Monday, August 24, 2015

217.2 - More on the three secret trade deals

More on the three secret trade deals

I told you last week that this week I would tell you what we know about two still-mostly-secret trade deals, trade deal which if you hadn't heard about, don't feel bad, you weren't supposed to.

The Terrible Trio of trade deals now being negotiated in secret include the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, or TTIP, and the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA. I've mentioned the TPP several times; it's the latter two I said I tell you more about this week.

Taking the TTIP first, this is a proposed deal that has been negotiated in secret between the US and the trade office of the European Union since June 2013. In essence, it seeks to do to the Atlantic side of the world what the TPP seeks to do to the Pacific side. Or, to be more exact, I should say the North Atlantic part of the world, as no African nation is part of this negotiation.

What we know about the TTIP has come through leaks and the occasional self-serving release by one or more of the parties involved and it is more than enough to get any sane person who is not a corporate executive, flak, lobbyist, or toady to be deeply worried.

One group called the agreement a "corporate lobbying paradise" because in 2012, during the run-up to the start of the negotiations, the European Commission’s trade department had 597 behind-closed-door meetings with lobbyists to discuss the plan. 528 of those meetings (88%) were with business lobbyists while only 53 (9%) were with public interest groups. The remainder were with other actors such as public institutions and academics. So, for every meeting with a trade union or consumer group, there were 10 with companies and industry federations.

What's more, there is clear evidence that during that time the trade department actively sought the involvement of corporate lobbyists, while holding trade unionists and other public interest groups at arm's length.

Not just before, but also during the negotiations, corporations are playing a shaping role. Some formulations in draft texts which have been leaked are identical to proposals of company lobbyists.

Then there is what is in the deal. Now, in fairness I have to say that the deal is not finalized so some of this may change, but considering the history of how such secret agreements go, any changes are at least as likely to make it worse than to make it better.

A big and important issue is the inclusion of what's called Investor-State Dispute Settlement. What that means is that foreign investors and corporations would have the right to sue for damages if they believe that they have suffered losses because of laws or measures of the targeted country. This would include environmental and consumer protection laws and other such measures; the fact that they were beneficial to the society as a whole would not matter.

So, for example, Barack Obama wants to reduce our carbon output to deter the threat of global climate change. Doing so would of necessity mean reducing the use of fossil fuels such as coal. Under this provision, if it was in effect, a foreign corporation with investments in US coal mines could claim that environmental program hurt the value of that investment and sue to "recover" its "loss."

Next, under something called "regulatory cooperation," corporate groups are to be included in the drafting of any new regulations or laws which might affect their trade interests. Public interest groups and workers are not invited.

Employee rights are coming under pressure, and jobs in numerous industries are endangered. The UN's International Labor Organization has established eight core standards for labor protection and rights. In the US, only two out of the either are recognized. The TTIP provides no protection for those other rights.

Privatization and so-called "liberalization" - and I hate that word, because "liberalization" should mean making something better, improving something, but here it means giving corporations a freer hand to do what they place - but they will become one-way streets. Once some asset or service has been handed over to private industry, turning it back into a public asset would be made almost impossible by TTIP. It is a blueprint for over time turning more and more of government services provided for the benefit of the public into profit centers for the benefit of corporations and their investors,as has already happened in part of Latin America, with the predictable result of skyrocketing prices for water.

Through a process called "regulatory convergence," standards of food safety and for consumer protection for cosmetics, medical products, pesticides, and other commodities are threatened with being set at whatever are the lowest standards now in force. In many cases, that would be the US standards, because US standards are often weaker than those in Europe. For example, in Europe a company has to prove a substance is safe before it can be used, while in the US, it's the other way around: a substance can be used until it is proven unsafe. So instead of us being able to improve or toughen our consumer protections, the nations of the European Union would have to weaken theirs.

Oh, but it doesn't all go one way: The financial rules, the controls on banks, are tougher in the US than in the EU. Under the rubric "regulatory convergence," European banks are pressing the TTIP to require the US to loosen its regulations. The already weak and already wounded Dodd-Frank bill could become worth less than the paper its printed on.

That's obviously not the whole agreement, but it should be more than enough to show you why so many environmental, public interest, consumer, and labor groups - particularly in Europe, when it has gotten more attention than here - are against it.

Which leads us to the last leg of this three-headed beast of corporate wet dreams.

It's called the Trade in Services Agreement, or TiSA, and in a nutshell it seeks to create the same kind of international corporate playground in services that the TTP and the TTIP aim to do for goods. Negotiations have been taking place - in secret, of course - since early 2013.

A year ago, WikiLeaks published the secret "core text" being used in the negotiations, which today involve over 50 nations making up two-thirds of global GDP, including the US, the EU, and nations such as Turkey, Mexico, Australia, Pakistan and Israel - nations which, by the way, do not include what are called the BRICS nations, Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, which have been excluded from the TiSA negotiations, even though those negotiations purport to benefit the global economy. Apparently, some nations are not supposed to be part of that economy.

According to analysts, that core text actually looks to undermine the governments involved in the treaty in favor of multinational corporations. One way is that it would require signatories to give up their right to choose local service providers in areas like broadcasting, education, electricity, and sanitation. "Buy local" would for governments become illegal.

The text looks to limit governments’ ability to regulate national services while giving unprecedented freedom to foreign corporations. This would apply to all services, including banking, financial services, e-commerce, health, transport, and consulting. The reforms would touch all levels of government from local to national.

The draft treaty also proposes restricting the ability of governments to set size and growth limits on various economic activities, as well as institutions such as banks. The expression "too big to fail," which not only suggest that is an unfortunate condition but carries the implication that smaller institutions can be controlled and even broken up, would become as passe as poodle skirts and rotary telephones.

The rules not only apply to internal matters: Another major element is a rule restricting governments from putting controls on cross-border movements of capital, including anything related to services or inflows of capital. Options to enforce capital controls are very limited, with the result that a small nation could be potentially bankrupted if a major international investor corporation or bank just decided to pull its capital out of the country.

That's not the end of it. In June of this year, two months ago, WikiLeaks released another set of secret documents leaked by some whistleblower, showing that the intention to, as described by the group, "deregulate global financial services markets" and "assist the expansion of financial multi-nationals" is as strong as ever.

I found two revelations in this new set of documents particularly disturbing. One is that "the leaked draft also shows that the US is particularly keen on boosting cross-border data flow, which would allow uninhibited exchange of personal and financial data" and privacy of personal information can go the way of the dodo. Who knew that when the Amazing Mr. O promised "the most transparent administration ever" he meant that we must be transparent to the corporations?

Oh, but wait, the draft does have a chapter on transparency. It mandates that regulators must tell transnational investors ahead of time what they are doing.

The other particularly disturbing revelation is that amendments proposed by the US would end publicly provided services like public pension funds, which are referred to as "monopolies" and limit public regulation of all financial services, freezing regulation at existing levels, so that when another 2008 happens, we won't be able to do anything about it. Except, of course, to bail out the banks again.

Heard enough? No, you haven't, not until you've heard one more thing.

- Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership began in 2008 and continued to the present.
- Those on the Trade in Services Agreement began in February 2103.
- Those on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership began in June 2013.

So the administration of what US president has been pushing for these deals?

The administration of what US president wants US consumer protection, environmental, and other such regulations reduced to the lowest common denominator?

The administration of what US president wants to slash away at our privacy rights and calls public pension plans "monopolies?"

I don't know how many times I will have to say it: These people are not on your side!

Sources cited in links:

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