As Obama moves to fast-track the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), critics are blasting the highly-secretive trade deal as "NAFTA on steroids" and a tool for advancing U.S. and corporate power.
"If impoverishing working people around the world is the goal, then the trade policies like this are working quite effectively," Chris Townsend, political director for United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), told Common Dreams. "This is the grand-daddy of trade deals, a very destructive project, and it is happening completely under the radar."
Meeting with his corporation-heavy Export Council, President Barack Obama declared Thursday he intends to push for renewal of Trade Promotion Authority legislation to allow him to fast-track so-called trade agreements by giving Congress a yes or no vote but taking away powers to amend.
The statement comes as the U.S. continues negotiations with 11 other countries on the TPP, with the stated goal of wrapping up the deal by the year's end. The U.S. is also pursuing a similar trade deal with the European Union.
The global public has been shut out of the negotiation process of the TPP, although it will profoundly impact domestic policies and the international economy. Press coverage of negotiations is prohibited, and even U.S. Senators are denied access to the most basic information about the proposals the U.S. is bringing. However, corporate "trade advisers" do get access to this information, as well as a role in the process. "Think of the TPP as a stealthy delivery mechanism for policies that could not survive public scrutiny," writes Lori Wallach for The Nation.
The bulk of information about the TPP negotiations that is available to the public was leaked out. Documents show that negotiators are pushing for inclusion of NAFTA's infamous corporate tribunals, in which corporations "settle disputes" with governments in secrecy and trample domestic protections from public health to environmental regulations, completely circumventing their own national legal systems. As Wallach explains, "The NAFTA version of this scheme has forced governments to pay more than $350 million to corporations after suits against toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules and more."
Leaks have also revealed that the U.S. is pushing to expand the power of pharmaceutical companies to establish monopolies on life-saving drugs—a move that would boost drug prices while cutting access.
Even laws regulating tobacco companies could end up on the chopping block in this agreement.
Critics charge that this corporate model of global development deepens inequalities and depresses wages for all countries involved and sets dismal standards in global trade. "I always tell our union members: there's a race to the bottom, and we're winning," Townsend told Common Dreams.