Stop The Fast Track To A Future Of Global Corporate Rule. The Dangers Underlying the TPP and TTIP “Trade Agreements”

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Sev­er­al major inter­na­tion­al agree­ments are under nego­ti­a­tion which would great­ly empow­er multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions and the World Eco­nom­ic Forum is pro­mot­ing a new mod­el of glob­al gov­er­nance that cre­ates a hybrid gov­ern­ment-cor­po­rate struc­ture. Humankind is pro­ceed­ing on a path to glob­al cor­po­rate rule where transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions would not just influ­ence pub­lic pol­i­cy, they would write the poli­cies and vote on them. The pow­er of nation-states and peo­ple to deter­mine their futures would be weak­ened in a sys­tem of cor­po­rate rule. 

The Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion has been nego­ti­at­ing the Trans-Pacif­ic Part­ner­ship (TPP) and the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship (TTIP) over the past five years (and?) is cur­rent­ly push­ing Con­gress to pass trade pro­mo­tion author­i­ty (known as fast track) which would allow him to sign these agree­ments before they go to Con­gress. Then Con­gress would have a lim­it­ed time to read thou­sands of pages of tech­ni­cal legal lan­guage, debate the con­tents and be banned from mak­ing amendments.

Fast track would dri­ve us down a dan­ger­ous path. The TPP and TTIP have been nego­ti­at­ed with unprece­dent­ed secre­cy. For the first time texts of inter­na­tion­al agree­ments have been clas­si­fied so that mem­bers of Con­gress have had very lim­it­ed access and are not able to dis­cuss what they’ve read. These are more than trade agree­ments. The por­tions that have been leaked show that they will affect every­thing that we care about from the food we eat to the jobs we have to the health of the plan­et. The fast track leg­is­la­tion could last sev­en years, mean­ing that more agree­ments could be rushed through Con­gress with­out open con­sid­er­a­tion of their poten­tial impacts, cement­ing cor­po­rate rule.

Giv­en the harm that has already been done to economies, human rights and the envi­ron­ment by neo-lib­er­al eco­nom­ic sys­tems required by the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion and ‘free’ trade agree­ments such as NAFTA; this is not the time to be rush­ing into new agree­ments or to cede our pow­er to write the future of the planet.

We are in the midst of a crit­i­cal polit­i­cal con­flict over the future of glob­al gov­er­nance. Do we want to be ruled by cor­po­ra­tions or ruled demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly? This not the time to fast track , it is the time to step back and re-think how to con­duct glob­al trade and man­age the glob­al econ­o­my to pre­vent fur­ther exploita­tion and harm.

Twen­ty Years of Expe­ri­ence: Lost Jobs, Trade Deficits and Increased Inequality

Glob­al­iza­tion was ini­ti­at­ed in its cur­rent form by Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton when he signed NAFTA and the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion (WTO). NAFTA came into force on Jan­u­ary 1, 1994 and the WTO became law on Jan­u­ary 1, 1995. Mod­ern trade agree­ments have had seri­ous neg­a­tive effects on the US econ­o­my. Reuters reports:

Since the pacts were imple­ment­ed, U.S. trade deficits, which drag down eco­nom­ic growth, have soared more than 430 per­cent with our free-trade part­ners. In the same peri­od, they’ve declined 11 per­cent with coun­tries that are not free-trade part­ners. Since fast-track trade author­i­ty was used to pass NAFTA and the U.S. entrance into the World Trade Orga­ni­za­tion, the over­all annu­al U.S. trade deficit in goods has more than quadru­pled, from $218 bil­lion to $912 billion.”

Trade agree­ments have also under­mined jobs in the Unit­ed States. Reuters con­tin­ues: “Near­ly 5 mil­lion U.S. man­u­fac­tur­ing jobs — one in four — have been lost since NAFTA and the var­i­ous post-NAF­TA expan­sion deals were enact­ed through fast track.” And, the Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics reports: 3 out of 5 dis­placed work­ers who found a job are earn­ing less mon­ey and one-third took a pay cut of 20% or more.

These are just two exam­ples of many of the neg­a­tive eco­nom­ic impacts. The impacts in oth­er coun­tries are also neg­a­tive. The only ben­e­fi­cia­ries are trans-nation­al mega cor­po­ra­tions which desire to move cap­i­tal and busi­ness­es across bor­ders with­out restric­tions. Trade agree­ments con­sis­tent­ly expand the wealth divide and increase income inequal­i­ty as transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions seek low­er wages and costs in order to increase profits.

The cur­rent glob­al eco­nom­ic sys­tem is unsta­ble because of the con­nec­tions between glob­al trade and glob­al finan­cial mar­kets. Inter­con­nect­ed­ness and a lack of reg­u­la­tion of finance cre­at­ed a cas­cad­ing world­wide impact dur­ing the 2008 finan­cial cri­sis. Around the world, this has led to tremen­dous eco­nom­ic dis­lo­ca­tion and revolts against the unfair econ­o­my and the finan­cial insti­tu­tions and gov­ern­ments that are responsible.

