Another dagger to the heart of democracy
By Mike Krauss
Bucks County Courier Times
Thirty years ago I had my first experience of marketing for a corporation. I learned that the most often used word in marketing and advertising is “free.” I recall this lesson as I follow the debate on the “Trans Pacific Partnership” (TPP), which is being sold as a “free” trade agreement. “Free” sells.
What exactly is being sold in the TPP ? To answer that question, you need to read the fine print. But you can’t. TPP has been negotiated in almost total secrecy by a team of about 600 lawyers, working for the major trans-national corporations.
The text of the treaty has been classified as “Secret” by U.S. negotiators. Even members of Congress are not permitted access. The deal will be presented to Congress on a “fast track” – no opportunity for Congress to modify the details. One vote, yes or no on the entire treaty as presented – a done deal.
But thanks to one or two alert member of Congress and WikiLeaks, which think that information about the deal should also be free to the people of the nations who will be bound by the treaty’s terms, there is some news.
What is being sold is not the duty free importation of goods and services across national boundaries; but instead, how the movement of these goods and services, and most especially finance and capital is managed, and by who.
It should surprise no one that a treaty negotiated by lawyers working for the major trans-national corporations stipulates that international commerce should be managed (regulated) by lawyers representing the trans-national corporations.
The purpose is not “free” trade; but rather, to protect and increase the profits of trans-national corporations. How does that work? Like this.
An industry wants to set up shop in your community. But you decide, based on your local zoning, where they can and cannot operate. Or you decide that their product or service is harmful to your health and welfare, and want to limit adverse impacts; or that female workers deserve some paid time off during pregnancy.
Whatever the issue, you want a say in what happens in your community. Democracy.
The public interest clashes with the private interest and costs the corporation money. So the private interest turns to the international tribunals set up to manage these disputes that get in the way of “free” trade. These tribunals are staffed by representatives from the corporations, because they are “experts.”
Guess who they rule for?
Outrageous, you say? Undemocratic? Yes and yes. But it doesn’t matter what you say, because your Congress has voted for our nation to abide by the “free” trade pact.
It’s already happening.
In an attempt to limit smoking and the related deaths and health care costs smoking causes its people, little Uruguay decided to increase the size and visibility of the anti-smoking messages on packs of cigarettes and in other public health advertising.
Under the terms of a “free” trade deal negotiated between Uruguay and Switzerland, where Phillip Morris moved its corporate office from the U.S., the tobacco company is suing Uruguay to be paid the anticipated profits it may lose because of lower sales.
As reported in the U.K. newspaper The Independent, “The litigation is allowed to be done in tribunals known as international-state dispute settlements (ISDS), ruled upon by lawyers under the auspices of the World Trade Organization.”
In a similar case, Bolivia (also little) is being sued by the giant international corporation Bechtel because Bolivia cancelled a contract with Bechtel for a privatized water system, when rates skyrocketed far above those that Bechtel had advertised, forcing already poor people to pay even more for their water.
Bechtel is suing Bolivia in the International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), another tribunal that is part of the World Bank. The ICSID holds all of its meetings in secret. Neither the media nor the people affected may even witness the proceedings.
As CorpWatch reported, “The company filed the case with ICSID under a bilateral investment treaty between the Netherlands and Bolivia. Although Bechtel is a U.S. corporation, its subsidiary [which did the Bolivian water deal] recently established a presence in the Netherlands in order to make use of the treaty.”
Corporations can shop for places to do business and move money easily around the world for the best deal. People, on the other hand, find it more difficult, often impossible and sometimes life threatening to change countries.
There is a price tag for “free” trade agreements like the TPP: democratic government and the right of people to govern themselves in their own communities is sold out.