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 clause everyone should oppose (Washington Post)