Even as details of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)—a so-called "free trade" agreement (FTA) between the US and more than a dozen Asian and Pacific Rim nations—remains veiled in secrecy and the focus of scrutiny, a new trade deal on the horizon has critics of the neoliberal global economy doubly worried.
As the New York Times reports Friday, the prospect of a new trade pact between the US and European nations — though worrying to fair trade supporters, labor unions, and social justice advocates of all stripes—has the world's most powerful corporations drooling at the mouth.
According to the Times:
Yum Brands, the owner of KFC, wants cheaper chicken wings, rumps and other assorted poultry parts.
Ocean Spray wants an easing of pesticide regulations.
DuPont wants greater protection of trade secrets.
Negotiations have barely begun for a potentially sweeping trade pact between the United States and Europe. But the lobbying is already well under way by corporations on both sides of the Atlantic. And the sometimes parochial nature of their demands is sure to further complicate the trade talks, which no one expects to proceed quickly or smoothly, given the geopolitics involved.
And what are the "geopolitics involved"?
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Like "free trade areas" conceived of in the past, the implication of a transatlantic agreement spells out a situation in which the demands of corporate interests supersede those of the people who exist within the countries that participate.
And because the agreements are historically drafted in secret and then rushed through by governments with little chance for review by voters or citizens, they have become—charge critics—the best vehicle for corporations to sidestep regulations (which profit-hungry companies term "hindrances to business" or "trade irritants") that are designed to protect workers rights, the environment, and the common good.
But, according to Lori Wallach who heads Public Citizen's TradeWatch, what corporations “consider trade irritants, we consider the most important consumer, health, environmental, privacy, financial stability safeguards on either side of the Atlantic.”
Trade agreements like this, she told the Times, are simply "an effort to achieve through trade what that they could not achieve through democratic processes domestically."
In just one telling example cited by Times, juice giant Oceanspray, amid concerns that Europe's restrictions on pesticide use—which are much tougher than those in the U.S.—is hoping that the binding language of the trade deal would allow it to unburden itself from tariffs or prohibitions against import of its cranberries or other fruit to European nations that current exist.
Critics of FTA's call this neoliberal globalization's "race to the bottom" in which corporations bully national governments to erase consumer, worker and environmental protections in order to maximize profits.
As the Times explains: "...companies see the talks as an opportunity to pick and choose the most favorable regulations among the varying rules on either side of the Atlantic — whether in food, pharmaceuticals or farming."
With negotiations on the deal still early on, it is easy to see that corporations are putting their lobbying machine in full gear. What remains to be seen is whether or not the forces opposed to these deals—on both sides of the Atlantic—are sufficiently prepared to fight back.