The Corporate Coup

American democracy is under attack.  Not a shot’s been fired, there’s no people out in the streets, in fact, the attack was started in secret. The tool for this...
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Photo by Ryan Lackey via flickr

American democracy is under attack.  Not a shot’s been fired, there’s no people out in the streets, in fact, the attack was started in secret. The tool for this coup is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and whether it succeeds or not is now up to you and me. Negotiators have signed it. It is up to Congress to pass it. This is our chance to stop it, if we act now. The TPP is the first of three calamitous treaties coming our way. If we defeat the TPP then there is a good chance that the others will fail as well.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a 12 nation secret trade treaty involving 40% of the world’s economy. It is more than a trade treaty, it is a corporate power grab that deregulates industry while eliminating national sovereignty.

Geopolitically, the TPP and its related treaties, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) appear to be an attempt to pull the nations on the Pacific Coast of Asia and Western Europe towards America, thus isolating China and Russia.  This makes sense as these treaties are the products of Wall Street’s brain trust, The Council on Foreign Relations.

The TPP was developed over six years in secret primarily by 600 trade advisors (lobbyists). These lobbyists included employees of Monsanto, Chevron, Halliburton, Walmart, and many other major trans-national corporations. The governments of the countries involved, including the US Congress, were not allowed to see the entire text during negotiations.

Those few members of Congress who’ve seen portions of it were forbidden to take notes or make copies. Congresswoman Elizabeth Warren said she wasn’t allowed to discuss the details. When asked why her response was: “The American people would never approve.”

In order to push this disaster through Congress, Obama convinced Congress to give him Fast Track authority. This allows Congress to vote for or against the treaty but not amend it. Fast Track was authorized for six years. This means the rest of Obama’s administration and the first term of the next president and is not limited to just this trade treaty. The TPP requires regulatory harmonization. This means that all signatory countries must adjust national laws to the corporate friendly regulatory framework of the treaty. All national laws regulating food safety, worker protection, and privacy would be set at the lowest level of the signatories.

Last November WikiLeaks released this massive document. Here are some of the provisions that would be enacted if we let Congress pass it.

All our localized, GMO-free agricultural regulations and bans on toxic additives will be struck down as illegal trade restrictions. Country of origin labels will also be removed. Under the TPP fish, especially fish from Vietnam and Malaysia, will enter the country virtually uninspected. Our right to know what we eat will be overruled. Monsanto’s trade advisors made sure that was in the treaty.

The TPP will limit access to medicines by expanding patents, including for minor changes to already existing medicines, institute patent linkage thus making more profits for big pharma and creating barriers for generic medicines attempting to enter the world market. Monopolies on cancer, heart disease, and HIV/AIDS drugs will be lengthened.  These extended patents will also apply to surgical methods, equipment, and composition of matter. Burcu Kilic, legal counsel for Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines Program stated only; “surgical methods you can perform with your bare hands” will be exempt from these restrictions.  Dr. Margaret Chan, WHO Director general commented: “I have been hearing some serious comments that the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the biggest trade agreement ever, may adversely affect the market for generics and biosimilars and increase the cost of medicines. High prices block access.”

Wages will plummet as jobs are outsourced and foreign workers are insourced. According to the Wall Street Journal, the auto industry is expected to lose 300,000 jobs. Labor union protection and made in American labels would be illegal barriers to trade as American workers compete with Malaysia and Vietnam for jobs. Of the 2,000 plus pages, only 13 pages address labor rights.  “This is a continuation of the global race to the bottom,” said Dr. Margaret Flowers of Popular Resistance. “This drives down high labor standards here. It means a decimation of industries and unions. It means an accelerated race to the bottom, which we must rise up to stop.” “In Malaysia one-third of tech workers are essentially slaves,” Kevin Zees of Popular Resistance said. “In Vietnam the minimum wage is 35 cents an hour. Once these countries are part of the trade agreement US workers are put in a very difficult position. Half of American workers earn essentially the poverty level. This agreement only accelerates this trend. I don’t see how American workers are going to cope.”

The golden age of internet access will end with the passage of the TPP. In the Intellectual Property Chapter it states: “Each party shall provide that authors, performers, and producers of phonograms have the right to authorize or prohibit all reproductions of their works, performances, and phonograms in any manner or form, permeant or temporary (including temporary storage in electronic form).” It is a technological necessity to download temporary versions of everything we see coming off the internet. Anyone who views internet content could be liable of infringement. Articles like this would violate the TPP and these restrictions go on for decades. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation: “The TPP could extend copyright term protection from life of the author + 70 years for works by individuals, and either 95 years after publication to 120 years after creation for corporate owned works.” This will minimally benefit artists and increase corporate profits while keeping works out of the public domain longer. All of this will be enforced by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Should one allegedly download an image, including words, the ISP will be required to terminate internet access. The TPP requires ISPs to monitor online communications for possible infringements and potentially reveal identities of alleged infringers to those who hold the copyright.

This increase in global trade will exasperate climate change. An early draft of the TPP acknowledged this and corporate responsibility in vague and nonbinding language, however US negotiators edited this part out.  It appears that world destruction is secondary to making a buck.

Language is critical to understanding the TPP. You really need a trade lawyer to fully comprehend some of the language but even I can understand the difference in enforcement between “shall” and “shall endeavor to.”

