Tag Archive: free trade agreements

Jan 15 2014

WikiLeaks: TPP Waters Down Environmental Protections

WikiLeaks has released the secret draft text for the entire Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) Environment Chapter and the corresponding Chairs’ Report.

TPP Wikileaks photo c1_zpscb2e5e0f.jpg  

The Environment Chapter covers what the Parties propose to be their positions on: environmental issues, including climate change, biodiversity and fishing stocks; and trade and investment in ‘environmental’ goods and services. It also outlines how to resolve enviromental disputes arising out of the treaty’s subsequent implementation. The draft Consolidated Text was prepared by the Chairs of the Environment Working Group, at the request of TPP Ministers at the Brunei round of the negotiations.

When compared against other TPP chapters, the Environment Chapter is noteworthy for its absence of mandated clauses or meaningful enforcement measures. The dispute settlement mechanisms it creates are cooperative instead of binding; there are no required penalties and no proposed criminal sanctions. With the exception of fisheries, trade in ‘environmental’ goods and the disputed inclusion of other multilateral agreements, the Chapter appears to function as a public relations exercise. [..]

The Chairs’ Report of the Environment Working Group also shows that there are still significant areas of contention in the Working Group. The report claims that the draft Consolidated Text displays much compromise between the Parties already, but more is needed to reach a final text. The main areas of contention listed include the role of this agreement with respect to multilateral environmental agreements and the dispute resolution process.

According to analysis by The New York Times, the Obama administration has backed off support of strong environmental protections under pressure from various emerging nations in Asia, who fear that things like pollution controls will make it more difficult for them to develop their economies.

As it stands now, the documents, viewed by The New York Times, show that the disputes could undo key global environmental protections.

The environmental chapter of the trade deal has been among the most highly disputed elements of negotiations in the pact. Participants in the talks, which have dragged on for three years, had hoped to complete the deal by the end of 2013.

Environmentalists said that the draft appears to signal that the United States will retreat on a variety of environmental protections – including legally binding pollution control requirements and logging regulations and a ban on harvesting sharks’ fins – to advance a trade deal that is a top priority for Mr. Obama. [..]

The report indicates that the United States has been pushing for tough environmental provisions, particularly legally binding language that would provide for sanctions against participating countries for environmental violations. The United States is also insisting that the nations follow existing global environmental treaties. [..]

As of now, the draft environmental chapter does not require the nations to follow legally binding environmental provisions or other global environmental treaties. The text notes only, for example, that pollution controls could vary depending on a country’s “domestic circumstances and capabilities.”

The Director of Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program, Ilana Solomon released this message about the weak standards and calling on readers to tell congress to reject fast track legislation:

The leaked environment chapter is unenforceable and rife with weak language, according to an analysis of the leaked text by the Sierra Club, WWF, and NRDC.

The leaked environment chapter text falls flat on the standard for environment chapters from the past seven years. Since the May 2007 bipartisan consensus (pdf) on trade by the Bush administration and Congress, the environment chapters of all U.S. free trade agreements have been legally enforceable and included a list of environmental treaties that countries committed to uphold. Today’s leaked text-which is both unenforceable and does not include obligations to uphold commitments made under environmental treaties-does not meet the standard set by Congress.

As Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club stated, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s. This draft chapter falls flat on every single one of our issues – oceans, fish, wildlife, and forest protections – and in fact, rolls back on the progress made in past free trade pacts.” [..]

The current state of the environment chapter is completely unacceptable. It’s unbelievable to think that TPP countries have agreed to allow foreign corporations to attack public interest policies in private trade tribunals, but they can’t agree to a binding environment chapter with strong commitments to help protect natural resources.

This text proves why so many Members of Congress don’t want to give the president “fast-track” authority that could help rush the TPP over the finish line with almost no Congressional input. Tell Congress to reject fast track-legislation that would strip Congress of its own ability to ensure that the TPP, including the environment chapter, actually protects communities and the environment. And the TPP governments must stop pandering to the interest of big corporations and get serious about protecting families and the environment.

Both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are opposed to fast track of the TPP. Ms. Pelosi told reporters that she has a problem with the lack of transparency, “We want transparency. We want to see what’s going on there.”

Do not let congress fast track TPP approval

 

Nov 13 2013

Wikileaks Releases TPP Secret Text on International Property Rights

SOPA Reddit Warrior photo refresh31536000resize_h150resize_w1.jpg Details of a highly secretive, multi-national trade agreement in the works have been published by WikiLeaks, and a warning there will be vast implications for much of the modern world if the contract is approved.