With this record it is not time to fast track more of the same rigged cor­po­rate agree­ments through Con­gress; it is time to stop and ask: How can glob­al trade be made to work for everyone?

At a Cross­roads in Glob­al Governance

The eco­nom­ic crash raised doubts about whether inter­na­tion­al gov­ern­men­tal insti­tu­tions can han­dle the glob­al­ized econ­o­my. It result­ed in calls for trans­for­ma­tion of the gov­ern­ment and econ­o­my from both grass roots revolts protest­ing lost jobs, low­er incomes, aus­ter­i­ty, cor­rup­tion and an unfair econ­o­my as well as from cor­po­rate elites.

The World Eco­nom­ic Forum (WEF) began a Glob­al Redesign Ini­tia­tive (GRI) as a result of the 2008 eco­nom­ic crash (GRI is bankrolled main­ly by Qatar).  WEF par­tic­i­pants saw glob­al­iza­tion threat­ened because there has been a loss of legit­i­ma­cy and inef­fec­tive­ness of glob­al gov­er­nance: Too many coun­tries, orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ple were open­ly crit­i­cal of glob­al­iza­tion and multi­na­tion­al bank­ing.  The WEF blames nation-states, the Unit­ed Nations and groups like the G‑8 for fail­ing to respond appro­pri­ate­ly to the eco­nom­ic cri­sis. In an analy­sis of the GRIthe Cen­ter for Gov­er­nance and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mass­a­chu­setts Boston writes:

WEF is con­cerned that such wide­spread pub­lic skep­ti­cism can lead to wide­spread doubt about the under­ly­ing prin­ci­ples of the glob­al sys­tem. They rec­og­nize that when cor­po­rate lead­ers are seen as lack­ing morals, it does not take much for the insti­tu­tions of glob­al­iza­tion to be seen as immoral. In this sit­u­a­tion, it would become hard­er and hard­er for the G20, for the IMF, or for indi­vid­ual cor­po­rate spokesper­sons to com­mand respect and effec­tive lead­er­ship on glob­al mat­ters of con­cern to the Davos com­mu­ni­ty. They know that it would be increas­ing­ly prob­lem­at­ic if impor­tant mes­sages from the world’s elite lead­ers were ignored by large com­mu­ni­ties of peo­ple around the world.”

To save glob­al­iza­tion the WEF believes gov­er­nance must be redesigned. David Sogge describes their view in “Davos Man”: “When it comes to tack­ling glob­al prob­lems, nation-states and their pub­lic pol­i­tics are not up to the job. Their old, run-down insti­tu­tions should be re-fit­ted …” The WEF solu­tion is a greater role for mul­ti-nation­al cor­po­ra­tions in deci­sion mak­ing and the weak­en­ing of nation-states. They want the UN remade into a hybrid cor­po­rate-gov­ern­ment enti­ty, where cor­po­ra­tions are part of deci­sion-mak­ing. The goal is to end nation-cen­tric deci­sion mak­ing and include cor­po­ra­tions as deci­sion makers.

The WEF points to how trade rules have stalled in the WTO as an exam­ple of the fail­ure of nation-state gov­er­nance. They believe by mak­ing cor­po­ra­tions part­ners in deci­sion mak­ing the ‘can do’ atti­tude of busi­ness will push these rules for­ward where the ‘fail­ure men­tal­i­ty’ of the state-cen­tric sys­tem stalls trade rules.  From the per­spec­tive of people’s move­ments, this is an exam­ple of why we do not want cor­po­ra­tions to replace nations as deci­sion makers.

The WTO has been stalled because their rules are opposed by peo­ple around the globe. There have been mas­sive protests at their nego­ti­a­tions because, for exam­ple, inter­na­tion­al trade agree­ments (mis­named “free” trade, real­ly rigged trade for transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions) have had a dev­as­tat­ing impact on agri­cul­ture by destroy­ing tra­di­tion­al farm­ing, forc­ing farm­ers into cities and cre­at­ing a down­ward depres­sion of wages. Social move­ments oppose poli­cies that pro­mote pri­vate prof­it over pub­lic neces­si­ties.  A grow­ing world­wide move­ment led by com­mu­ni­ties most affect­ed by glob­al­iza­tion seeks anoth­er direction.

In light of the fail­ure of the WTO, the elite’s push toward glob­al cor­po­rate rule is now being cod­i­fied into law through inter­na­tion­al agree­ments like the TPP and Trans-Atlantic Trade and Invest­ment Part­ner­ship. Under these agree­ments cor­po­rate sov­er­eign­ty will increase while the sov­er­eign­ty of gov­ern­ments shrinks and peo­ple lose their abil­i­ty to influ­ence pub­lic pol­i­cy. These cor­po­rate trade agree­ments will cre­ate a series of laws designed to aid cor­po­rate prof­its over the health, safe­ty, income and well-being of most peo­ple and fur­ther under­mine the already at-risk ecol­o­gy of the planet.

Nation­al and local laws will be required to be rewrit­ten to be con­sis­tent with trade agree­ments nego­ti­at­ed in secret. This “har­mo­niza­tion” will require a new bureau­cra­cy to review all laws and reg­u­la­tions for consistency.

