Newsletter: Rigged Trade Negotiations Struggle
Update: After we wrote this newsletter the press conference at the end of negotiations was delayed multiple times. First scheduled for Thurday, then Friday, then 4 PM Saturday, the 6 PM, the 8 PM and then not yet rescheduled but probably sometime on Monday. Reports are there are still disputes over patents for biologics; after US and Australia reached a complex agreement, other countries have not agreed with it. And, there is still no agreement on dairy, with New Zealand insisting on greater access to US, Canada and Japan. If Canada agrees it could cost Prime Minister Harper lots of votes a couple of weeks before a very close election; he is probably already losing auto worker votes over the auto deal. Stay tuned, more news is likely Monday . . .
For those concerned about corporate power vs. democracy; jobs, the environment, healthcare, food, water, energy, regulation of banks and more – all eyes were on Atlanta this week where 12 nations were negotiating the massive trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The Atlanta meetings come after more than five years of secret negotiations, secret to the public, media and elected representatives but not to transnational corporations.
The meetings were intended to wrap up the TPP agreement but the deadline was extended beyond their initial deadline of Thursday; as we write this the negotiations have been extended to Sunday. This week the passage of the TPP through Congress became more questionable. And, protests escalated in Atlanta and Canada with planned protests around the world in October along with major protests in Washington, DC this November.
Negotiations Show TPP is About Rigging Global Trade, not About ‘Free’ Trade
TPP negotiators are struggling to overcome blocks on several issues. The latest round of meetings have shown that the trade agreements, which are really treaties, are about protecting profits. Many now can see ‘free trade’ is a marketing term that falsely describes what is actually occurring. Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Hersh pierced the false veil of the “free trade charade” and described reality:
“The reality is that this is an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies. Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about “free” trade.”
They go on to describe the negotiations over agricultural products, dairy, sugar, automobiles and pharmaceuticals as well as whether or not the trade tribunal investor state dispute settlement system applies to tobacco. Negotiators are fighting over how long a patent will provide a monopoly to pharmaceutical drugs, what percentage of an automobile must be made in a country, about markets for sugar and dairy. All of these negotiations show that ‘free’ trade is not the goal; the goal is for each country to ensure their industries make as much profit as they can. This is the opposite of ‘free’ trade.
This week in Atlanta there were daily protests with multiple arrests. People marched in the streets of Atlanta, shutting down Peachtree Street, they rallied outside the hotel where negotiations were occurring and protesters entered the hotel, with some being arrested. One arrest included a cancer patient who was opposing how the TPP would prevent access to cancer treatment drugs. Funding is needed for the bail fund and legal defense. Please donate here.
This is a critical period because the failure of this round of negotiations could delay the TPP for a very long time, maybe even kill it. The Japanese economy minister stated similar concerns when the Atlanta meetings were held over until Sunday, agreeing to the Sunday meeting but saying the Japanese could not accept any further delays. And, New Zealand Prime Minister John Key warned that if the talks do not wrap up this week, the 12-nation trade agreement could be put on ice for years.
In Canada, people involved in agriculture and the auto industry are showing their concerns about the TPP. Farmers clogged the streets of Ottawa with tractors, worried about the concessions the Harper government was likely to make.
In Canada, the negotiations are being held in the midst of a tight three-way race for Prime Minister that is scheduled for October 19. On Friday, the New Democratic Party (NDP) took a major step saying it would not adhere to the TPP negotiated by Prime Minister Harper. Their leader, Thomas Mulcair, said that Harper was going beyond his powers as a “caretaker” government saying once he announced the elections, he became a caretaker. He wrote to the Harper aministration to explain that as a caretaker he has “no mandate to make concessions that could put thousands of well-paid Canadian jobs and the communities that depend on them in peril” and such actions 17 days before an election would be “clear violations of the caretaker convention to which your government is bound.” Thus, Canada’s agreements will be thrown into doubt if the Conservatives lose the election.
The TPP and other rigged trade agreements continue to be classified as a secret. This week a federal judge denied a Freedom Of Information Act request on the basis of national security. The fast track law required the US Trade Rep to appoint a transparency officer. In a disingenuous move that showed they had no respect for the congressional mandate, the USTR appointed its General Counsel to the position. This week a coalition of groups led by Open the Government and including Popular Resistance called for the USTR to appoint a new transparency officer. The secrecy concerns raised by Congress and people have not been addressed.
Join us by sending the USTR an email at Stopping The TPP: Tell USTR ‘No To This Bad Deal!’ Participate in protests this November in Washington, DC. CLICK HERE TO REGISTER. No matter how Atlanta turns out, we need to keep up the pressure. When President Obama and US Trade Rep Froman are in Asia for economic meetings this November, we are going to protest their trade agenda in the nation’s capital to send a message that there will be mass protest if they attempt to move forward with the TPP.
