A few days after print publication, Knight's syndicated newspaper column, which moves twice a week, will be posted. The most recent will appear at the top.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Secret trade pact yields sovereignty to corporations

Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Aug. 2, 3 or 4

You don’t have to blame downstate Illinois media or be paranoid to think there must be a news blackout about the latest scheme by corporations to grease another way to move jobs overseas and move money around the world.

The lack of coverage of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is mostly because of the secrecy in which it’s being written. (Of course, that’s an explanation, not an excuse.)

Now being negotiated behind closed doors, TPP should alarm Illinoisans, whether farmers or consumers, from free-enterprise advocates and Tea Party supporters to progressives and organized labor.

The possible results of another “free” trade agreement – as opposed to “fair” trade deals protecting national sovereignty, labor rights and the environment – could range from more closed factories like Maytag in Galesburg, to more despoiled lands and lives.

Text of some of the proposal recently was disclosed by the Citizens Trade Campaign, and it shows TPP would ensure strong rights for investors but weak protections for the environment, labor, and national sovereignty.

“Foreign corporations will be allowed to feast like termites upon America's natural resources, trash our environment and public health, violate our rights as American citizens and make us pay them if we try to protect ourselves,” said Brian Moench, a Utah physician and member of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

The TPP includes the United States and Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, and Canada, Japan and Mexico are expected to be invited.

“While the public has no access to the full text, 600 representatives from lobby groups like the American Petroleum Institute and corporations like Johnson & Johnson do have access, and negotiators seek those representatives' advice,” according to reporter Cynthia Phinney, a past representative on the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission.

Because trade pacts like the North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA) make it easier to off-shore jobs to low-wage countries, they’ve hurt American workers, contributing to the "giant sucking sound," as 1992 independent U.S. presidential candidate Ross Perot described a negative effect of NAFTA, which he opposed.

His phrase referred to the sound of U.S. jobs heading overseas if the free-trade agreement proposed by George H.W. Bush took effect. The winner of that election, Democrat Bill Clinton, supported NAFTA, and with bipartisan support it went into effect in 1994.

Estimates of U.S. jobs lost because of NAFTA range from 700,000 to 9 million; affected have been employees at large manufacturers and the small businesses that supply them.

Such trade deals also have troubling language that limit elected governments from acting in the public interest, if that interest is interpreted as impeding profits.

The new texts, in Article 12, show that TPP negotiators are considering a dispute-resolution process that would grant corporations authority to challenge countries’ laws, regulations and courts in international tribunals that circumvent domestic judicial systems. The tribunals would be staffed by private-sector lawyers that rotate between judging cases and advocating for corporations suing governments.

“They clearly contain proposals designed to give transnational corporations special rights that go far beyond those possessed by domestic businesses and American citizens,” said Arthur Stamoulis, director of Citizens Trade Campaign. “A proposal that could have such broad effects on environmental, consumer safety and other public interest regulations deserves public scrutiny and thorough public debate. It shouldn’t be crafted behind closed doors.”

President Obama unfortunately is acting more like the corporate-cozy, centrist Clinton than a progressive. Candidate Obama frequently criticized NAFTA, but his administration has made similar deals with Colombia and South Korea – over objections by unions and allies.

The mere threat of being a lawsuit defendant is having a chilling effect on lawmakers.

“In one case, representatives from China contacted the Vermont legislature to say it must pull legislation under consideration that would regulate toxic toys and electronic waste disposal because it might violate agreements that the U.S. is party to,” Phinney wrote.

Stamoulis added, “Americans deserve the right to know what U.S. negotiators are proposing in our names.”

The TPP’s next negotiating round is scheduled for September 6-15 in Leesburg, Va. The U.S. Trade Representative office claims it will host a “direct stakeholder engagement” event “to provide stakeholders the opportunity to speak directly and one-on-one with negotiators, raise questions, and share their views,” but details about the event were not available at presstime.

“TPP is much worse than NAFTA, which eviscerated middle-class jobs and wealth in the U.S.,” Dr. Moench said. And this sellout to foreign corporations is not just a rogue brain cramp of President Obama. Mitt Romney demanded this agreement be signed months ago, and called Obama's the most hostile administration to business in recent history. If the TPP trade agreement is ‘hostile’ to business, God help us if we have an administration, presumably Romney's, ‘friendly’ to business.”

A leading U.S. group opposing the TPP is the Citizens Trade Campaign, online at
TPP’s 52-page investment chapter can be found online at:

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