WikiLeaks has released the draft text of a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, a multilateral free-trade treaty currently being negotiated in secret by 12 Pacific Rim nations.

The full agreement covers a number of areas, but the chapter published by WikiLeaks focuses on intellectual property rights, an area of law which has effects in areas as diverse as pharmaceuticals and civil liberties.

Negotiations for the TPP have included representatives from the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, and Brunei, but have been conducted behind closed doors. Even members of the US Congress were only allowed to view selected portions of the documents under supervision.

Here is the full text of press release by Wikileak’s founder Julian Assange

Today, 13 November 2013, WikiLeaks released the secret negotiated draft text for the entire TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. The TPP is the largest-ever economic treaty, encompassing nations representing more than 40 per cent of the world’s GDP. The WikiLeaks release of the text comes ahead of the decisive TPP Chief Negotiators summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 19-24 November 2013. The chapter published by WikiLeaks is perhaps the most controversial chapter of the TPP due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents. Significantly, the released text includes the negotiation positions and disagreements between all 12 prospective member states.

The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP. Both pacts exclude China.

Since the beginning of the TPP negotiations, the process of drafting and negotiating the treaty’s chapters has been shrouded in an unprecedented level of secrecy. Access to drafts of the TPP chapters is shielded from the general public. Members of the US Congress are only able to view selected portions of treaty-related documents in highly restrictive conditions and under strict supervision. It has been previously revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have access to the full text of the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisers’ – lobbyists guarding the interests of large US corporations such as Chevron, Halliburton, Monsanto and Walmart – are granted privileged access to crucial sections of the treaty text.

The TPP negotiations are currently at a critical stage. The Obama administration is preparing to fast-track the TPP treaty in a manner that will prevent the US Congress from discussing or amending any parts of the treaty. Numerous TPP heads of state and senior government figures, including President Obama, have declared their intention to sign and ratify the TPP before the end of 2013.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange stated: “The US administration is aggressively pushing the TPP through the US legislative process on the sly.” The advanced draft of the Intellectual Property Rights Chapter, published by WikiLeaks on 13 November 2013, provides the public with the fullest opportunity so far to familiarise themselves with the details and implications of the TPP.

The 95-page, 30,000-word IP Chapter lays out provisions for instituting a far-reaching, transnational legal and enforcement regime, modifying or replacing existing laws in TPP member states. The Chapter’s subsections include agreements relating to patents (who may produce goods or drugs), copyright (who may transmit information), trademarks (who may describe information or goods as authentic) and industrial design.

The longest section of the Chapter – ‘Enforcement’ – is devoted to detailing new policing measures, with far-reaching implications for individual rights, civil liberties, publishers, internet service providers and internet privacy, as well as for the creative, intellectual, biological and environmental commons. Particular measures proposed include supranational litigation tribunals to which sovereign national courts are expected to defer, but which have no human rights safeguards. The TPP IP Chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence. The IP Chapter also replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties.

The consolidated text obtained by WikiLeaks after the 26-30 August 2013 TPP meeting in Brunei – unlike any other TPP-related documents previously released to the public – contains annotations detailing each country’s positions on the issues under negotiation. Julian Assange emphasises that a “cringingly obsequious” Australia is the nation most likely to support the hardline position of US negotiators against other countries, while states including Vietnam, Chile and Malaysia are more likely to be in opposition. Numerous key Pacific Rim and nearby nations – including Argentina, Ecuador, Colombia, South Korea, Indonesia, the Philippines and, most significantly, Russia and China – have not been involved in the drafting of the treaty.

In the words of WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange, “If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

Current TPP negotiation member states are the United States, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, New Zealand and Brunei.

President Barack Obama wants to fast track this travesty through Congress which means there would be little or no debate and it could not be amended. This is a dangerous agreement that will endanger sovereign and individual rights, plunge millions of people around the world into poverty and condemn many of them to death by  limiting access to affordable medicines. It is time to stop this. Join the movement to Stop the TPP and send a message to your representatives telling them to reject the TPP.

As an addendum, I suggest you read Yves Smith at naked capitalism to further understand how secret panels would undermine our law and regulations.

Jump below the fold for the text of the 95 page agreement.

