Betting the Farm on Free Trade?

The White House is gambling with our health, jobs, and environment by embracing the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

— by

Janet RedmanFrom her home in Berks County, Pennsylvania, Karen Feridun is helping stage a growing citizen pushback against the expansion of natural gas extraction. But a far-reaching global deal recently signed halfway around the world may make her job much harder.

Feridun got involved in this fight over concerns that fracking waste, laden with toxic chemicals, could end up in the sewage sludge that some Pennsylvania towns spread on local farm fields.

Figuring her best bet for keeping the state’s water, food, and communities safe was putting a stop to fracking, Feridun founded Berks Gas Truth. The group is now part of a statewide coalition calling for a halt to fracking in Pennsylvania.

no-TPP-trans-pacific-partnership-protests
AFGE / Flickr

The campaign got a boost when the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, after hearing a case brought by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, ruled that local governments have the right to protect the public trust. The court also found that oil and gas companies must abide by municipal zoning and planning laws.

The decision was celebrated as a huge victory for local control. But, Feridun told me, “the Trans-Pacific Partnership could turn over the apple cart entirely.”

The day after we spoke, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Frohman joined top officials from eleven other Pacific Rim nations in a New Zealand casino to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a sweeping “free trade” agreement aimed at opening national borders to the flow of goods, services, and finance.

The location couldn’t have been more symbolic. By entering into this deal, the Obama administration is playing roulette with America’s future.

The White House hopes to win greater access to raw materials, cheap labor, and burgeoning consumer markets in Asia for U.S. companies. What do we stand to lose? Nothing less than the ability to set rules and regulations that protect our families’ health, our jobs, and our environment.

The provision at the heart of this wager is something called an “investor-state” clause. It would let companies based in TPP partner countries sue governments over laws or regulations that curtail their profit-making potential.

It’s a risky bet. Here’s the White House’s simplistic calculus: The U.S. government has never lost an investor-state case.

The more we win, it seems, the bigger our next gamble. The TPP would be the largest free trade agreement in history, covering about 40 percent of the global economy and giving additional countries the option to “dock” to the treaty later. It also adds thousands of companies that could potentially sue the United States in trade court.

Back in Berks County, the demand from newly opened overseas markets for U.S. gas may increase local pressure to frack. The TPP’s investor-state provisions would let foreign-owned gas companies challenge any statewide limits on the practice standing in their way.

If this sounds unlikely, look no further than our neighbors to the north. U.S. oil and gas company Lone Pine Resources sued Canada using a similar clause in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) when Quebec passed a moratorium to halt fracking under the St. Lawrence River. And Lone Pine won.

Now, TransCanada — the Canadian company behind the hugely unpopular Keystone XL pipeline — is bringing a $15 billion claim against the United States for denying permits to build it. That’s exactly the kind of legal action that makes people like Karen Feridun fighting oil and gas projects nervous.

Even if Washington wins the TransCanada suit under NAFTA, the fear of spending millions of dollars fending off litigation under the much larger TPP could have a chilling effect on future efforts to keep oil, gas, and coal in the ground.

Luckily, as Feridun and her neighbors know, Congress hasn’t approved the Trans-Pacific Partnership yet. If lawmakers care about protecting good jobs, clean skies, safe water, and a stable climate in this hotly contested election year, they’d be wise not to gamble against the public interest.


Janet Redman directs the Climate Policy Program at the Institute for Policy Studies. IPS-dc.org
Distributed by OtherWords.org. 

Advertisements

Remember the Keystone XL pipeline? We’re ALL being sued!

confused_lIt would have brought a million barrels of toxic tar-sands sludge oil across the length of our nation, through wetlands and communities. President Obama wisely rejected it.

Only now you and other American taxpayers may have to pay for that common-sense decision.

