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Lori Wallach, (202) 234-5674
The biggest scare of Halloween 2012 is the implementation of the Panama Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which weakens the U.S. government's ability to stop U.S. corporations and wealthy individuals from dodging taxes in Panama, one of the world's most notorious tax havens. Passed in October 2011, the FTA is scheduled to go into effect on Wednesday.
Panama's tiny $30 billion economy--smaller than that of Columbia, S.C.--offers few U.S. export opportunities. And many of the prospective U.S. business opportunities associated with the Panama Canal widening project were carved out of the agreement's coverage. But the downsides of the deal are huge: As the U.S. government struggles to close its budget deficit, the pact restricts U.S. policies now available to counter tax evasion by U.S. firms and wealthy individuals who move their money to Panama. The pact also empowers firms incorporated in Panama, including offshored U.S. corporations, to use international tribunals to demand U.S. taxpayer compensation over U.S. policies, such as anti-tax-evasion measures, that the firms claim undermine their "reasonable expectations."
"The presidential candidates are sparring over who would best crack down on offshore tax evasion and reduce our budget deficit, so it's a sorry statement about the power of corporate campaign money that both candidates support a pact with the hemisphere's leading tax haven," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch. "Deficit-cutting promises run completely contrary to this deal, which will limit the incoming administration's ability to make U.S. corporations and wealthy individuals pay their taxes."
In June 2012, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), which tracks countries' tax haven statuses, reported that Panama remains one of a handful of countries in the world that has not passed a first-stage review of its tax transparency measures. The OECD noted Panama's nearly unparalleled nonconformity on six of nine regulatory checks against tax evasion. Even the Cayman Islands did not earn that dubious distinction.
A 2010 U.S. Tax Information Exchange Agreement with Panama, touted by the Obama administration as significantly improving Panamanian tax evasion problems, has failed to deter banking secrecy on the ground in Panama, as the recent OECD report highlighted. A large loophole in the tax treaty allows Panama to deny tax information requests about U.S. firms and citizens if revealing the information is "contrary to the public policy" of Panama, a country that earns much of its revenue by providing tax haven services.
Congress passed the Panama FTA despite opposition from two out of three House Democrats and despite U.S. public opinion polling that revealed FTA opposition as the dominant position of Democrats and Republicans alike. Since then, the U.S. government has pressured Panama to provide large U.S. pharmaceutical firms with new monopoly patent protections that increase medicine prices. Panama, however, was not required to alter its banking secrecy practices or to change its two-track tax system, which provides tax-free status to foreign corporations, nor to eliminate tax-evasion tools such as bearer share corporations, which are owned by whomever physically controls paper shares with no recording of ownership transfers required.
Panama is home to more than 400,000 corporations, many of them U.S. subsidiaries, which amounts to one corporation for every nine Panamanians. The FTA's extreme investment and financial services provisions bar the U.S. government from limiting U.S. corporations' transactions with Panama-based subsidiaries, while granting the subsidiaries the right to directly challenge the U.S. government in foreign tribunals for U.S. regulations to rein in tax evasion.
FTAs with Korea and Colombia were passed on the same day as the Panama pact in 2011. Since those deals went into effect, U.S. exports to Korea have declined and imports from both Korea and Colombia have surged, increasing the job-killing U.S. trade deficit.
The Obama administration's claim that the Panama FTA "supports the President's goal of doubling of U.S. exports to support well-paying jobs at home" repeats an identical claim made during the launch of the Korea FTA. Under that parallel deal, U.S. goods exports to Korea have fallen by more than $1.2 billion while imports have risen in comparison to 2011 levels for the same period. As a result, the U.S.-Korea trade deficit has soared by 34 percent, costing thousands of U.S. jobs. Both the Korea and Panama FTAs include provisions, borrowed from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), that incentivize offshoring of investment. In addition to limiting how U.S. officials may combat tax dodging by U.S. firms in Panama, the FTA grants special benefits to U.S. corporations that incorporate in Panama. These offshoring incentives include a guaranteed minimum standard of treatment, compensation for regulatory costs and the ability to sue the Panamanian government in foreign tribunals if it enacts policies that undermine foreign firms' expected future profits.
