U.S. Politics and the Economy

Corporate Heist For Pacific Rim

By Linda J. Nordquist

For the past six years the Obama Administration has been secretly developing a “trade” agreement (the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: TPPA) to be signed by eleven Pacific-rim countries: United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam which will encompass 40 percent of world trade. No one knew about it until WikiLeaks began publishing pertinent sections, subjecting them to the light of day. Now we know why secrecy (excepting the 600 corporate advisors who wrote it) was so important.

The TPPA is touted as an extension and strengthening of NAFTA, Bill Clinton’s brainchild and dagger in the heart of U.S. jobs. By offering special privileges and protections it will make it easier than NAFTA for corporations to offshore jobs to places like Vietnam (wages: 60 cents an hour), allowing corporations to profit off of cheap labor while driving down wages everywhere. These profits contribute mightily to the enormous gulf between the elites and rest of us.

Then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called the TPPA “America’s Pacific Century.” New Zealand law professor/author, Jane Kelsey, calls it the “unmistakable end game to counteract China’s ascendancy through U.S. economic and military statecraft.” writes: “It’s an enormous corporate power grab, at the expense of our democracy and our climate.”

The TPPA is an odd “trade” agreement: only five of 29 sections deal with trade. The remainder includes curtailing governments’ regulation of certain activities (e.g., environmental policies), establishing intellectual property standards (e.g., harnessing internet freedom, extending copyrights and patents,) and strengthening the political power of corporations. The TPPA will increase medicine prices (lining the pockets of Big-Pharma,) weaken financial regulations (think “Too big to fail,”) outlaw “Buy Local” campaigns, and weaken energy regulation. Further, nations implementing strong public policy initiatives regarding climate change could be sued by foreign fossil fuel corporations for huge sums (see below).

Included in the TPPA is a direct challenge to national sovereignty: the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section, operating in NAFTA and other bilateral trade agreements. Foreign corporations can haul national governments before extra-judicial three-member international arbitration tribunals composed of corporate attorneys rotating as judges and corporate advocates. (Conflict of interest? Who cares.) They issue non-appealable judgments on claims against domestic laws that corporation-claimants believe violate their right to do business. If corporations win, they are entitled to financial rewards based upon their projected future profits, payable in taxpayer’s money.

“It’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights,” says Noam Chomsky. Here are some examples:

  • 2012 Chevron v. Ecuador (Amazonian oil pollution): Chevron seeks to evade payment of a multi-billion dollar court ruling against the company for widespread pollution of the Amazon rainforest. Ecuadorian courts found that Chevron dumped billions of gallons of toxic water and dug hundreds of open-air oil sludge pits in Ecuador’s Amazon, poisoning the communities of some 30,000 Amazon residents, including the entire populations of six indigenous groups (one of which is now extinct.) $9.5 billion desperately needed to provide cleanup and healthcare to afflicted indigenous communities. The tribunal in this case ordered Ecuador’s government to violate its own Constitution and block enforcement of a ruling upheld on appeal in its independent court system. Pending. To date, several issues decided in Chevron’s favor.
  • 2013 Lone Pine Resources v. Canada: U.S.-based oil/gas exploration and production company, launched a $241 million NAFTA claim against Canada challenging Quebec’s suspension of permits for exploring deposits under the St. Lawrence River (part of a wider moratorium on hydraulic fracking.) Pending.
  • 2015 Bilcon v. Canada (environmental protection:) investor win (seeking $300 million.) Corporation sought to expand basalt quarry in Bay of Fundy, Nova Scotia. Government rejected on basis of environmental impact report stating blasting and increased shipping would be hazardous to endangered whales and salmon; negative effects on tourism and community values. Dissent by third lawyer-judge criticized the decision as challenging the right of government to implement environmental safeguards reflecting community concerns. Further it would have a “chilling effect on future environmental policies as governments face possible punishing financial awards.” He noted, the ruling was a “significant intrusion into domestic jurisdiction,” giving more power to NAFTA than the Canadian legal system.

Obama’s TPPA elevates corporations from personhood to nationhood, tramples democratic rights, endangers the health and welfare of citizens and ignores the dangers of climate change. He wants Fast Track authority to negotiate, leaving Congress with nothing other than a vote up or down, no discussion; no amendments. Most of the Democratic Party decries the secrecy and being left out of the process, but little else. The Senate and House are to vote on Fast Track in May. Obama wants a vote on TPPA by end of summer.

There is no organized opposition to the substance of the TPPA from the political parties of the one percent.

We need our own political party—a party of workers, farmers and others, completely independent from the parties of the oligarchs. We need to build mass movements to insure our party institutes policies that benefit our quality of life and the survival of our planet. We need to expand our democracy and democratize our economy.

New People, Newsletter of the Thomas Merton Center, Pittsburg’s peace and social justice center, June 2015