TransCanada is demanding that American taxpayers pay them $15 billion in compensation. They’re using the “investor-state dispute system” that’s in NAFTA – just like the one in the Trans-Pacific Partnership

It allows corporate polluters to attack our environmental and safety laws in private courts stacked in their favor. These companies think protecting clean air and water is a trade barrier. If TPP passes, they will be able to sue any time we manage to pass not just environmental legislation, but anything they believe might hurt their bottom lines. And we’ll be on the hook when they win in their sham corporate-biased dispute system established by the TPP.

And Just Like That, “Free Trade” Pact Trounces US Law

— by Lauren McCauley,  CommonDreams staff writer


Congress’ elimination of the rule “makes clear that trade agreements can—and do—threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. (Photo: KOMUnews/cc/flickr)

Claims that trade pacts like the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will not trump public health and environmental policies were revealed to be fiction on Tuesday after Congress, bending to the will of the World Trade Organization, killed the popular country-of-origin label (COOL) law.

The provision, tucked inside the omnibus budget agreement, repeals a law that required labels for certain packaged meats, which food safety and consumer groups have said is essential for consumer choice and animal welfare, as well as environmental and public health.

Congress successful revoked the mandate just over one week after the WTO ruled that the U.S. could be forced to pay $1 billion annually to its NAFTA partners, which argued that the law “accorded unfavorable treatment to Canadian and Mexican livestock.”

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, said that consumers relied on the standard to “make informed choices about their food,” and that Congress’ elimination of the rule “makes clear that trade agreements can—and do—threaten even the most favored U.S. consumer protections.”

The move flies in the face of statements made by President Barack Obama, who—arguing in favor of the 12-nation TPP, pledged that “no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.”

Indeed, Wallach argues that repealing the COOL law might prove to be a “real problem for administration efforts to pass the [TPP}–which faces opposition from an unprecedentedly diverse coalition of organizations and members of Congress—because claims that trade pacts cannot harm U.S. consumer and environmental policies have been a mainstay of their campaign.”


CreativeCommons This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

TPP—A Means of Surrendering Our National Sovereignty

The details are out on the the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and critics say the trade deal is worse than they feared. The TPP’s full text was released Thursday, weeks after the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations—a group representing 40 percent of the world’s economy—reached an agreement. Activists around the world have opposed the TPP, warning it will benefit corporations at the expense of health, the environment, free speech and labor rights. Congress now has 90 days to review the TPP before President Obama can ask for an up-or-down vote.  Take the time to learn more about this treaty and then weigh in with your representation in the Congress (both Houses) as to your thoughts.  You can find a PDF version of the actual text of the various chapters here, and a slightly more Internet-friendly glossed over-version of what proponents of the TPP want you to know on Medium.

More video:

After Years of Backroom Secrecy, Public Will Finally Get to See Full TPP Text

Legislative clock starts ticking as Obama administration prepares to release text of pro-corporate trade deal

— by Deirdre Fulton, Common Dreams staff writer

Protesters have long decried the lack of transparency around TPP negotiations. (Photo: SumofUs/flickr/cc)

After being shrouded in secrecy for years, the full contents of the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) will soon be brought into the sunlight.

According to Kevin Collier at Daily Dot, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said the text will be made available to the public at large in approximately 30 days—on or around November 7.

“[We] look forward to having it released as soon as possible,” Froman said in a press call Wednesday that was embargoed until Thursday morning. “We’re shooting to do it within the 30 days following the completion of the negotiations.”

Under the terms of the Fast Track legislation passed earlier this year, lawmakers will not be able to amend or filibuster the pro-corporate “trade” deal that was completed this week.

President Barack Obama must wait at least 90 days after formally notifying Congress of the deal before he can sign it and send it to Capitol Hill, and the full text of the agreement must be made public for at least 60 of those days. Congress gets to spend the first 30 days of that time privately reviewing the documents and consulting with the administration.

As Kelsey Snell wrote for the Washington Post, that 60-day public comment window “will provide critical insight into how much popular support the deal may receive. A poor reception during the public phase could make it difficult for Obama to rally support when it comes time for Congress to vote.”