For more information about the Panama FTA, visit https://citizen.org/panama-fta.
Public Citizen is a nonprofit consumer advocacy organization that champions the public interest in the halls of power. We defend democracy, resist corporate power and work to ensure that government works for the people - not for big corporations. Founded in 1971, we now have 500,000 members and supporters throughout the country.(202) 588-1000
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," said one campaigner.
Drugmaker BioNTech and the German government pushed Twitter to "hide" posts by activists calling on Big Pharma to temporarily lift patents on Covid-19 vaccines—a move which would have given people the Global South greater access to the lifesaving inoculations, a report published Monday by The Intercept revealed.
Twitter lobbyist Nina Morschhaeuser "flagged the corporate accounts of Pfizer, BioNTech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca for her colleagues to monitor and shield from activists," according to The Intercept's Lee Fang. An email from Morschhaeuser said the German Federal Office for Information Security also contacted Twitter on behalf of BioNTech, whose spokesperson, Jasmina Alatovic, asked the social media giant to "hide" activist tweets targeting her company's account for two days.
Morschhaeuser, meanwhile, requested that colleagues track the hashtags #PeoplesVaccine—a movement for the temporary lifting of patent protections—and #JoinCTAP, a reference to the World Health Organization's Covid-19 Technology Access Pool. Morschhaeuser further warned that the advocacy group Global Justice Now shared an online signup form for a December 2020 People's Vaccine Day of Action.
"The allegations in this article suggest that government and industry tried to silence legitimate criticism during a crisis," Maaza Seyoum, Global South convener at the People's Vaccine Alliance, said in a statement Monday. "At a time when online mobilizations were one of the few forms of protest available to the public, Twitter was seemingly asked to shield the powerful from criticism. That should worry all those who care about accountability."
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 REACTION: German government and @BioNTech_Group asked Twitter to censor vaccine equity critics.\n\nNew #TwitterFiles piece by @lhfang shows how they worked to silence activists demanding a #PeoplesVaccine\n\nRead our reaction: https://t.co/VyaSBIbWnS\n\n1/\u201d— The People's Vaccine (@The People's Vaccine) 1673889107
Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden also noted the troubling timing of BioNTech's censorship request during a period of global pandemic lockdowns.
"To try and stifle digital dissent during a pandemic, when tweets and emails are some of the only forms of protest available to those locked in their homes, is deeply sinister," he told The Intercept.
It is not clear to what extent Twitter took any action on BioNTech's request. In response to Morschhaeuser's inquiry, several Twitter officials chimed in, debating what action could or could not be taken. Su Fern Teo, a member of the company's safety team, noted that a quick scan of the activist campaign showed nothing that violated the company's terms of service, and asked for more examples to "get a better sense of the content that may violate our policies."
But it shows the extent to which pharmaceutical giants engaged in a global lobbying blitz to ensure corporate dominance over the medical products that became central to combating the pandemic. Ultimately, the campaign to share Covid vaccine recipes around the world failed.
While U.S. President Joe Biden in 2021 heeded activists' calls and joined most of the Global South in backing a Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver at the World Trade Organization, most rich nations—including Germany—oppose the policy and have, along with Big Pharma, fought to thwart it.
"If the German government wants to show that it is now willing to side with public health over private profit, it must change its approach to pandemic response," Seyoum asserted. "That means backing efforts at the World Trade Organization to improve access to generic Covid-19 medicines and treatments, supporting the World Health Organization's mRNA Hub in South Africa, and standing up to corporate interests in negotiations over a Pandemic Treaty."
Critics rebuke U.S. climate envoy for calling Sultan al-Jaber a "terrific choice."
Progressives on Monday reacted with outrage and disbelief after U.S. climate envoy John Kerry backed the appointment of Sultan al-Jaber to lead the the United Nations' annual conference on the climate emergency, saying the CEO of the United Arab Emirates' state-run oil company was not only qualified to preside over the summit, but that his background strengthened the case for his presidency.
As Common Dreamsreported last week, the UAE named al-Jaber as president of the 28th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28), scheduled to begin in November—a decision that was met with scorn from campaigners as al-Jaber is heads the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and a renewable energy firm in which ADNOC holds a 24% stake.
