by Randolph T. Holhut
chief of AR Correspondents
June 5, 2014
IT'S TIME TO LIFT THE VEIL OF SECRECY SURROUNDING TRADE DEALS
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- If trade deals are so wonderful for American workers, why are they only discussed behind closed doors?
If trade deals are such a boon for the American economy, why are details of these pacts kept secret until it's too late to do anything about them?
Those are questions worth asking as the latest "free trade" deal - the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - starts picking up steam.
TPP is a trade agreement among 12 nations bordering the Pacific Ocean, and includes the United States, Chile, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Japan.
But what is in TPP? The Obama Administration refuses to reveal the draft documents, and it wants the Senate to OK the trade deal under "fast track" trade authority, which allows only a limited time for debate and permits no amendments.
What has leaked out from the closed door discussions of TPP is not encouraging.
Countries will be under increased pressure to roll back food safety rules, environmental standards, and workplace protections, because private investors would have the right to sue governments if anything infringes on their ability to make more profit - even if the rules and regulations were democratically enacted and apply equally to all businesses.
In other words, TPP would create an unelected international tribunal that would be unaccountable to any nation's citizens and could usurp any law deemed to be harmful to business interests. Democracy and national sovereignty are rendered moot under its protocols.
A similar trade deal being negotiated between the United States and the European Union - the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) - would accomplish the same thing.
Given the two decades of experience our nation has had with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), TPP and TTIP would be a social, economic, and democratic disaster.
The NAFTA experience is instructive. It was supposed to help Mexico grow its economy. It didn't. Instead, it enhanced corporate power at the expense of workers and the environment, both in Mexico as well as in the United States. It devastated American manufacturing as jobs moved to Mexico, and other low-wage, low-regulation nations.
And TPP and TTIP would be even worse than NAFTA.
Ever since the "Battle for Seattle" in 1999, it has become impossible to allow any trade agreement to be exposed to public scrutiny. The World Trade Organization (WTO) was gathered there to ratify an agreement to expand global corporate power at the expense of communities all over the world.
They were met by an unprecedented coalition of labor, environmentalists, human rights advocates and civil libertarians determined to warn the world about the dangers posed by an organization that sought to be a law unto itself - accountable to no country and possessing the power to dismantle any law anywhere that limited the goals of the multinational corporations that sponsored it.
While one would have been hard pressed to find many Americans who knew what the WTO was about before Seattle, quickly afterward the education process accelerated. The WTO was exposed as the Magna Carta of a global economy where capital is more important than people and democracy was nothing more than an inconvenience.
That is why trade deals are now negotiated in secret, and WTO meetings are now held in remote areas that protestors can't easily reach.
In the 15 years since Seattle, we have seen an international mobilization for social, economic and environmental justice. Today, in the aftermath of the 2007-08 financial meltdown, many Americans now believe corporations have too much control over our everyday lives. They want the power to make decisions locally on the issues that matter - the environment, education, health care and sustainable economic growth.
But the only thing that can give the governments and the multinational corporations they represent a victory with TPP and TTIP is an apathetic populace that doesn't act to stop this power grab, and doesn't care that a power grab is taking place.
The alarm must be sounded. The spirit of Seattle needs to be revived.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 30 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.