If there are legal complaints they will be heard in Investor State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) tribunals. The ISDS allows foreign corporations to challenge US laws and potentially pick up huge payouts from US taxpayers without ever stepping foot in a US court. If US laws protecting health, safety, the environment, or human rights jeopardize potential profits of corporations, those corporations could sue for lost potential profits. These ISDS tribunals use three highly paid corporate lawyers who’d represent the corporations one day and sit in judgement the next. How likely is it that these judges would rule against the hand that feeds them? Foreign corporations could sue in these courts, however citizens, unions, and communities have no standing in them.  Secret evidence is permissible, there are no safeguards for human rights and there’s no right of appeal based on the merits of the case. NAFTA also employees ISDS tribunals.  One Canadian government official spoke about rules introduced through NAFTA. “I’ve seen the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years. They involve dry cleaning chemicals, pharmaceuticals, pesticides, patent laws. Virtually all of the new initiatives were targeted and most then never saw the light of day.”  Said Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign: “The tribunals that adjudicate these cases don’t have the power to literally demand that government change its politics, but they can award payments worth millions, even billions of dollars, such that if a country doesn’t want additional cases brought against it, gets in line”. We’ve already had a taste of these rulings with Trans-Canada attempting to sue the US under NAFTA for the cancellation of the XL Pipeline. Trans-Canada is out $3 billion and suing, based on potential lost future profits, for $15 billion. Minimum wages, unions, zoning laws, water rights – all are in jeopardy if the TPP passes.

A new commission of unelected international bureaucrats would be created to promote the TPP as a separate institution with an agenda independent of US interests. It will be able to make its own rules without input from Congress and is not bound to respect the US Constitution. It is mandated to periodically evaluate and, if need be, modify the terms of the treaty. This is a fluid contract whose terms may change after it has been signed.

The TPP is a gateway treaty that, if approved, opens the door for the equally horrific Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA).

The Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) is a secret trade treaty between the US and the European Union (EU). You haven’t heard much about it because it’s a state secret. In Britain disclosure could land you in jail for thirty years while in the US you could end up in Guantanamo.  Like the TPP, this treaty surrenders national sovereignty to an undemocratic corporate body without first seeking citizen approval and, like the TPP, it reduces regulations to maximize profits. If there are unfortunate side effects, well that’s just collateral damage.

The TTIP’s regulatory harmonization will open the door for GMO foods in violation of the EU’s ban on virtually all GMO foods. In Europe regulations on substances require a company to prove its substance is safe before it can be used. The TTIP would reverse this cautionary approach.

The TTIP also employees ISDS tribunals which, through other bi-lateral trade agreements, have led to the Swedish company Vattenfall suing Germany for billions of dollars over their decision to phase out nuclear power plants.

Finally there is the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). This corporate trade agreement accounts for two-thirds of global GDP and involves 52 nations including the US, EU, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan, Taiwan, Mexico, Canada, and Australia. It threatens democracy in many of the same ways as the TPP and the TTIP with a focus on services.  Under the TISA all companies become domestic companies thus negating Go Local. Public Citizen lawyer Burcu Kilic stated: “Privacy is a fundamental human right central to the maintenance of democratic societies. The TISA includes requirements that could damage privacy protection.” Ben Beverly of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch said: The TISA would expand deregulating trade rules written under the advisement of large banks before the financial crisis, requiring domestic laws to conform to the now-rejected model of extreme deregulation that led to global recession.”

One example of this global deregulation involves our health providers. People with health problems would be encouraged to visit other countries for cheaper treatments, with the cost being reimbursed by their own health services or insurance providers. Turkey is lobbying to be the destination for those cheaper treatments.

Sounds hopeless, right? Not so. This mammon contains its own undoing’s. Let’s return to the TPP for a minute. The TPP allows for both currency manipulation and Value-Added taxes. Currency manipulation is when a country artificially lowers the value of its currency relative to other currencies. A bi-partisan letter from 230 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives objected to this provision as did a similar letter from 60 of our 100 Senators.

A Value-Added tax is a tax on each element of a finished product.  10 of the 12 TPP countries use this kind of tax. It jacks prices of US goods and services while rebating this amount to the country’s exports. This is also not popular in Congress. Opposition to the TTP is growing. All presidential candidates are against it as are most Americans according to a Pew poll .  Leading experts including Elizabeth Warren, Naomi Klein, Amy Goodman, Noam Chomsky, Robert Reich and others have sounded the alarms. Local municipalities in the US have vowed to disobey it should it pass. Citizens in Peru and Malaysia have risen up in protest to the TPP. Now is the time for us to act.

For the TPP to pass it needs six nations to agree to it. One of those nations must be Japan and another must be the US. Contact your members of Congress today and encourage them to vote no on the TPP. Once the President sends it to Congress, Congress will have to vote on it within 90 days. We must help our elected members of Congress decide their position prior to that vote in order to overturn this corporate coup.

Sources: Food & Water Watch presentation in Santa Rosa, CA 1/27/16, thealliancefordemocracy.org., Democracy Now 10/6/15, Jeff Blankford Takes On the World 10/14/15, The Project Censored Show 3/4/16, This Changes Everything© 2014 Naomi Klein, Censored 2014 & 2015 © Huff & Roth, WikiLeaks.org

Rebel Fagin writes for the Sonoma County Peace Press and gcml.org

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Op-Ed

Rebel Fagin is a writer who has been politically active in Sonoma County since the 1970’s. He writes regularly for the Sonoma County Peace Press and the Global Critical Media Literacy Project (gcml.org). He has a book documenting nearly forty years of street activism in Sonoma County called Tales from the Perpetual Oppositional Culture – a Journey into Resistance. He lives in Santa Rosa, California and is active with many activists’ organizations.
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