Snell continued:

The next step will be for the U.S. International Trade Commission to conduct a full economic review of the deal. The agency has up to 105 days to complete that work but the process could take much less time.

Once the implementing bill is introduced in the House and the Senate, Congress has a maximum of 90 days to approve or disapprove the trade deal but can move much more quickly.

However, Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach has pointed out (pdf) that 2016 election politics may imperil the deal. “The intense national battle over trade authority was just a preview of the massive opposition the TPP will face given that Democratic and GOP members of Congress and the public soon will be able to see the specific TPP terms that threaten their interests,” she said (pdf) on Monday.


This work from “Common Dreams” is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

Bernie Sanders: Agenda for America—12 Steps Forward

Bernie Sanders, a challenger to Hillary Clinton, for President of the United States has put forth his “Agenda for America”

  1. Rebuilding Our Crumbling Infrastructure
    We need a major investment to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure: roads, bridges, water systems, waste water plants, airports, railroads and schools. It has been estimated that the cost of the Bush-Cheney Iraq War, a war we should never have waged, will total $3 trillion by the time the last veteran receives needed care. A $1 trillion investment in infrastructure could create 13 million decent paying jobs and make this country more efficient and productive. We need to invest in infrastructure, not more war.
  2. Reversing Climate Change
    The United States must lead the world in reversing climate change and make certain that this planet is habitable for our children and grandchildren. We must transform our energy system away from fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and sustainable energies. Millions of homes and buildings need to be weatherized, our transportation system needs to be energy efficient and we need to greatly accelerate the progress we are already seeing in wind, solar, geothermal, biomass and other forms of sustainable energy. Transforming our energy system will not only protect the environment, it will create good paying jobs.
  3. Creating Worker Co-ops
    We need to develop new economic models to increase job creation and productivity. Instead of giving huge tax breaks to corporations which ship our jobs to China and other low-wage countries, we need to provide assistance to workers who want to purchase their own businesses by establishing worker-owned cooperatives. Study after study shows that when workers have an ownership stake in the businesses they work for, productivity goes up, absenteeism goes down and employees are much more satisfied with their jobs.
  4. Growing the Trade Union Movement
    Union workers who are able to collectively bargain for higher wages and benefits earn substantially more than non-union workers. Today, corporate opposition to union organizing makes it extremely difficult for workers to join a union. We need legislation which makes it clear that when a majority of workers sign cards in support of a union, they can form a union.
  5. Raising the Minimum Wage
    The current federal minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is a starvation wage. We need to raise the minimum wage to a living wage. No one in this country who works 40 hours a week should live in poverty.
  6. Pay Equity for Women Workers
    Women workers today earn 78 percent of what their male counterparts make. We need pay equity in our country — equal pay for equal work.
  7. Trade Policies that Benefit American Workers
    Since 2001 we have lost more than 60,000 factories in this country, and more than 4.9 million decent-paying manufacturing jobs. We must end our disastrous trade policies (NAFTA, CAFTA, PNTR with China, etc.) which enable corporate America to shut down plants in this country and move to China and other low-wage countries. We need to end the race to the bottom and develop trade policies which demand that American corporations create jobs here, and not abroad.
    [Sign the petition to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership — another trade deal disaster]
  8. Making College Affordable for All
    In today’s highly competitive global economy, millions of Americans are unable to afford the higher education they need in order to get good-paying jobs. Further, with both parents now often at work, most working-class families can’t locate the high-quality and affordable child care they need for their kids. Quality education in America, from child care to higher education, must be affordable for all. Without a high-quality and affordable educational system, we will be unable to compete globally and our standard of living will continue to decline.
  9. Taking on Wall Street
    The function of banking is to facilitate the flow of capital into productive and job-creating activities. Financial institutions cannot be an island unto themselves, standing as huge profit centers outside of the real economy. Today, six huge Wall Street financial institutions have assets equivalent to 61 percent of our gross domestic product – over $9.8 trillion. These institutions underwrite more than half the mortgages in this country and more than two-thirds of the credit cards. The greed, recklessness and illegal behavior of major Wall Street firms plunged this country into the worst financial crisis since the 1930s. They are too powerful to be reformed. They must be broken up.
  10. Health Care as a Right for All
    The United States must join the rest of the industrialized world and recognize that health care is a right of all, and not a privilege. Despite the fact that more than 40 million Americans have no health insurance, we spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as any other nation. We need to establish a Medicare-for-all, single-payer system.
  11. Protecting the Most Vulnerable Americans
    Millions of seniors live in poverty and we have the highest rate of childhood poverty of any major country. We must strengthen the social safety net, not weaken it. Instead of cutting Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and nutrition programs, we should be expanding these programs.
  12. Real Tax Reform
    At a time of massive wealth and income inequality, we need a progressive tax system in this country which is based on ability to pay. It is not acceptable that major profitable corporations have paid nothing in federal income taxes, and that corporate CEOs in this country often enjoy an effective tax rate which is lower than their secretaries. It is absurd that we lose over $100 billion a year in revenue because corporations and the wealthy stash their cash in offshore tax havens around the world. The time is long overdue for real tax reform.

