Friday, May 17, 2013

Left Side of the Aisle #108 - Part 5

Outrage of the Week: elevating corporations in new trade deal

From the ridiculous to the outrageous. If you needed any more evidence that there is a need for dramatic, dare I say revolutionary, changes in our social and economic system, this should do it: It's the Outrage of the Week.

On May 13, President Hopey-Changey and British Prime Minister David Cameron pledged to achieve a new, broad trade agreement between the US and the European Union. But since tariffs between the two are already low or nonexistent, what is the point?

The point, my friends, is what are called regulatory issues and who gets to decide what the standards are for everything from environmental protection to food safety to worker protection and back again. And the "who" is just who you might expect.

The Amazing Mr. O and Cameron are pushing for what's called "investor-state resolution" to be included in any new pact. Currently, trade between the US and the EU is governed by the rules of the World Trade Organization, or WTO. Under those rules, if a corporation feels it has been wronged by some aspect of a nation's trade policies, it has to persuade a national government to take its case to the WTO court. Under investor-state resolution, that's not necessary and corporations are given the political power to sue governments directly. If the court - composed of supposed trade experts - finds the government policy in question violates some trade agreement, it can impose financial penalties and other sanctions.

Put more bluntly, investor-state resolution provides corporations a forum in which they can attack and try to roll back whatever nation's food safety rules or environmental laws or banking regulations or whatever are the strongest at a given moment on the grounds that they create "unfair barriers to trade" - and do it before a panel of people whose interest is in trade, not in food safety or the environment or consumer protection or whatever.

This is not the first time the US has done this; similar provisions have been included in bilateral pacts since the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, in 1994. But including it in a trade agreement with the EU is unprecedented and gives the lie to the claimed purpose of investor-state resolution, which is to protect companies from dictators or weak court systems in developing countries. Instead, it reveals the real purpose: to formally place corporations on the same legal level as national governments.

Keep reminding yourself: These people are not on your side. And it is an outrage.


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