Nov 08 2013

TPP Moves Toward Fast Track in the Senate

Late last month in the midst of the media obsession over the failure of a web site, the Senate Finance Committee called on congress to pass fast-track legislation aimed at smoothing the passage of any future trade deals that would include the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Panel Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said during a trade hearing that they are working on crafting trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation and are expecting the Obama administration to work with them toward gaining its approval in Congress.

Baucus said it is time to “pass TPA and do it soon.”

He noted that President Obama has asked Congress to craft legislation and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman is encouraging lawmakers to move forward so “it’s time for us to do our part, introduce a bill and do it quickly.” [..]

The hearing’s witnesses placed a high level of importance on completing TPA because it they argued that it will strengthen the negotiating hand of U.S. trade officials who are working on the U.S.-European Union trade deal as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The TPP is a 12-nation Asia-Pacific trade agreement that Obama and Froman, along with many of the other negotiators, are aiming to complete by the end of the year.

What does “fast track” mean? I think Charles Pierce summarized it nicely

Sometime very soon, the Congress is likely to pass — with limited, if any debate and no amendments possible — a massive trade deal that was negotiated in secret, and the terms of which remain largely secret, and which, if the past is any kind of prologue, will drop a thousand-pound stink bomb on American jobs.

Debate (theoretically) cannot ever end on Mel Watt and his middling level federal job.

Debate cannot even begin on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Check the umpire because somebody’s screwing us.

The umpire is President Barack Obama and his merry band of corporate thieves.

Time is getting short. Take Action Now. Write your congress members. Tell them to stop this undemocratic process. Sign the petition to stop back room deals for the 1%.

Nov 04 2013

TPP: Its Real Agenda

President Barack Obama is pushing approval of The Trans-Pacific Partnership by the end of the year.

U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman said on Tuesday that world trade ministers may discuss the U.S.-proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization meeting that starts on December 3, with a goal of reaching a deal by year-end.

But several outstanding issues remain, he told reporters at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit on the Indonesian island of Bali, citing issues ranging from intellectual property to state-owned enterprises, labor and the environment. The WTO meeting will also be held on Bali.

The three-year-old TPP talks, now involving 12 nations, are aimed at establishing a free-trade bloc that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile to Japan, encompassing 800 million people, about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy.

A major goal of the Obama administration, the TPP would tear down trade barriers in areas such as government procurement and set standards for workers’ rights, environmental protection and intellectual property rights.

In actuality, the TPP has little to do with free trade. In a thirty minute interview with Bill Moyers, investment banking expert Yves Smith who runs the blog naked capitalism and economist Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research discuss the real agenda of the agreement.

A US-led trade deal is currently being negotiated that could increase the price of prescription drugs, weaken financial regulations and even allow partner countries to challenge American laws. But few know its substance.

The pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), is deliberately shrouded in secrecy, a trade deal powerful people, including President Obama, don’t want you to know about. More than 130 members of Congress have asked the White House for greater transparency about the negotiations and were essentially told to go fly a kite. While most of us are in the dark about the contents of the deal, which Obama aims to seal by year end, corporate lobbyists are in the know about what it contains.

How the Trans-Pacific Partnership Would Roll Back the Financial Regulations Needed to Avoid Another Crisis

by Expose the TPP

   The TPP would ban capital controls, an essential policy tool to counter destabilizing flows of speculative money. Even the International Monetary Fund has recently endorsed capital controls as legitimate for mitigating or preventing financial crises.

   The TPP would prohibit taxes on Wall Street speculation. That means that there would be no hope of passing proposals like the Robin Hood Tax, which would impose a tiny tax on Wall Street transactions to tamp down speculation-fueled volatility while generating hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of revenue for social, health, or environmental causes.

   The TPP would empower financial firms to directly attack these government policies in foreign tribunals, and demand taxpayer compensation for policies they claim undermine their expected future profits.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists

By Dean Baker, Center for Economic and Policy Research

There are many other areas where we could envision freer trade bringing real gains to the bulk of the population. However this is not what the TPP is about. The TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

For example, we can expect to see limits on the ability of national and sub-national governments to impose environmental restrictions, such requirements that companies engaging in fracking disclose the list of chemicals they use. There may also be limits on the extent to which governments can restrict the sale of genetically modified foods, with rules on labeling. And, the TPP may prevent governments from imposing restraints on financial firms that would prevent the sort of abuses that we saw during the run-up of the housing bubble.

The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table. Rather than being about advancing free trade, the TPP is the answer to the question: “how can we make the rich richer?