Possibly the Most Important Video You Will Ever See — Just Say NO!

Pre-NAFTA trade deficits, 1962-1992

NAFTA related trade deficits, 1993-2012Read More:

TPP: OF and FOR the sole benefit of Corporations—Definitely a Violation of the Public’s Trust

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)  is facing increasing scrutiny for the extreme secrecy surrounding negotiations around this sweeping new trade deal that could rewrite OUR nation’s laws on everything from healthcare and internet freedom, to food safety and the financial markets. The latest negotiations over the TPP were recently held behind closed doors in Lima, Peru, but the Obama administration has rejected calls to release the current text. Even members of Congress have complained about being shut out of the negotiation process.  Regardless of all the Congressional whining about not having sufficient time to read and understand what’s in a bill, let along a treaty, a bill to “fast-track” approval of  TPP.  Fast-tracking would allow President Obama to sign the treaty (which is massively worse than NAFTA on some seriously wicked steroids) and once signed, Congress would have limited opportunity for debate and would be required to hold an up/down vote within 90 days of the president signing the treaty.  Are you kidding me?  What are they smokin’ on the Hill?

Last year, a leaked chapter from the draft agreement outlined how the TPP would allow foreign corporations operating in the United States to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its rulings. We discuss the TPP with two guests: Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist with the AFL-CIO; and Jim Shultz, executive director of the Democracy Center, which has just released a new report on how corporations use trade rules to seize resources and undermine democracy. “What is the biggest threat to the ability of corporations to go into a country and suck out the natural resources without any regard for the environment or labor standards? The threat is democracy,” Shultz says. “The threat is that citizens will be annoying and get in the way and demand that their governments take action. So what corporations need is to become more powerful than sovereign states. And the way they become more powerful is by tangling sovereign states in a web of these trade agreements.”

Drake adds: “We question the wisdom of pursuing the TPP in the first place. We do have, for better or for worse, the World Trade Organization which has lowered tariffs around the world and has allowed us to increase our exports as Mr. Froman was explaining in his speech. So what the TPP is about is all these other things around the tariffs, so it is about the investor state, dispute tribunals, it’s about harmonizing rules for food safety, it’s about harmonizing rules for intellectual property, a lot of rules that if citizens aren’t really participating in the formation of those rules, they’re not necessarily going to work out to the benefit of working people and American citizens. So we’re very active in following the negotiations and advocating for better rules that will help workers, real farmers, small businesses, because our past trade agreements starting with NAFTA and on down the line have basically been big packages that benefit the 1 percent and if anybody else benefits it’s really only by accident and not really by design.”

You will not see a more honest assessment of the threat to democracy posed by TPP than on DemocracyNow:

Did I Just Lose Two for Two with Rep. Mark Amodei?

