economic tyranny being exercised by companies that want to protect status quo,” he said. ‘The fastest growing segment of the marketplace is organic and non-GMO. Mandatory labeling gives consumers choices. The bill [the DARK Act] is really diabolical and it’s really deceptive. It’s made to look like the sponsors support transparency but it really prevents it. This is really about selling pesticides and herbicides.”
From WikiLeaks (3/25/15)
Secret Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) – Investment Chapter
WikiLeaks releases today the “Investment Chapter” from the secret negotiations of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) agreement. The document adds to the previous WikiLeaks publications of the chapters for Intellectual Property Rights (November 2013) and the Environment (January 2014).
The TPP Investment Chapter, published today, is dated 20 January 2015. The document is classified and supposed to be kept secret for four years after the entry into force of the TPP agreement or, if no agreement is reached, for four years from the close of the negotiations.
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks editor said: “The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states. This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. Similar tribunals have already been shown to chill the adoption of sane environmental protection, public health and public transport policies.”
Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei. The TPP is the largest economic treaty in history, including countries that represent more than 40 per cent of the world´s GDP.
The Investment Chapter highlights the intent of the TPP negotiating parties, led by the United States, to increase the power of global corporations by creating a supra-national court, or tribunal, where foreign firms can “sue” states and obtain taxpayer compensation for “expected future profits”. These investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) tribunals are designed to overrule the national court systems. ISDS tribunals introduce a mechanism by which multinational corporations can force governments to pay compensation if the tribunal states that a country’s laws or policies affect the company’s claimed future profits. In return, states hope that multinationals will invest more. Similar mechanisms have already been used. For example, US tobacco company Phillip Morris used one such tribunal to sue Australia (June 2011 – ongoing) for mandating plain packaging of tobacco products on public health grounds; and by the oil giant Chevron against Ecuador in an attempt to evade a multi-billion-dollar compensation ruling for polluting the environment. The threat of future lawsuits chilled environmental and other legislation in Canada after it was sued by pesticide companies in 2008/9. ISDS tribunals are often held in secret, have no appeal mechanism, do not subordinate themselves to human rights laws or the public interest, and have few means by which other affected parties can make representations.
Big Fat Mike.
Exactly! That the negotiations are in strict secrecy is all that anyone needs to know to conclude that the TPP should be opposed.
As you have ably described, arbitration is a terrible system. Period.
Unfortunately, it is standard policy in many contracts that US consumers must sign. Lousy deal. God help you if you’ve bought a lemon and have to arbitrate. The judge is hired by the defendant.
Actually, the secrecy doesn’t bother me so much. There’s no way in hell a deal could be struck between all these parties if negotiations and compromises were regularly published. Every week one country or another would be blowing up the whole thing and pulling out of any deal.
Do you think the Iran Nuke negotiations should be public?
Another thought about open negotiations….
There are all kinds of trade-offs and changes that take place throughout the negotiations. What is in the agreement this week is gone the next in order to get a better deal on an entirely different commodity.
How well do you think the American public is going to be able to handle that? Strike that. How well do you think Fox and CNN are going to be able to handle that? Strike that. How well do you think GE is going to be able to handle that?
Do you think all SCOTUS Friday discussions and draft opinions should be public?
TPP negotiations and Iran nuke negotiations–apples and oranges.
President Obama Trying to “Fast Track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership—a Trade Pact That Could Be Worse Than NAFTA
In May, Erika Eichelberger provided some information about TPP in her Mother Jones article titled The Biggest Secret Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of, Explained. She says that “trade experts” claim that trade deal negotiations are always conducted under a certain level of secrecy. This supposedly makes it “easier for countries to negotiate amongst themselves without too much noise from advocacy groups and others inside countries.” Bryan Riley, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said, “That is how trade deals have worked…if they are made public, all interested groups can start tearing things apart before it’s even done.”
Eichelberger argues that “there is precedent for releasing proposed trade deal information to the public.” She wrote: “A full draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas was released in 2001 during negotiations on that 34-nation pact; a draft text of the recently-completed Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was released; and the World Trade Organization posts negotiating texts on its website.”
David Brodwin, a cofounder and board member of American Sustainable Business Council, claims that TPP is not merely a trade pact because it would protect legacy industries from competition and would strip governments of the means to manage their own economies. Brodwin says that TPP has been “positioned” as a simple trade agreement that would “harmonize tariffs and other trade rules and promote trade among the countries involved.” He says, however, that the pact has been described by critics as a “stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny” and one that could “severely curtail government authority at all levels.”