Another Reason to Hate TPP: It Gives Big Content New Tools to Undermine Sane Digital Rights Policies

by Corynne McSherry and Maira Sutton, Electronic Freedom Foundation

Like the rest of the TPP, we only know what has been leaked. Based on that, it seems the negotiators are poised to give private corporations new tools to undermine national sovereignty and democratic processes. Specifically, TPP would give multinational companies the power to sue countries over laws that that might diminish the value of their company or cut into their expected future profits.

The provision that gives them this power is called “investor-state dispute settlement” (or ISDS for short). The policy was originally intended to ensure that investments in developing countries were not illegally expropriated by “rogue” governments, thereby encouraging foreign investment. But what began as a remedy to a specific problem has since been co-opted to serve very different purposes. Under investor-state, if a regulation gets in the way of a foreign investor’s ability to profit from its investment, the investor can sue a country for monetary damages based on both alleged lost profits and “expected future profits.” There are no monetary limits to the potential award.

Apparently a country’s own courts can’t be trusted to administer this kind of lawsuit, so investor-state also requires the creation of a new court. It would be comprised of three private-sector attorneys who take turns being judge and/or corporate advocate.

Oct 08 2013

TPP: Obama’s Trojan Horse

The government shutdown and the threat of default on debt payments kept President Barack Obama from attending the recent round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The president has hopes that it will be finished by the end of the year. Major corporations are urging the Pres. Obama not to “water down” the agreement which would put billions in their pockets sucking more money from the 99%, creating an even bigger income gap around the world. The TPP, which has been negotiated in secret since the Bush administration, would prioritize corporate rights over the rights of consumers and workers. In June, Rep. Alan Grayson was allowed to read the text of the TPP, that he described as “an anti-American power grab by big corporations

The TPP is a large, secret trade agreement that is being negotiated with many countries in East Asia and South America.

The TPP is nicknamed “NAFTA on steroids.”  Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. I can’t tell you what’s in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified. But I can tell you two things about it.

1)    There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.

2)    This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.

3)    What they can’t afford to tell the American public is that [the rest of this sentence is classified].

(Well, I did promise to tell you only two things about it.)

I will be fighting this agreement with everything I’ve got. And I know you’ll be there every step of the way.

Besides this agreement being labeled a secret except for the business insiders who are negotiating it, the corporations want Congress to “fast track” it’s approval which the president the ability to put an accord before lawmakers for an up-or-down vote. This would assure that the TPP would pass without congressional oversight. However, some lawmakers are balking, at not only fast tracking the agreement, but the agreement itself:

A growing chorus of lawmakers is calling for trade negotiators to address issues including currency manipulation, food-safety standards and competition with state-backed industries as the administration seeks “fast-track” authority to smooth eventual passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I oppose fast-track authority like what we have had in the past,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said on a conference call today with reporters. “We are not just here to rubber stamp what gets done” by trade negotiators, she said. [..]

Negotiations are “being done without sufficient input from members of Congress,” DeLauro said. Lawmakers should have more of a say because the TPP is a 21st century agreement that goes beyond traditional tariff deals, she said. The TPP would entail issues including environmental protection, Internet trade, access to medicines and market access for small businesses.

A bipartisan group of 60 senators — a bloc big enough to sink a trade accord — on Sept. 24 urged the administration to include provisions to prevent currency manipulation in U.S. free-trade agreements.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González to discuss how this corporate “Trojan Horse” would rewrite US laws and regulation

While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors and, until June, kept secret from Congress, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto. “This is not mainly about trade,” says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is fighting the fast tract of this agreement and calling for open congressional hearings.

President Obama was scheduled to meet with the leaders of the other eleven countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Bali, supposedly to plan the “end-game” for this massive trade deal. However, he has made a sudden decision to cancel his trip, claiming that this was a casualty of the government shutdown. Obama’s announcement adds to the impression that goal of completing TPP at APEC has become unobtainable and reveal how precariously the negotiations are going.

There are reports that the remaining TPP country leaders who will be attending the APEC meeting will still be convening “with the aim of hammering out a framework.” As we’ve also previously mentioned, smaller issue-specific intersessional meetings have also grown more frequent and gone even further underground. So while the news of his trip getting cancelled is indeed welcome news, the TPP still could be signed even as its contents remain hidden from the public.

They also have  website “Why the Heck Should I Care About the TPP?” which lets you click through different facts about the agreement and how it will impact us as users.

