The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) enshrine the rights of Corporations under International Law, restricting future governments from overturning the changes through fear of costly legal action. They are the largest trade agreements in history, and yet are not open for review, debate or amendment by national parliaments or the public.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)
The agreement between the US and 11 other Pacific Rim countries representing 40% of global GDP, has been under negotiation for three years. The US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Vietnam, and Brunei will shortly be signing up to the TPP, with only a handful of people in each nation aware of the content of the deal.
It was recently revealed that only three individuals in each TPP nation have been given full access to the agreement, while 600 ‘trade advisors’, those are corporate lobbyists from corporations such as Monsanto, Chevron, Haliburton and Walmart have been granted access.
In fact, if it were not for WikiLeaks, we would still be unaware of the contents of the TPP. In mid-November, WikiLeaks published a draft chapter of the agreement – and the reasons for secrecy became clear. This agreement tips the scales in the balance of power between Corporations and the State – tipping them firmly in favour of corporations.
The section of the agreement published by Wikileaks focuses on ‘intellectual property’, a chapter it chose “due to its wide-ranging effects on medicines, publishers, internet services, civil liberties and biological patents.” The subsections of the chapter make “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.” And as WikiLeaks state in their press release:
“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.”
All, in just one 30,000 word chapter of this agreement.
However, the TPP is the forerunner for its sister project – the EU/US Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). This next agreement rolls out the principles of the TPP across the EU and the UK.
The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
The TTIP is a secret agreement, negotiated behind closed doors by anonymous representatives. This agreement will deliver the corporate privilege of TPP to the EU and UK, with the same lack of democratic scrutiny.
The EU announced earlier this year that a High Level Working Group on Jobs and Growth, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht, would research and report on plans to proceed with negotiations for the TTIP. They did not produce a list of the membership of this group. All subsequent reports failed to mention authorship, contributors, or even the names of those reviewing or approving the reports for release. Research and campaign organising Corporate Europe Observatory issued a Freedom of Information request to garner this information and were told “there is no document containing the list of authors of the reports”, and therefore that the matter did not fall under FOI rules.
A quick look at the website of the working group shows that 65% of input for the two public consultations on the EU/US trade agreement came from companies and industry associations. CEO rightly ask “But who were the 114 respondents? What are they lobbying for?”
The answer is: we don’t know, and those who do are refusing to tell us.
What we do know, is the scope of the agreement.
The Final Report of the anonymous High Level Working Group, and a Briefing Paper from the UK government tell us that the final agreement will seek to achieve the same ends as TPP. Key areas for concern are:
Remove/reduce trade tariffs – remove tariffs on imports which favour consumers choosing domestically produced goods and services.
Intellectual Property – European governments rejected the US led Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) in response to mass opposition to this potential tool of internet censorship. Despite protestations to the contrary, the TTIP could bring in ACTA through the back door, in secret, without the requirement for a democratic mandate.
Investor-State Disputes – the creation of yet further grounds for which corporations can sue national governments directly, at supra-national courts. This means that rules laid down in this agreement cannot simply be overturned domestically by a subsequent government, as they face the threat of costly litigation. Given that US firm Walmart has a larger GDP than 157 countries in the world, including Norway, South Africa and Luxembourg – many states would be financially outgunned by corporations seeking to over rule them.
Food Standards – the EU has stricter rules than the US on food production, particularly around Genetically Modified (GM) foods and meat (chlorine washed chicken, growth hormone use etc.)
Corporate Power vs State Power
Proponents of Capitalism who so vociferously oppose the threat of state power (even in a democratic state), appear to have no such issues with the rise of Corporate Power, which has no democratic foundation or restraint whatsoever. This is either gross naivety, or complicity in what is, ostensibly, a corporate coup.
A significant number of corporations now have greater financial power than the majority of states, and they have used this to infiltrate and leverage the structural power of states to implement laws and subsidies on their behalf. In this final stages of this coup, the corporations will be able to cut out the middle man. Here are just two examples among many, of recent outcomes.
Removal of Tariffs
In a perfect world, protectionism through taxing imports would be unnecessary and rightly condemned. But we don’t live in a free market economy, we have a small number of overwhelmingly powerful corporations and national economies using the theory of ‘trade liberalization’ to decimate internal markets of smaller nations, for their own ends.
One such example would be rice and Haiti.
Thirty years ago, Haiti could feed itself. A rapidly growing and developing population meant that by the late eighties, it begin to look elsewhere to meet its full requirements. In the early 90’s, the IMF and the US government pressurised Haiti to reduce its tariffs on imports, and tiny Haiti capitulated. The US government then subsidised US farmers $13bn from 1995 on, in order that they undercut domestic producers overseas. Haiti’s domestic rice market (and with it, much of its agriculturally based economy) was decimated.
US food producers won twice. Firstly, Haiti became the second most important US rice importer on the planet. Secondly, the resulting poverty and starvation caused by the collapse of Haiti’s rice market, was a boon for US Food Aid. Each year, the US taxpayer gives $1.5bn to US food corporations to produce food for Food Aid, much of which would not be required without these market wrecking policies.
Last year, tobacco firm Philip Morris used “Investor to State Dispute” rights created by the North American Free Trade Agreement to launch legal action against Uruguay at the World Trade Organisation. Uruguay had implemented rules that 80% of cigarette packaging must be devoted to health warnings. Philip Morris seek to claim “substantial” damages from the state for what it deems a trademark infringement – the remaining space not adequate for their logo and branding.
Corporations are also using Investor-State Disputes to overturn government subsidies and policy that favours renewable energy, and reverse planning decisions adverse to corporate interests.
Corporations will actively exploit the increased rights in TPP and TTIP to extend the interests of the corporation – which is to maximise profits. Questions of the public interest will not factor.
The Corporate Take Over
The UK Parliament’s Briefing Paper on TTIP proudly announces that the plans will be worth an estimated 119bn euro’s a year.
Tax Evasion costs Europe one trillion euro’s each year – this is more than the combined spending on health, and four times total spending on education.
Yet, while pan-EU agreements on ending tax evasion languish unresolved – TTIP, which will benefit domestic economies to just one tenth of the value, and hand swathes of national sovereignty over to corporations and faceless supranational bodies will be completed in just 18-24 months.
According to the UK Parliament’s Briefing Paper, the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US enters the third round of negotiations on 16th December this year, with an aim to conclude “well before the pressure of the 2016 US presidential election bear down”. All democratic barriers are being moved aside in order to support this goal.
In the US, there are plans to invoke the President’s ‘Trade Promotion Authority’ to make it impossible for Congress to amend or debate TPP.
While in the UK, the High Level Working Group may well be ceded powers from Downing Street enabling sections of the agreement to come into force before UK parliament has ratified it.
A significant number of the world’s ‘democracies’ are being railroaded into these undemocratic agreements, by corporatized governments. These agreements will supress internet freedom, restrict civil liberties, decimate internal economies, stop developing countries distributing the lowest cost drugs, imperil public healthcare, and hand corporations the right to overturn decisions made by democratic governments in the public interest.
Your democratic representative will not be able to see or amend these agreements before they become legally binding – while corporate lobbyists will not only be able to see them, but will have written them. That such an egregiously undemocratic circumstance exists, speaks volumes for the corporate control of our national governments. Why on earth would we stand by and allow the scales to tip yet further in their favour?
Don’t get angry, get involved!