Secretive Free Trade Agreement Puts Climate, Public Health at Risk
New warnings on TPP, free trade 'regime' fostering 'global emergency situation'
As secretive talks over the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—the pending free trade agreement slammed as "NAFTA on steroids" and "a quiet coup for the investor class"—continue, new warnings highlight the corporate winners and global losers at stake.
As Kristen Beifus, director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, wrote,
The corporate powers granted in the TPP can override domestic laws on environmental health and safety, and labor and citizens’ rights. Not only that, but multinationals can claim that those domestic laws hamper free trade and sue member countries for millions of dollars. The TPP is in many ways an attempt to revive the stalled expansion of the World Trade Organization.
In other words, as Food & Water Watch's Mitch Jones explained, TPP would be a "permanent power grab by corporations" that "would permanently enshrine the very economic system that has lead to greater imbalances in income and wealth and increasing economic crises."
Save the climate, ditch 'free trade'
Charging that "To confront the climate emergency we need to dismantle the WTO and the free trade regime," groups including La Via Campesina, Focus on the Global South and Oilwatch International explain that the logic of free trade policies, including the TPP,
promotes the construction of market-oriented and imbalanced economies that focus on the demands of the market rather than the needs of their people on the ground. These export-oriented economies also bleed Mother Nature in order to exploit the most out of it provoking disruptions in the environment as we are seeing now with climate change, biodiversity loss and the destruction of ecosystems. This is the capitalist logic – nature is just a thing to be exploited for profit.
The real beneficiaries of this [sic] imbalanced trade rules of the WTO are the transnational corporations since in reality, they are the ones that have more “comparative advantages” than fledgling national and domestic infant industries. In a world of free trade flows - as the WTO aspires – transnational corporations are free to enter and move between countries, choosing those with cheap labor and relaxed regulations and at the same time able to exit and move out just as easily after it has exhausted and grabbed the natural resources, leaving in several cases, their toxic waste.
At the same time, the losers are many – the farmers who lose their farms as they cannot compete with cheap food imports that flood the local markets, the workers whose jobs are made even more unstable and precarious with the pressure to lower labor standards, the persons who are forced to migrate because of loss of livelihood, the women who are most times those who bear the brunt of economic distress on the family and community, the indigenous people who are displaced from their lands, and Mother Earth.
And as Common Dreams contributor and organic dairy farmer Jim Goodman points out, with TPP,
Policies promoting sustainably produced foods sourced from local small-scale farmers for consumption in schools or institutions, could be deemed to unfairly discriminate against foreign suppliers.
Trade liberalization and elimination of local control will promote more intensive fossil fuel based agricultural production that is the exact opposite of the type of farming we must promote to reverse agriculture's contribution to climate change.
Uprisings against such trade agreements and their effects are taking place now, as small-scale farmers in Colombia, joined by gorwing numbers of civil society, have launched a series of protests against the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement that has devastated local agriculture.
More losers: public health, and probably you
Among the losers of the TPP, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), are most U.S. workers. In a report released Tuesday, CEPR economist David Rosnick looks at projections for the effect of trade on inequality and finds that
in fact, most workers are likely to lose — the exceptions being some of the bottom quarter or so whose earnings are determined by the minimum wage; and those with the highest wages who are more protected from international competition. Rather, many top incomes will rise as a result of TPP expansion of the terms and enforcement of copyrights and patents.
Another potential loser: public health, thanks to a potential cave to Big Tobacco.
As Vietnam's Thanh Nien Daily reports,
The US government has sought to include tobacco in a regional free-trade pact, which would enable tobacco companies to use trade rules to compromise government anti-smoking regulations.
In talks that began August 23 in Brunei for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), if the US proposal is accepted, Big Tobacco could sue countries that enact anti-smoking laws deemed to be in breach of the TPP, health groups say.
Watchdog group Public Citizen notes that "The Obama administration has drawn sharp criticism from leading health organizations, U.S. state representatives, and New York mayor Michael Bloomberg" for this cave to Big Tobacco. Public Citizen continues:
The TPP's extreme investor privileges would empower tobacco corporations to skirt domestic legal systems and attack tobacco control policies before extrajudicial tribunals as a means of intimidating policymakers who would dare to enact such safeguards. The Obama administration's proposal does nothing to limit, or even to address, this empowerment of Big Tobacco.
Unfortunately, the investor-state threat is not a hypothetical one. Phillip Morris has already used such investor privileges in other treaties to attack landmark anti-smoking laws in Australia and Uruguay after failing to undermine those health laws in domestic courts. As Andrew Martin points out in Bloomberg, Philip Morris has been leading Big Tobacco's battle to pressure the Obama administration to weaken tobacco-control safeguards in the TPP.
The Obama administration's caving to that pressure makes clear the TPP's very real threat to public health. As Laurent Huber of Action on Smoking and Health stated, the new tobacco-friendly proposal for TPP "will mean more lives lost, both here in the US and abroad.” It is more crucial than ever to expose the TPP and to stop it from being fast tracked through Congress. Our health depends on it.
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"We are living a global emergency situation," the environmental justice groups write, and the solution will come from nothing short of a paradigm shift away from free trade policies that threaten the climate, food sovereignty and the global "99%."
"If we are to save nature and humanity, we need to change the system and changing the system means dismantling the free trade regime."