Thursday, April 4, 2013

THE HIGH COST OF FREE TRADE


In May, 600 representatives of multinational corporations will converge in Lima for the 17th round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which has been called The Mother of all Free Trade Agreements. Since 2008, industry representatives have been secretly discussing this lucrative trade agreement that will be binding on all nations that sign. Currently believed to include about a dozen nations, it is designed to be a multilateral agreement that an unlimited number of countries can eventually be bound to by unelected "representatives."

All we know of TPP is through leaked documents. These indicate that under the agreement, nations can be sued by individual corporations in a kangaroo court of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Thus, for instance, nations with universal health care can be held hostage to drug corporations that will effectively dictate prices, much as they do today in the US under the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003. Intellectual property rights will be further strengthened, specifically allowing internet providers to cut off service for alleged copyright violations. Recently leaked documents indicate that the agreement would ban buy-local provisions in legislation and prevent regulation of risky financial schemes that nearly destroyed the world economy in 2008 and whose consequences have yet to be fully felt. It would also further undermine national sovereignty by banning currency controls developing nations use to prevent capital flight by speculators.


Not even Senate Trade Subcommittee Chair Ron Wyden has been allowed access to official negotiation documents.  If that is not enough to send alarm bells ringing, then Americans have forgotten the meaning of national sovereignty. Given that this threat to national self-determination would likely run into problems in the Senate, the Obama administration is seeking fast track authority to approve the secret agreement. Thus, instead of transparency the process of approval of TPP would take place without congressional oversight, eliminating the best chance Americans have to influence the debate.

Free trade agreements have been championed by Democrats and Republicans alike as the key to opening up export markets and producing jobs in manufacturing, but the promise has not lived up to the hype. The reason is that all free trade agreements are designed to benefit the multinational corporations that back them, regardless of the cost to workers, consumers and ultimately, taxpayers. We have seen that trading national sovereignty to regulate trade for the illusory benefits of “free trade” has not created jobs in the US, but in China and nations where workers are treated even more poorly. The result has been falling wages in the US for jobs that are increasingly scarce, thanks to competition in the labor market with workers willing to sell their labor for what amount to slave wages.

Under current rules governing the WTO, if a nation complains of “unfair” laws or trade practices that limit in any way the ability of corporations to conduct trade in that nation, the corporation can ask the government in which it is incorporated to file a complaint. The dispute is decided by an unelected three member panel representing the interests of multinational corporations that profit by subverting the ability of a nation to enact laws to protect consumers, workers and the environment. Under the FPP, corporations would no longer have to file complaints through a government, making nations increasingly irrelevant in a world economy controlled by corporate CEOs in their own self-interest.

As one example of the power of the WTO under current agreements, it recently ruled that a US law protecting consumers by requiring country of origin labeling was an “unfair” restriction on the right of foreign corporations to dump their potentially tainted agricultural goods on an unsuspecting US market. Even if these foods are safe, American consumers lose the right to know if they are buying American.

Imagine how much worse it would be if deep-pocketed corporations could demand that the US and Pacific Rim nations that sign on to TPP can force these governments to face judgment by a small panel of hand-picked lawyers representing their interests. We cannot allow this naked power grab to succeed.

Most Americans do not want to be dictated to by multinational corporations that have no allegiance to any nation or its people. The TPP is the next step in corporate control of the US and world economies supported by a majority of US politicians who never met a free trade agreement they didn’t like. The only way that we can fight it is to do what we should have done when Democratic President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress gave away our sovereignty to the WTO: demand transparency and that our elected representatives do what we elected them to do. That means putting the interests of the American people over the profits of multinational corporations that pay for their election campaigns.


We cannot allow an unelected international body to rule on the legality of US laws designed to protect consumers, workers and the environment. The WTO exists only to maximize profits to corporations that are shipping our jobs overseas.   Please contact your members of Congress. Let them know that you want them to fight to drag this monster out of the dark and into the light where it can be killed.

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