We here at Stars Hollow and Docudharma urge you to take action and demand Congress exercise their Constitutional authority to oversee the U.S. trade negotiations.

Jun 20 2013

US Government and Corporations Cooperate To Create Your Dystopian Future

The US government works closely with thousands of corporations to bring you everything from national security to the drivers of climate change.  The connections between these entities are diverse and often quite opaque making it difficult for citizens to tell who is really in charge.  Is it the corporations with their ultimate responsibility to make a profit for their owners and shareholders, or is it the government with its ultimate responsibility to the electorate?  Do the principles of government or business apply to joint decision making processes when government invests in businesses and sits on their boards, or when government agencies have representatives of business sit on task forces and decision making structures?

The economist and moral philosopher Adam Smith wrote, “people of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.”

What happens when the interests of business and government so align, that they are fundamentally, “in the same business?”

Cooperation

Disclosures by whistleblowers have led to a heightened interest by the press in these government-corporate linkages particularly in relation to intelligence gathering.  Bloomberg recently posted this article which describes in some detail cooperation between government spies and industry:

Thousands of technology, finance and manufacturing companies are working closely with U.S. national security agencies, providing sensitive information and in return receiving benefits that include access to classified intelligence, four people familiar with the process said. …

Makers of hardware and software, banks, Internet security providers, satellite telecommunications companies and many other companies also participate in the government programs. … Along with the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and branches of the U.S. military have agreements with such companies to gather data that might seem innocuous but could be highly useful in the hands of U.S. intelligence or cyber warfare units, according to the people, who have either worked for the government or are in companies that have these accords. …

Some U.S. telecommunications companies willingly provide intelligence agencies with access to facilities and data offshore that would require a judge’s order if it were done in the U.S., one of the four people said. [hmmm. think carefully about the ramifications of that statement, could the spy agencies just maybe be evading the law on collecting our information by collecting it from outside of our borders? pfffttt]… The extensive cooperation between commercial companies and intelligence agencies is legal and reaches deeply into many aspects of everyday life, though little of it is scrutinized by more than a small number of lawyers, company leaders and spies.

The article also points out the minimal oversight that these programs receive and quotes Senator Rockefeller’s cybersecurity assistant explaining that most congresspeople and their staffs charged with overseeing these programs lack the technical background and expertise to fully understand what they are responsible for overseeing.  Further, the article notes that within the companies that are entering into “arrangements” with the government, knowledge of these agreements is very closely held, suggesting that corporate governance structures are undermined and unable to perform their duty to oversee the activities of their corporation or withhold consent in behalf of the (kept in the dark) shareholders for actions taken by management. The secrecy involved creates a situation where loosely supervised government officials are allowed to compel or conspire with corporate chieftains to hijack corporations and undermine democratic governance structures.

Many of the corporations that have cooperated with the government are now, since being exposed, struggling with the public relations fallout that has come from customers finding out that the corporations have helped the government spy on them.  Surely they understood this risk, which is why many of these corporations demanded legal immunity for their cooperation.

So what made it worth the risk, because, as the Bloomberg article reveals, much of the participation by these firms was voluntary?  From the same article:

Michael Hayden, who formerly directed the National Security Agency and the CIA, described the attention paid to important company partners: “If I were the director and had a relationship with a company who was doing things that were not just directed by law but were also valuable to the defense of the Republic, I would go out of my way to thank them and give them a sense as to why this is necessary and useful.”

Ah, there was a corporate rewards program…

One is left to speculate about what sort of rewards might be handed out to corporations from a government with trillions of dollars to spend.  They probably aren’t just giving out key chains and coffee mugs.  Hmmm… Facebook cooperates with the NSA.  Was its precipitous rise in the market due to Zuckerberg’s ideas and business acumen or… something else?

May 02 2013

Stop TPP: Time to Take Action

I’ve been writing about the Trans Pacific Partnership for over a year, it still flies under the radar in the news media for a number of reasons, the most obvious reason is that the corporate giants don’t want the public knowing how really bad this trade agreement is. It is so bad that Mitt Romney urged Pres. Obama to finish negotiations and ratify it. Those negotiations are slowly coming to a conclusion.

Political corruption and the ‘free trade’ racket by Dean Baker, Al Jazeera

In polite circles in the United States, support for free trade is a bit like proper bathing habits: It is taken for granted. Only the hopelessly crude and unwashed would not support free trade.

