Provisions of international trade deals currently under negotiation threaten domestic sovereignty while giving corporations special legal rights, charges a letter signed by more than 100 law professors and sent on Wednesday to congressional leaders and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
The letter (pdf), organized and released by the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Alliance for Justice (AFJ), specifically opposes the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) language in the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the equally troubling Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
"ISDS grants foreign corporations a special legal privilege, the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly cause a loss of profit for the corporation," the letter reads. "Essentially, corporations use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments. These challenges are not heard in a normal court but instead before a tribunal of private lawyers."
In particular, the letter points out that in recent years, corporations have challenged numerous regulations aimed at protecting the public interest, "including decisions on plain packaging rules for cigarettes, toxics bans, natural resource policies, health and safety measures, and denials of permits for toxic waste dumps."
With the environment, public health, and workers' rights on the line, it's essential that trade pacts prioritize people over corporations, said AFJ president Nan Aron.
"It is fundamental to our democracy that our justice system treats all equally, regardless of wealth or power," Aron said. "When laws and regulations protecting everyday Americans are at issue, any challenge should take place in our courts, not before a private tribunal."
While the TPP is likely to be the trade pact that U.S. lawmakers take up next, the proposed TTIP between the U.S. and Europe is just as deferential to corporate interests.
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In an op-ed published at Common Dreams on Thursday, Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden described the TTIP as "a charter for big business, forcing lawmakers to uphold the so-called 'rights' of investors above every other consideration—human rights, environmental protection, democratic accountability. It is a constitution for the free movement of capital."
Meanwhile, also on Wednesday, Nobel Laureate and Columbia University economics professor Joseph Stiglitz blasted the TPP at a community meeting in New York City, according to reporting by In These Times.
"One of the reasons you should know [the TPP] is important is that they’ve tried to get it passed without anyone knowing about it," Stiglitz said at an event organized by the Working Families Party of New York, Communications Workers of America (CWA), and other groups. "And that should make you suspicious."
He noted that the agreement's backers "always say...they’re going to create jobs."
But, he continued: "If that were really true, you'd expect the unions that represent the workers [affected by the bill] to be all in favor of it."
In fact, in recent days, the organized labor movement has reiterated its opposition to the TPP as well as the Trade Promotion Authority, or Fast Track powers, being sought by the Obama administration.
Stiglitz called on community organizations and unions to ramp up the pressure, saying that Froman, an appointed government official responsible for negotiating the agreement, "comes from Citibank and does not represent workers or typical Americans—he represents a group of special interests. And that’s why the only way it is going to be defeated is if there is an outpouring of concern and...action."