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Trans-Pacific Partnership: Under Cover of Darkness, a Corporate Coup Is Underway

The highly secretive pact, dubbed "NAFTA on steroids," is so invasive it would even limit how governments can spend tax dollars.

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Editor's note: On this week's AlterNet Radio Hour, Joshua Holland spoke with Lori Wallace about the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the larger mythology of "free trade." You can listen to their discussion below this article.

Have you heard about the small U.S. government agency engaged in years of closed-door negotiations that could undermine the Obama administration’s declared goals of creating jobs, reregulating the financial sector and lowering healthcare costs? 

With the direct participation of 600 corporations and shocking levels of secrecy, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is rushing to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Branded as a trade agreement (yawn) by its corporate proponents, TPP largely has evaded public and congressional scrutiny since negotiations were launched in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration.

But trade is the least of it. Only two of TPP’s 26 chapters actually have to do with trade. The rest is about new enforceable corporate rights and privileges and constraints on government regulation. This includes new extensions of price-raising drug patent monopolies, corporate rights to attack government drug formulary pricing plans, safeguards to facilitate job offshoring and new corporate controls over natural resources.

Also included are severe limits on government regulation of financial services, zoning and land use, product and food safety, energy and other essential services, tobacco, and more. The copyright chapter poses many of the threats to Internet freedom of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), which was stalled in Congress under intense public pressure.

The proposed pact is so invasive of domestic policy space that it would even limit how governments can spend tax dollars. Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences used to reinvest our tax dollars in the American economy would be banned and sweat-free, human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts would be subject to challenge in closed-door foreign tribunals.

Indeed, signatory countries would be obliged to conform all their domestic laws and regulations to TPP’s rules, effecting a quiet corporate coup d’état. And, regardless of election outcomes or changes in public opinion, these extreme rules could not be altered without the consent of all signatory countries. Failure to conform to these rules would subject countries to indefinite trade sanctions.

A recent leak of one of TPP’s most controversial chapters reveals that the pact would elevate individual corporations and investors to equal status with sovereign nations to privately enforce this treaty. U.S. negotiators are among the greatest champions of this “investor state” enforcement system. It would give any foreign firm incorporated in any TPP country  new rights to skirt U.S. courts and laws, directly sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for financial, health, environmental, land use and other laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges.

After Obama’s election, U.S. trade officials were instructed to withdraw from the TPP negotiations Bush had launched – supposedly to sort out a new approach that implemented candidate Obama’s campaign commitments to fix the damaging old NAFTA model. But after a kabuki dance of ears-closed check-the-box “consultations” with a minimal number of congressional representatives and civil society groups, Obama’s trade officials picked up where Bush left off. Actually, they doubled down -- pushing even more extreme positions than the Bush administration on issues like Internet freedom and access to medicines.

Now a thirteenth round of TPP negotiations involving the Obama administration will occur next week in San Diego. There negotiators from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative will meet behind closed doors with their counterparts from eight Asian and Latin American countries. What’s on the table is a 1 percenters’ dream – a corporate power tool of unprecedented scope and might. Think NAFTA on steroids with the whole world.

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