Monday, the President will come to town for a high profile fundraiser and will likely be greeted by angry citizens who constitute the core of his support. But their anger will not focus on the healthcare debacle, but on a rather hidden and arcane trade pact that could have monumental repercussions for 40 percent of the world’s economy.
For those who have lost jobs to NAFTA, a two-decade-old trade pact that has cost over 5 million manufacturing jobs as well as electrical, retooling, and other jobs that supported them, and 45,000 U.S. manufacturing facilities that likely will never return, the current version entitled the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been called “NAFTA on steroids”.
An increasing number of liberals are aligning themselves with Tea Party members in a strange right-left coalition to voice concern over the Obama Administration’s heavy-handed push to at least 11 other countries, mostly in the Pacific rim, for a binding international governance system that will have the practical effect of circumventing actual legislation on issues that extend far beyond trade issues. Of the 29 chapters in negotiation, which has been ongoing for over three years now, only five deal with trade. Non-trade issues being proffered in secret negotiating texts include government procurement, including “buy American" and “buy local” laws, intellectual property, financial services, food standards, labor, environmental and drug patent provisions.
What is particularly eye-opening is the degree of secrecy surrounding these negotiations. Congress, which constitutionally has the obligation to decide trade issues, has been either denied access to the negotiating texts or has been bound by strict confidentiality not to discuss them. But this level of secrecy does not apply to over 600 corporate lobbyists who both have access to the texts and are involved in drafting them. Furthermore, the texts will not be released until after four years that the TPP either takes effect or the talks collapse.
Last week, Wikileaks released a draft of the intellectual property chapter at the same time that 151 Democratic Members of Congress were expressing their concerns to the President on his request for a Nixon-era mechanism that will expedite consideration of the TPP without the opportunity to amend or modify provisions contained within it. The so-called Fast Track Authority mechanism that the Administration is seeking would bind Congress to one up or down vote on the entire package within a limited time frame for debate and discussion.
The practical impacts of some of the leaked information clearly indicate the scope to which multinational corporations have shaped the proposal. Corporations, through the “investor-state dispute resolution” provisions, could appeal to an international trade tribunal composed of three corporate lawyers for compensation based on the loss of “expected future profits” regardless of the sovereign authority expressed through the will of elected representatives of a national or subnational entity.
What does this means for you and me?
- The dangerous financial services transactions that precipitated the near financial collapse in 2008 could be resurrected
- It would be harder to restrict the use of pesticides, food additives, or genetically-modified organisms in our food supply
- Environmental concerns over fracking could be negated
- Patent expansion would delay and increase the costs of generic drugs, and
- Jobs would be offshored to places like Vietnam where independent labor unions are illegal and Brunei where there is no union activity nor any legal basis for collective bargaining or strikes will be accelerated.
The complexity and arcane nature of trade negotiations allows for secrecy but fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me. Those lending their voices in opposition to both fast track authority and the TPP are quite clear in their message: Namely, Mr. President this is not the way to conduct the people’s business. You ran saying that you opposed fast track authority and yet here it is. You ran on the platform of transparency in policy making and yet here it isn’t.
One can only conclude that the degree of secrecy is directly proportional to the odiousness of the provisions that if shown the light of day would be rejected outright. The people are rightly suspicious and wary of an acceleration of corporate power over our daily lives where the sole motivation is the maximization of profit. Further, this corporate power grab will heighten the already unacceptable level of cynicism towards the effectiveness of government.
We must balance the needs of the people through governmental regulation of the free market. That is the appropriate role of government and it is past time to show the people that there is value in its application.
Monday, 26 November 2013