There is some ground for this attitude. Certainly, the US has benefited enormously by being able to buy a wide range of items at lower cost from other countries. However, this does not mean that most people in the country have always benefited from every opening to greater trade.

And it certainly does not mean that the country will benefit from everything that those in power label as “free trade”. That is the story we are seeing now as the Obama administration is pursuing two major “free trade” agreements that in fact have very little to do with free trade and are likely to hurt those without the money and power to be part of the game.

The deals in questions, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the US-European Union “Free Trade” Agreement are both being pushed as major openings to trade that will increase growth and create jobs. In fact, eliminating trade restrictions is a relatively small part of both agreements, since most tariffs and quotas have already been sharply reduced or eliminated.

Rather, these deals are about securing regulatory gains for major corporate interests. In some cases, such as increased patent and copyright protection, these deals are 180 degrees at odds with free trade. They are about increasing protectionist barriers.

AS part of these agreements, the worst parts of the zombie bill, Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), are being incorporated to “police” the internet.

Foreseeing opposition and difficulty getting the 2/3rd’s majority to pass this nightmare, Sen Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has proposed amendments to a Senate budget resolution that would speed its passage and implementation:

Hatch, who has been pressing the White House to move forward with fast-track authority, intends to offer an amendment that calls for implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is expected to be completed this year, along with a U.S.-European Union trade deal, which is set to begin talks in June, and any other potential free-trade agreements to be done under trade promotion authority (TPA). [..]

Meanwhile, all of these negotiations have been held in secret. Yves Smith writes this at naked capitalism:

Congressional staffers have confirmed that the text of the TPP draft is classified. That means that only people with security clearances, which for practical matters means Congressmen and certain staffers on key committees (House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee) in theory have access. That is already a monster impediment. Congressmen almost never have the time (even where they have the ability) to read long agreements in full and parse how key sections work (which often mean going back to definitions and in some cases, existing law). So keeping most staffers and third parties with expertise away assures that (until the last minute) the discussion and “clarifications” of the provisions under negotiation will come only from parties that are already in the tank.

But practice is even worse than theory. The full draft text is being withheld. And as anyone who has been involved in legal-related drafting knows, the actual language is critical. General terms and concepts that sound innocuous can serve as Trojan horses for all sorts of clever “gotcha” provisions.

Yves also brings attention to an article from Truthout

   Under federal law, members of the House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committees are designated official advisers to the USTR. In addition to every Representative and Senator, those panels’ staffers – being on “committees of jurisdiction” – are made privy to the American delegation’s proposals.

   Not a single person in Congress, however – or in any legislature of any country party to the deal – is allowed to even once-over the latest version of the actual draft agreement. In an email to Truthout, USTR spokesperson Carol Guthrie confirmed that senators and Congresspeople on committees of jurisdiction, along with their staffers, are only allowed to see the USTR proposals – not the working agreement. She added that “others at the discretion of the committees’ chair and ranking member” are given access to USTR proposals.

It is time for some cleansing sunshine.

We need to start to take action by calling our Senators and Representatives to tell them to stop this bill that will give international corporations more power that our own government, laws and courts,

Apr 01 2013

TPP: Expansion of Corporate Power

The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports that negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership continued under wraps in Singapore earlier this month.

The 16th round of negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP) began in Singapore today, as trade delegates and private stakeholders from 11 participating countries gather to discuss this the contours of Pacific trade. EFF and many others are deeply concerned about TPP, because it appears to contain an intellectual property (IP) chapter that would ratchet up IP enforcement at the expense of digital rights. The TPP could turn Internet Service Providers into copyright cops, prompt ever-higher criminal and civil penalties for sharing content, and expand protections for Digital Rights Management. The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) has announced that they plan to complete the TPP by the fall of this year.

We say “appears to contain” because the negotiations have been carried out in secret: our understanding of the U.S. proposal is based primarily on leaked texts from February 2011. However, there have been some additional leaks, like those following the USTR announcement that the TPP would include exceptions and limitations to copyright. Despite the USTR’s effort to suggest that introducing fair use into the TPP was its idea, the leaked negotiating text made it clear that the U.S. was likely pressured into agreeing to exceptions and limitations as a concession. The leak also showed that the U.S. and Australia opposed any fair use that would extend to the “digital environment.” Thus, it appears the USTR continues to lobby for ever more stringent international IP standards without much regard for the collateral damage to the public interest.

