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Dragging Secretive Trade Talks Into the Light: Activists Expose Slow-Motion Corporate Coup

A highly secretive trade agreement aims to penalize countries that protect workers, consumers, and the environment. Luckily, the growing opposition goes beyond the usual trade justice suspects.
 
 
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Leaders from member states of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement.
Photo Credit: Government of Chile/Wikimedia Commons

 
 
 
 

While the election season seized everyone’s attention, government officials and 600 official corporate “advisors” were working behind closed doors to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Negotiations have been cloaked in unprecedented secrecy and its proponents have mislabeled the TPP as a “free trade” agreement. In reality, the TPP is about much more than trade. It threatens a stealthy, slow-motion corporate coup d'etat, formalizing and locking in corporate rule over most aspects of our lives.

Thirteen years ago, at the  World Trade Organization’s (WTO) Seattle Ministerial, a similar threat in the form of a massive expansion of the powers and scope of the WTO was stopped. 

At the Battle in Seattle, the immovable object called grassroots democracy was  victorious over the allegedly unstoppable force of corporate-led globalization. The “Doha Round,” which followed two years later and continued the attempt to expand the WTO’s reign, was also derailed thanks to  tenacious campaigning by organizations and activists worldwide.

Recalling these historic moments, when people power stopped the dangerous expansion of corporate power, is especially sweet today, when we must again act to safeguard these inspiring victories. All of us who will live with the results must become active to stop the TPP, the latest iteration of corporate coup via “trade” agreement.

What Would the TPP Do?

Eleven countries are now involved—Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States—and there is an open invitation for more to join. Think of the TPP as a NAFTA on steroids, which could encompass half of the world.

This is the largest, most potentially damaging agreement since the 1995 establishment of the WTO. And you may never have heard about it before. That’s because the negotiations, which have been underway for three years, are being conducted in  extreme secrecy. The public,  Congress, and the press are locked out, but the 600 official corporate advisors have access to the negotiating texts.

The TPP is the latest strategy by the  same gang who got us into the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and pushed for the expansion of the WTO: American job-offshorers like GE and Caterpillar; banksters like Citi; pharmaceutical price-gouging giants like Pfizer; oil, gas, and mining multinationals like Chevron and Exxon; and agribusiness monopolists like Cargill and Monsanto. 

They’ve misbranded the TPP as a model 21st-Century “trade” deal to try to sell it with the usual false promises of it expanding exports. But only two of the TPP’s 29 chapters are about “trade.”

Most of the TPP’s proposed provisions instead comprise a  corporate power grab. The TPP would include extreme protections for foreign investors, which would help corporations offshore American jobs to low-wage countries. These terms would require governments to provide foreign investors a guaranteed “minimum standard of treatment” when they relocate, including special privileges and rights that domestic firms and investors do not enjoy. Foreign firms—or foreign subsidiaries of U.S. firms—could extract unlimited amounts of taxpayer money as compensation when investors claim that U.S. government actions undermine a corporation’s expected future profits.  Seriously.

Equal Status for Corporations and Country

The investor rules would elevate individual foreign firms and investors to the same status as the sovereign nations that would be party to the TPP. Corporations and investors would be empowered to privately enforce the agreement by suing a signatory government before the World Bank and other foreign tribunals. In this “investor-state dispute resolution,” three private-sector lawyers, who rotate between suing governments and acting as “judges,” could order governments to pay large amounts of our tax dollars to investors who do not want to follow the same laws as domestic firms. 

 
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