Politics of TPP Getting Complicated in Washington, DC
Even if the TPP does not fall apart in Atlanta, it is becoming evident that the deal will not have an easy time in Congress. The key chamber will be the House of Representatives. Speaker John Boehner was forced to resign because of his bullying tactics to pass fast track and without Boehner as Speaker it is unlikely the TPP will pass the House.
The Republican revolt against Boehner was because he aggressively pressured the Republican Caucus to give President Obama fast track trade authority. Boehner twisted arms before the vote pushing about 30 Republicans who opposed fast track to vote for it and after the vote he punished those who opposed him. The Caucus revolted and some of Boehner’s decisions had to be reversed. Members of the Caucus called for his replacement and rather than fight that battle Boehner resigned. Will the next Speaker make passing the TPP a priority? Will he risk his career for Obama’s top priority? We doubt it and conservatives we worked with on fast track tell us they would be very surprised to see the TPP pass the House.
During the Atlanta meetings key members of both parties wrote to the Obama administration warning them there is no guarantee TPP will be approved by Congress. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI), said they better not bring back a bad deal because Congress will not support it. Reports on how the negotiations on automobiles turned out indicate Japan got what it wanted and the deal is likely to cost auto jobs in the US and Canada.
We can’t see how the TPP can be anything but a bad deal. It is going to undermine jobs at home, lower wages, increase the wealth divide, increase the trade deficit, undermine democracy, weaken the federal court system, degrade the environment and undermine sovereignty at every level of government.
And, while the TPP was having problems in Atlanta and Washington, DC, the European agreement, Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) was having troubles in Europe. Europeans see the TTIP either not advancing or going in the wrong direction because of the heavy handedness of the United States. The French negotiator said “France is considering all options including an outright termination of negotiations.” Almost 3 million people across Europe have signed a petition calling on the European Commission to scrap the agreement. People are realizing that rather than opening up new markets, since the US and EU countries already trade a great deal, it will be opening up privatization of public services by corporate interests.
October 10th to 17, a week of actions will be held against the TTIP. This began as a European action but is now an international week of action. We urge you to participate in Trade4People by organizing events in towns across the United States. You can sign up for events to protest all the rigged trade agreements here. These protests coincide with protests on climate change and on food safety: the Peoples Climate Marches on Oct. 14 and the March Against Monsanto on Oct. 16 and 17. If you are planning an action in your area, you can post it on the action map.
Building On Success
Many of the challenges that the negotiators are having is because people have been uprising all over the world against these trade agreements. This has made it more difficult for governments to negotiate as they know if they go too far they risk rejection at home.
The more than two year fight in Washington, DC to stop fast track has also made things more complicated. The battle over fast track was a brutal one causing divisions in both parties and resulting in the Speaker of the House resigning. Fast track built in requirements that cause multi-month delays from the time they reach agreement to the time it goes to Congress. And, it built in the requirement that trade agreements be made public for 60 days before Congress begins to consider them. This gives the movement time to educate and mobilize people in opposition.
The lack of fast track for the last two years made it hard for negotiators to come to agreement because they knew without fast track the trade agreements would not get through Congress. But now, even with fast track getting approval, Congress is not looking easy. And, the timing has also put the countries involved in a bind as multiple countries; especially the United States will be in the midst of elections. The elections make it more complicated because in both parties there are key candidates like Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump who oppose the agreements, as does Green Party candidate Jill Stein, making the TPP an election year issue. And, members of Congress seeking re-election know the TPP is unpopular and supporting it could cost them their political career.
This week we saw the strength of the movement as we had a major victory with Shell abandoning Arctic drilling. Shell admitted to the media that a major reason why Shell lost the Arctic was because of the protests against them causing delays, increasing costs and creating an insecure regulatory and legal environment. All of this made investors uncomfortable. The movement won.
There are more Americans active in struggles for economic, racial and environmental justice than ever before. Many of these people realize how their struggle relates to rigged corporate trade. This week Bold Nebraska had a victory on eminent domain over Trans Canada but if treaties like the TPP come into play it will give corporations like Trans Canada greater power to stop people by enabling corporations to sue the United States in a trade tribunal. Similarly people are rebelling against water privatization and winning but in the future if these are foreign corporations they will be able to use the investor state dispute settlement trade tribunals and overcome the people.
So, we know we must win. And, we can see our mobilizations have created a situation where we can win. We must finish the job. Take action in October with the Europeans fighting TTIP; join us in DC in November against the TPP and other rigged trade agreements.
No matter how Atlanta turns out, we are winning and can finish the job. Our goal: end corporate rigged trade and force governments to re-make trade with a goal of putting people and planet first and doing so by negotiating agreements with transparency so the people can participate. Help us finish the job!