The AFL-CIO is also concerned that TPP would have a negative impact on basic labor rights, including free association and collective bargaining:

For example, regarding labor rights, the “Outlines of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement” released in November 2011 reads: “TPP (Trans-Pacific FTA) countries are discussing elements for a labor chapter that include commitments on labor rights protection and mechanisms to ensure cooperation, coordination, and dialogue on labor issues of mutual concern,” but fails to mention core labor standards (as determined by the International Labor Organization) or even whether the labor provisions in the final agreement will be enforceable.

Margaret Flowers, a congressional fellow with Physicians for a National Health Program and a pediatrician based in Baltimore and Kevin Zeese, activist lawyer and co-director of It’s Our Economy, discussed the agreements impact on  labor, environmental, and internet rights with Paul Jay of the Real News Network.

TransPacific Partnership Will Undermine Democracy, Empower Transnational Corporations

by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese, Truthout | News Analysis

On critical issues, the massive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated in secret by the Obama administration will undermine democracy in the United States and around the world and further empower transnational corporations. It will circumvent protections for health care, wages, labor rights, consumers’ rights and the environment, and decrease regulation of big finance and risky investment practices.

The only way this treaty, which will be very unpopular with the American people once they are aware of it, can be approved is if the Obama administration avoids the democratic process by using an authority known as “Fast Track,” which limits the constitutional checks and balances of Congress.

If the TPP is approved, the sovereignty of the United States and other member nations will be dissipated by trade tribunals that favor corporate power and force national laws to be subservient to corporate interests.

Sep 12 2012

TPP: SOPA on Steroids

Since 2007 when George W. Bush lurked in the Oval Office, the United States has been in secret negotiations to cut a trade agreement with several Pacific rim countries called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement. Those talks continued under President Barack Obama. I’ve written two articles, the first focused on the how TPP would affect the Internet. The second was on the content of the document leaked by Public Citizen in June of this year. That document (pdf), a work in progress, could without congressional approval  hamper free speech on the Internet, reduce access to affordable medicines, deregulate environmental laws, and harm labor rights, not only in the US but around the world. It could give vast political power to multinational corporations in global trade including power over governments to make and enforce their laws.

In other words TPP is “NAFTA on steroids” and “will broadly strip rights from ordinary citizens in favor of global financial players to an unprecedented degree:”

Today, Amnesty International called on the participating countries, which currently include the U.S., Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, to ensure that any new rules adhere to core principles of transparency and uphold human rights. [..]

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact has the potential to affect nearly every aspect of our lives as Americans,” said Allison Chin, President of the Sierra Club. “Alarmingly, however, is the opaque process in which the trade rules are being written. While hundreds of elite business executives have a hand in writing the rules that will affect American consumers, the public is largely left in the dark. This is a stealth affront to the principles of our democracy.”

Even the ACLU has become involved:

When asked how the TPP relates to the ACLU’s quest to fight for the protection of digital freedoms, the ACLU representatives said, “The TPP relates to the ACLU’s agenda of protecting free speech and privacy online, open government principles and ultimately protecting the Internet as the most open and innovative platform the world has seen.”

“While strong regulations are necessary to protect IP and promote innovation online, these must be crafted carefully and in a fully transparent fashion,” they continued. This is an incredibly important point which must be emphasized. In opposing CISPA, SOPA, the Protect IP Act (PIPA), ACTA, and the TPP, I am not saying that we should not protect intellectual property and online innovation.

To take such a position would be entirely nonsensical since I rely on such protections provided for my work as well.

“We are concerned that an overly broad policy to crackdown on copyright infringement would allow for the takedown of non-infringing content as well, in violation of the First Amendment, which was the same concern presented by SOPA and PIPA,” said the ACLU’s Fulton and Rottman.

“We also have strong concerns over any provision that would create legal incentives for ISPs to step up surveillance of Internet communications in search of suspected copyright infringement, which would potentially endanger the privacy of users. We also believe that whole site takedowns pose serious due process concerns,” they added.

In an article at Huffington Post Robert Naiman made this analogy about TPP’s impact on access to life saving medications:

It is reported that Stalin said, “The death of one person is a tragedy; the death of a million people is a statistic.” Today, a latter-day Stalin might say, “The death of four Yemeni civilians in a U.S. drone strike is a tragedy; the death of a million people because we let brand-name drug companies own U.S. ‘trade policy’ would be a statistic.”  [..]

