By Ron Forthofer [Colorado Green Party member and former candidate for Congress]
July 5, 2012
Years ago, corporate America concocted a scheme to advance its interests and increase its profits and power. However, this scheme — new investment rights that could pose a challenge to democracy and sovereignty — would come at a high cost to the public. Corporate America, particularly gigantic banks, had a problem though. How could they con the people into going against their own best interests?
Supporters of this scheme used “free trade” in naming most versions of this scheme, for example, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). After all, who could be against free trade?
In the latest so-called trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) (citizen.org/tpp), corporate spin-doctors used partnership, a nice sounding word, in place of free trade. If you haven’t heard of this agreement, that’s not surprising. The Obama administration has kept the negotiations about this thinly veiled attack on democracy under wraps. This lack of transparency makes a mockery of Obama’s pledge that his administration would be “the most open and transparent in history.”
These closed-door negotiations with eight other nations have been going on for three years. According to Public Citizen, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chair of the Senate Finance Committee’s Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, has been denied access even to the U.S. proposals to the TPP negotiations.
Sen. Wyden said: “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.” Wow — the public and its representatives are kept in the dark while corporate interests are consulted!
This June a draft of the TPP’s Investment Chapter was leaked. According to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch: “Via closed-door negotiations, U.S. officials are rewriting swaths of U.S. law that have nothing to do with trade, and in a move that will infuriate left and right alike, have agreed to submit the U.S. government to the jurisdiction of foreign tribunals that can order unlimited payments of our tax dollars to foreign corporations that don’t want to comply with the same laws our domestic firms do. U.S. trade officials are secretly limiting Internet freedoms, restricting financial regulation, extending medicine patents and giving corporations a whole host of other powers.”
Under NAFTA, these tribunals consist of three professional arbitrators who meet behind closed doors. If an environmental policy, the “Buy American” policy or some other democratically supported policy is found to interfere with the investment of a foreign corporation, the offending government is ordered to pay financial damages.
In a letter to Ron Kirk, the U.S. trade representative, 30 legal scholars have expressed similar concerns about the intellectual property chapter of the TPP. Two excerpts from the letter are below.
“Our concerns flow from the now-established observation that ‘trade’ agreements no longer focus exclusively, or perhaps even predominantly, on the regulation of trade. Rather, the agreements increasingly propose international law standards that bind the legislative branch to change, or lock in place, domestic regulatory decisions.”
“Our first and most important suggestion is to immediately begin a policy of releasing to the public the kind of reports on US positions and proposals on intellectual property matters that are currently given only to Industry Trade Advisory Committee members under confidentiality agreements.”
Clearly the current approach caters to the special interests of the giant corporations instead of to the public interest. Unless we Americans stand up for our interests soon, we will have a government of, by and for the extremely wealthy. We must all get involved and make the politicians represent the public, not the special interests of a few.
Ron Forthofer is a Longmont resident and retired professor of biostatistics.