Writing for The Nation, Lori Wallach said that TPP had been “cleverly misbranded” as a trade agreement by “its corporate boosters.” According to Wallach, that’s why “it has cruised along under the radar” since George W. Bush “initiated negotiations in 2008.” Although the Obama administration “paused the talks” for a while in order to develop an “approach compatible with candidate Obama’s pledges to replace the old NAFTA-based trade model,” the negotiations were restarted where Bush had left off by late 2009.
Wallach suggests we think of TPP “as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny.” She notes that just two of the twenty-six chapters of the pact cover traditional trade matters. She says the other chapters “embody the most florid dreams of the 1 percent—grandiose new rights and privileges for corporations and permanent constraints on government regulation.” She says TPP includes investor safeguards that would “ease job offshoring and assert control over natural resources”—and adds that it would “severely limit the regulation of financial services, land use, food safety, natural resources, energy, tobacco, healthcare and more.”
Well that’s pretty embarrassing – finding myself in agreement with Heritage.
Look, I’m not in favor of the damn thing. But I wonder if these treaties are one of those unstoppable movements in history. God knows it’s too big for me. I’m going to focus on worrying about ACA. Could we have stopped NAFTA and all those jobs disappearing? If we’ve learned one thing, we have learned those corporate guys are very good at getting what they want. There is one aspect that I look forward to learning. What the hell will the Republicans do? Will they let Obama have TPP?
And I think my Iran and SCOTUS questions should stand. I’m talking about the mess of negotiations that have to be hammered, and chiseled, and planed, and sanded, and torn,and pasted together again, and it’s unrealistic to have to do that in front of country of 315 million who are at each others throats and more than a few million of those are suffering from severe mental illness and debilitating stupidity but have a lot of influence and sure as hell will hate, hate, hate a wrong decision. And that goes for if it is a trade deal, a nuke deal, or a besieged healthcare reform deal. Well, maybe the Court decision won’t go through those iterations, but Iran is.
As I’ve been saying for a while the only logical explanation for the fact that these trade treaties like NAFTA and TPP seem to be inexorable, is that we live under an oligarchy and not a republic, nor a democracy.
Harvey wrote: “Could we have stopped NAFTA and all those jobs disappearing?”
We should learn from NAFTA. Maybe TPP isn’t stoppable–but maybe parts of it can be renegotiated if enough people speak out and the news media did more in-depth reports on the leaked sections of the trade agreement that could possibly have devastating effects on American workers and businesses…and our health.
I’ll listen to the concerns/warnings of people like Senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I don’t give a damn what some senior policy analyst for the Heritage Foundation says about secret negotiations.
“. But I wonder if these treaties are one of those unstoppable movements in history… Could we have stopped NAFTA and all those jobs disappearing?”
I think this body of apologies and objections have been well answered by others.
But I will add that I do not agree that TPP is unstoppable. Further, even if it cannot be stopped it is important to demonstrate who supports TPP, who votes for TPP, who benefits from TPP, who pays the actual economic price of TPP, and how TPP gives away US sovereignty to unelected tribunals run for and by corporations.
People don’t learn and appreciate who is selling off their economic future over night. It takes time and it takes political battle. It is important to make the corporations and their lobbyist use their political capital and pay a political price. The pay-off for this battle may be in the next trade agreement, or in the battle for financial regulation, or in other legislation of corporate interests far removed form international trade.
Nobody gets a better deal by sitting back and taking what they give you.
Here is an interesting take on TPP by vanden Heuvel:
It is interesting that secrecy is so essential to the successful negotiation of this agreement that the public cannot know even the slightest about it. But literally hundreds of corporations not only have access to key provisions but they specifically offer advice in a formal advisory structure.
But that is a key characteristic of democracy – right, figure out what the population needs and then give it too them as a fait?
I also note the WAPO warns its readers not to get caught up in the ‘alarmism’ over the TPP. It is heartening to know WAPO is so concerned over my peace of mind.
If only they were as concerned about my job or the real wages of workers that have astonishingly decreased over the past 30 years. Isn’t that interesting. The income and wealth of the nation has increased over the past 30 years – GDP increased about 3 trillion dollars from 2009 till 2015 alone. But when it come to wages for working people they actually take home less now than in the 1970’s and 1980’s. I suppose TPP will begin to turn that around – right WAPO?
Pingback: What You Should Know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Government Agency Overseeing US Trade Deals | Flowers For Socrates