What we can say with confidence is this: In an agreement that USTR hopes will eventually cover 40 percent of the world’s population, the negotiating position of USTR has reneged on previous commitments the U.S. government has made to promote the ability of governments to pursue public health goals in “trade agreements” rather than undermining the ability of governments to pursue public health goals.

And regardless of anything else, that fact alone should be a national scandal. When, at long last, you nail acknowledgement of a fundamental human right to the wall, it should stay nailed there. We shouldn’t have to fight USTR on access to essential medicines every time they negotiate a new “trade deal.” USTR should cry uncle on this for all time, no matter how much money brand-name drug companies spend on lobbying and political campaigns.

Naiman also points out that this agreement could severely hamper the ability of NGO’s to treat and contain the AIDS epidemic, putting millions at risk. He noted an article posted by  Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders in PLOS after the 19th International AIDS Conference that tool place August 2012 in Washington, DC>. MSF’s US Manager of the Access Campaign, Judit Rius Sanjuan related how this trade agreement threatens the prospects for an AIDS-free generation:

(To) achieve these goals, antiretroviral (ARV) drugs need to be available at affordable prices. Here’s where the contradiction comes in. The U.S. government is promoting restrictive trade policies that would make it much harder for patients, governments and treatment providers like MSF to access price-lowering generic drugs. [..]

Specifically, the U.S. is asking countries to create new, enhanced and longer patent and data monopoly protections for multinational pharmaceutical companies so they can keep competitors out of the market and charge higher prices for longer.

For example, the U.S. government wants TPP countries to lower the bar for patentability, thereby granting pharmaceutical companies new patents on variations of old drugs with little therapeutic benefit for patients. These provisions could stifle the production of less expensive generic forms.  And, the U.S. would make it impossible to challenge a patent’s validity before it is granted – a commonly used tool that helps to prevent frivolous and unwarranted patenting and which is vital to fostering an IP system that rewards innovations benefiting patients.  The U.S. demands also extend patent monopolies beyond the traditional 20-year period and make it harder for generics to get regulatory approval, which will serve to keep generics out and prop up drug prices for longer.

With these demands, U.S. is turning its back on existing commitments to promote public health in trade agreements and is undermining the sustainability of its own global health programs such as PEPFAR and international initiatives like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

President Obama promised that his administration would be transparent, yet he negotiates this agreement behind closed doors. John Nichols, at The Nation said in his article that to show his worthiness to be reelected, the president should back up his “talk”, “walk the walk” and make this trade agreement transparent:  

The secretiveness mirrors negotiations the led to the North American Free Trade Agreement and other deals that have been devastating to the American manufacturing sector. These are precisely the sort of agreements that take away the “level playing field” both Obama and Mitt Romney say they want for American workers. Yet they keep being negotiated by Republican and Democratic administrations because they are not just favored by Wall Street and the multinationals, they top priorities of the CEOs, hedge-fund managers and speculators who form the donor class of American politics. [..]

President Obama spoke in Charlotte about seeking “a future where we export more products and outsource fewer jobs.” Trade agreements play a critical role in determining that future. Good trade agreements, grounded in “fair trade” values and a commitment to aid the workers of the United States and other countries, produce good results. Bad trade agreements, grounded in “free trade” fantasies and the demands of Wall Street speculators and lobbyists for multinational corporations, produce bad results.

What Americans need to know is whether the TPP, which is being negotiated in their name but without their informed consent, is headed in a good or bad direction.

In Charlotte, President Obama declared, “You elected me to tell you the truth.”

It is time for Pres. Obama to make good on his promise about being transparent, open these negotiations to public scrutiny and tell the American people the truth.

He can start by ordering his trade representative to remove the cloak of secrecy, begin serious consultations with Congress and make TPP negotiations open and transparent.

Apr 23 2012

Can You Fool 99% of the People 100% of the Time?

One of President Obama’s political heroes, Abraham Lincoln famously said, “It is true that you may fool all of the people some of the time; you can even fool some of the people all of the time; but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time.”  The question for today’s politicians is, can you fool 99% of the people 100% of the time?  That is, can you create and implement policies that blatantly serve a tiny fraction of the people at the expense of all of the people and get away with it?

As President Obama’s populist rhetoric heats up into campaign mode and important measures of his own and his party’s performance lag, the question arises, will the voters notice amidst all of the rhetoric that the job market is not improving and income inequality is growing?