Obama's proposal for a "Free Trade" agreement between the US and European Union is being championed by large corporations, but public interest groups and environmentalists on both sides of the Atlantic are vowing to fight the deal.
Long-opposed to the nefarious role that so-called "FTAs" play in the erosion of state sovereignty, critics object to the way such arrangements undermine labor and environmental protections, creating a "global race to the bottom" in the name of "liberalizing" trade and economic growth.
This newest deal comes at a time of ascendent corporate power and at the height of austerity-style economics and would be the largest between developed nations since NAFTA in the mid-90s.
As the Huffington Post reports:
Traditionally, this proposed political empowerment for corporations has been defended as a way to protect companies from arbitrary governments or weakened court systems in developing countries. But the expansion of the practice to first-world relations exposes that rationale as disingenuous. Rule of law in the U.S. and EU is considered strong; the court systems are among the most sophisticated and expert in the world. Most cases brought against the United States under NAFTA have been dismissed or abandoned before an international court issued a ruling.
But companies have grown increasingly ambitious in recent years, with major outfits including Exxon Mobil and Dow Chemical challenging Canadian rules that apply to offshore oil drilling, hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") and the use of pesticides. In December, drug giant Eli Lilly brought a NAFTA case against the Canadian government after it invalidated a patent for one of the company's medications.
Speaking out against the deal are US-based groups like Sierra Club and Public Citizen. And in Europe, coalitions of farmers and trade unionists are already up in arms about the impact that corporate-controlled trade agreements would have on them.
As Der Spiegel in Germany recently reported, there is specific opposition to US agricultural products—including industrially-processed meat and genetically-modified crops.
"Transparency, freedom of choice and the principle of foresight cannot be sacrificed to the free movement of goods in Europe," says Christoph Then, managing director of Testbiotech, a non-profit association opposed to genetic engineering.
The American farm lobby has long fought against European trade barriers for genetically modified potatoes and hormone-treated beef. Now the free trade treaty will provide them with considerable leverage for cracking the European front. [...]
For example, American farmers use the hormone rBST, developed by the agricultural corporation Monsanto. The drug is intended to increase milk production by up to 20 percent and meat yield by up to 30 percent. But it is also suspected of causing cancer in human beings. In addition, high-performance cows require additional antibiotic treatment, because their mammary glands are more likely to become infected.
The concern for US environmentalists like Sierra Club are centered around the power that corporations stand to gain by the emasculation of the regulatory authority of governments.
The provisions of the agreement, the environmental group's trade specialist Ilana Solomon said to HuffPost, "elevate corporations to the level of nation states and allow them to sue governments over nearly any law or policy which reduces their future profits."
And Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Trade Watch, was quoted:
The dirty little secret about [the negotiation] is that it is not mainly about trade, but rather would target for elimination the strongest consumer, health, safety, privacy, environmental and other public interest policies on either side of the Atlantic.
The starkest evidence ... is the plan for it to include the infamous investor-state system that empowers individual corporations and investors to skirt domestic courts and laws and drag signatory governments to foreign tribunals.