As long and as hard as some nations (especially the United States) have fought through the years to achieve and maintain independence, it’s mind-boggling to think they would ever voluntarily surrender that sovereignty. And yet, many seem willing to do just that, according to newly exposed international trade rules that would give transnational corporations the kind of rights once reserved only for governments.
According to a report from the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), a “national coalition of environmental, labor, consumer, family farm, religious, and other civil society groups founded in 1992 to improve the North American Free Trade Agreement,” transnational corporations would be given unprecedented authority to resolve trade disputes.
Under the rules, which were drafted by a collective of nine nations working to form the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which – according to the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Web site is “an ambitious, next-generation, Asia-Pacific trade agreement that reflects U.S. priorities and values” – international corporations would have “special authority to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and court decisions in international tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems,” the CTC said.
Another NAFTA for another time
In November 2009, President Obama announced the United States’ intention to participate in the TPP with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, ostensibly to “enhance trade and investment among the TPP partner countries, promote innovation, economic growth and development, and support the creation and retention of jobs,” the USTR said.
There have been 12 rounds of negotiations since then; the next scheduled round will be held in San Diego July 2-10, according to the USTR Web site.
But while the premise of the TPP may sound admirable – boosting U.S. exports to Asia while creating American jobs – the devil, as usual, is in the details, CTC points out.
“Americans deserve the right to know what U.S. negotiators are proposing in our names,” said Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of CTC. “In the absence of transparency on the part of our government, we have a responsibility to share what information we receive about the TPP with the public.”
Stamoulis certainly has a point about transparency. Have you heard of the TPP? Few Americans have.
Allowing entire industries, like Big Pharma, to circumvent consumers
“We are just beginning to analyze the new texts now, but they clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens,” Stamoulis said. “A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and thorough public debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.”
He added: “Our hope is that the U.S. Trade Representative will answer the growing calls for transparency in the TPP. If not, the time has come for Members of Congress to intervene.”
The group points out that TPP is poised to become the largest free-trade agreement in history and will undoubtedly have an impact on a wide range of issues, from jobs to the environment – and transnational corporate “rights.”
The CTC earlier published details of Obama administration proposals to the TPP to roll back “reforms designed to enhance access to affordable medicines made during the George W. Bush administration and is instead demanding new rights for pharmaceutical firms to challenge pricing and other drug formulary policies used by many developed countries to keep down prices.”
In essence, the group said, such changes would “allow Big Pharma to attack cost-saving drug formularies.”
“This is a new proposal to empower pharmaceutical firms to attack the medicine formulary systems that New Zealand, Australia and other developed countries have used so successfully to reduce sky-high drug prices,” said a separate CTC report detailing the changes.
In addition, said the CTC, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia proposed rules pushing deregulation and self-regulation of industries.
“While some elements of the draft text are conducive to well-informed and consistent good decision making, it is inappropriate for a ‘trade’ agreement to dictate to governments how they should structure their domestic regulatory agencies and procedures and make decision on domestic regulatory policy,” said the report.
Bigger agreement, more concerns
A number of analysts and activists pushing for more transparency in the negotiations cited additional concerns.
“New leaked texts proposed by the United States to the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement show that the Obama administration has again increased demands on developing countries to trade away access to medicines,” said an October 2011 statement by Public Citizen, a public policy organization based in Washington, D.C. “The new leaked proposals on intellectual property roll back even modest Bush era commitments to safeguard public health in trade pacts.”
Todd Tucker, the research director of Public Citizen‘s Global Trade Watch division, said the bigger problem is that the agreement will contain a process for additional nations to join, potentially making it the largest trade agreement ever.
“The leaked document shows that in all of the major respects, this is exactly the same template that was used in NAFTA and other agreements that President Obama campaigned against,” Tucker told Salon.com.
The online news magazine noted that the agreement, if it comes to fruition, is liable to harm one of Obama’s largest political bases – union members.
“President Obama campaigned in 2008 as a strong pro-labor candidate, and this year he will again. But for union activists who’ll be working hard for his reelection, [the] newly leaked document represents yet another bitter disappointment,” Salon.com reported.
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