On December 5th, I sent an email to Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV2) regarding my concerns as to “fast-tracking” the  Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated in secrecy behind closed doors:

VLRI view the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a secret “trade” deal being negotiated behind closed doors by the governments of a dozen countries (including ours) colluding with corporate interests.  And, as I currently understand its terms, it could devastate the internet freedom we’ve grown to love and use to complete many transactions we currently enjoy living in rural areas.  But even worse, unsafe foods and products could pour into our country while we’re powerless to stop them. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

My greatest concern is that it is being set up for the “fast-track,” which would short-circuit the typical legislative process when trade deals like the TPP come up for a vote.  Fast-track trade authority would allow ANY president to sign a trade deal before Congress has had an opportunity to review or approve it. Then, that president could send it to Congress for an up-or-down vote. Fast track would mean there would be no meaningful hearings, limited debate and absolutely no amendments to the deal. Plus, there would be tremendous pressure on Congress to rubber-stamp whatever that president signs.

It’s the job of Congress to fully vet trade deals and ensure they work for everyone, not just giant corporations. Authorizing “fast tracking” would be a deeply irresponsible abdication of responsibility by Congress when we know the TPP is coming down the pike, especially when we know the consequences of the TPP could be disastrous.

The Constitution gives Congress exclusive authority over trade. But, my understanding is that the text of the TPP is considered so highly classified that even members of Congress have been given only extremely limited access to it. The little that we do know about the deal has come from drafts of some of its chapters that have been leaked.

The United States of America is a DEMOCRACY, not a CORPORATOCRACY. I urge you to oppose ANY AND ALL “fast-track” measures that would allow Congress to abdicate its role in assuring trade policies such as the TPP are truly appropriate trade policy for the PEOPLE of our nation.

Today, I got his response in my inbox:

AmodeiThank you for contacting me regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I appreciate hearing from you on this issue.

As you know, the United States is currently in negotiations on the TPP trade agreement, which would promote trade with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Advocates for membership contend the TPP would facilitate trade and investment of U.S. made products, while promoting intellectual property rights, increasing transparency, and reducing government corruption. Those opposed argue that the TPP will impact our nation’s ability to compete in a global market.

As a Member of Congress, it is among my highest priorities to work hard for Nevada’s economy and promote job growth within the state. In this time of economic uncertainty in the world market, the United States and our workers cannot be left behind. Free and fair trade can help promote peace and security, as well as create important new economic opportunities and jobs for American businesses and workers. It is imperative for U.S. companies to have access to consumers throughout the world and that we fight to open up foreign markets to ensure Americans have equal access to foreign markets. Furthermore, it is important the global markets which U.S. companies compete in are as open as our own here at home.

Isolating our markets from the world will only hinder job growth and cause the United States to slip as the world’s economic leader. Consequently, it is also my intention to support other agreements that will bring the United States closer to a duty-free hemisphere. I believe that free markets encourage job growth at home. Congress has the responsibility to ensure the United States and its workers have access to emerging markets that will allow us to remain a leading force in the world market.

At the same time, we cannot have free trade unless it truly a mutual benefit for all participating nations. I understand the need to protect working American families from the adverse effects of new free trade agreements. Rest assured, I will continue to monitor these agreements and the effect that this agreement will have on the American those people under our partnerships. As Congress exercises review and oversight authority in this matter, I will certainly keep your concerns in mind.

I appreciate the fact that you have taken the time to apprise me of your opinions and hope that you will contact me again should you have any further comments or concerns. If you would like additional information on my activities in the House, please visit my website, www.Amodei.house.gov or connect with me on facebook.com/MarkAmodeiNV2 and twitter.com/MarkAmodeiNV2.

In closing, please know that I consider it a privilege to serve and represent you and your family in Congress.

Sincerely, MarkAmodeiSignature

Given the GOP’s propensity to “fast-track” everything for corporate advantage over the commoners, and that Rep. Amodei seiously toes the GOP line, somehow, I don’t feel all that confident that Rep. Amodei “will certainly keep (my) concerns in mind.”