"I think that Dr. Sultan al-Jaber is a terrific choice because he is the head of the company. That company knows it needs to transition," Kerry told the Associated Press Sunday, despite the fact that scientists and advocates across the globe have also known for decades that policymakers must lead a rapid transition away from oil and gas-generated energy. "He knows—and the leadership of the UAE is committed to transitioning."
Advocates have warned that the UAE has not made clear how it plans to reach its stated goal of being carbon neutral by 2050, especially as it plans to increase production of crude oil by a million barrels per day.
The UAE is expected to become "the third largest expander of oil and gas production" between 2023 and 2025 as ADNOC embarks on the second-largest expansion of oil production of any company in the world, locking in more than 2.7 gigatonnes of CO2 emissions.
But when asked by Sky News Arabia about whether al-Jaber would have a conflict of interest at the conference, where leaders are expected to be pushed to take significant emissions-reduction steps, Kerry dismissed the concern.
"That's a first blush, very simplistic way to look at this," Kerry said, adding that "the only way we will meet this crisis and protect our citizens and build an economy for the future, is by reducing emissions."
Putting the ADNOC executive—who is also the UAE's climate enjoy and minister of industry and technology—in charge of COP28 drew comparisons from Progressive International leader Yanis Varoufaki to naming "a jihadist to oversee religious tolerance" or "a Nazi to oversee racial harmony."
"What could go wrong?" labor historian Erik Loomis asked sardonically.
\u201cJeffrey Dahmer placed to oversee anti-cannibalism commission. \n\nhttps://t.co/D7Yyz2MMAw\u201d— Erik Loomis (@Erik Loomis) 1673888060
COP28 will follow the two most recent international climate conferences, held in Glasgow, Scotland and Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where hundreds of fossil fuel lobbyists were in attendance and policymakers failed to hammer out a final agreement requiring countries to phase out oil, coal, and gas extraction.
Kerry toldSky News Arabia that the UAE was not "involved in changing" the outcome of the COP26 and COP27 talks.
The former secretary of state acknowledged that there would be "a level of scrutiny" aimed at al-Jaber's appointment.
"And I think that's going to be very constructive," he told the AP. "It's going to help people, you know, stay on the line here. I think this is a time, a new time of accountability."
Acknowledging Kerry's negotiating of the Paris climate agreement in 2015—which despite its many flaws and shortcomings represents the strongest global pact ever reached on the issue—Leo Roberts of the climate think tank E3G said on social media that the U.S. politician's endorsement of el-Jaber represents "a really rather spectacular fall from grace."
"I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward," said one demonstrator dressed as the Grim Reaper.
Tens of thousands marched in Madrid, Spain on Sunday to stop the right-wing regional government's ongoing attack on the public healthcare system.
"Cutting public health is criminal!" demonstrators chanted as they held placards against the push for privatization and cuts.
\u201cTens of thousands of health workers took to the streets of Madrid on Sunday to lodge their protests against what they consider an erosion of public health infrastructure.\n\nhttps://t.co/asGkvSgAle\u201d— DW Europe (@DW Europe) 1673869377
According to the Associated Press:
Carrying homemade signs with slogans that translated into English as "S.O.S. Public Healthcare" snd "Stop Privatization," the marchers clamored against staff shortages and criticized what they consider the favoritism shown by regional authorities toward private health care providers.
The event was the latest in a series of protest actions, including strikes, by Madrid’s public health workers against the capital region’s government, which is led by Popular Party heavyweight Isabel Ayuso.
The unions that organized Sunday's demonstration said Madrid spends the least amount per capita on primary health care of any Spanish region even though it has the highest per capita income. They claim that for every 2 euros spent on health care in Madrid, one ends up in the private sector.
"We have about 40 or 50 patients per day and can give them about six minutes each," Ana Encinas, a doctor who has worked in primary care in the nation's capital for 37 years, toldReuters. "The problem is that they do not allow us to give proper care to patients."
One protester in the crowd—led by doctors, nurses, labor groups, and other defenders of public health—was dressed as the Grim Reaper and held a sign that said: "I am Ayuso's plan for the emergency ward."