The prof­its of transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions will become so impor­tant that gov­ern­ments can be sued if their laws to pro­tect pub­lic health, safe­ty or the plan­et inter­fere with expect­ed prof­its. The cas­es will be heard in spe­cial trade tri­bunals, staffed main­ly by cor­po­rate lawyers on leave from their cor­po­rate jobs. Their deci­sions can­not be appealed to any oth­er courts. This makes the pub­lic inter­est sec­ondary to the mar­ket inter­ests of big business.

The WEF sees itself as the mod­el for future gov­er­nance writ­ing “The time has come for a new stake­hold­er par­a­digm of inter­na­tion­al gov­er­nance anal­o­gous to that embod­ied in the stake­hold­er the­o­ry of cor­po­rate gov­er­nance on which the World Eco­nom­ic Forum itself was found­ed.” The Cen­ter for Gov­er­nance and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty describes this in the con­text of the UN:

This inte­gra­tion of glob­al exec­u­tives with UN diplo­mats and civ­il ser­vants was seen as a way to reju­ve­nate the accep­tance of glob­al­iza­tion. The think­ing is that, if glob­al­iza­tion lead­ers were more involved in the pol­i­cy devel­op­ment and pro­gram imple­men­ta­tion of the UN, then orga­ni­za­tions and peo­ples through­out the world may well look more favor­ably on the legit­i­ma­cy of their com­bined efforts.”

Peo­ple will react in hor­ror to the dystopi­an idea of the UN becom­ing a cor­po­rate-gov­ern­ment hybrid. Peo­ple already see cor­po­ra­tions wield­ing too much influ­ence at the UN and with­in nations. The WEF approach will inflate cor­po­rate pow­er, cre­at­ing a cor­po­rate neo-feu­dal­ism that will kill democ­ra­cy and the body politic.

How did the WEF arrive at this pro­pos­al that so nar­row­ly focus­es on build­ing the pow­er of cor­po­ra­tions, while weak­en­ing nation­al sov­er­eign­ty? The Cen­ter for Glob­al Gov­er­nance and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty describes the process:

A key con­straint for the broad accept­abil­i­ty of WEF’s new sys­tem is the nar­row band of experts they con­vened to devel­op their pro­pos­als. WEF did not call open­ly for pro­pos­als. It did not invite a num­ber of key inter­na­tion­al con­stituen­cies to par­tic­i­pate in the process. And it did not even estab­lish a web­site for pub­lic com­ments. WEF select­ed its friends to work on its Glob­al Redesign Ini­tia­tive. Over 50% of WEF’s experts were work­ing in the US while advis­ing World Eco­nom­ic Forum on this project, hard­ly an indi­ca­tion of a geo­graph­i­cal­ly well bal­anced team. Even though GRI’s finances came heav­i­ly from non-OECD coun­tries, only 2% of its experts were work­ing in devel­op­ing coun­tries at the time. Of WEF’s friends, only 17% were women. This nar­row base has seri­ous con­se­quences. It under­mines the WEF claims that it tru­ly under­stands a mul­ti-polar world and that it has the abil­i­ty to pick the glob­al lead­ers of today and tomorrow.”

This process is exact­ly what must be avoid­ed in the debate on glob­al trade and why we mustn’t allow new agree­ments to be fast tracked through Con­gress. The cur­rent sys­tem has already been too dom­i­nat­ed by the inter­ests of mul­ti-nation­al cor­po­ra­tions and has exclud­ed the voic­es of those who are harmed by its impacts.

We need a broad­er debate on how glob­al­iza­tion should be han­dled. What is the role of transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions? How can transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions with larg­er wealth than some nations be reg­u­lat­ed? How do we ensure the planet’s ecol­o­gy is pro­tect­ed at this crit­i­cal time of the cli­mate change tip­ping point, mass species die-off, oceans under severe stress, deplet­ing aquifers, floods and increas­ing deser­ti­fi­ca­tion? How do we shrink the wealth divide that is impact­ing almost every coun­try, cre­at­ing wide­spread pover­ty and strife?

Twen­ty years into mod­ern cor­po­rate glob­al­iza­tion, we need to stop, think, dis­cuss and debate, not blind­ly fast track more of the same failed sys­tem. Fast track would per­mit pres­i­dents to approve secret­ly nego­ti­at­ed trade agree­ments and rush them through Con­gress with­out trans­paren­cy, pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion or real con­gres­sion­al review for the next sev­en years. This is the oppo­site of is needed.

Sim­i­lar Rhetoric, Dif­fer­ent Visions for the Future

There is a shared frus­tra­tion in the glob­al com­mu­ni­ty with the inabil­i­ty of gov­ern­ments and inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions to respond to the glob­al finan­cial cri­sis. The Unit­ed Nations has short­com­ings. As the Cen­ter got Glob­al Gov­er­nance and Sus­tain­abil­i­ty puts it:

Some are frus­trat­ed with the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem because urgent state func­tions in the inter­na­tion­al are­na are not solved by the UN sys­tem. There are wars and the UN can­not stop them. There are major eco­log­i­cal cat­a­stro­phes and the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem can­not get relief sup­plies into the affect­ed areas fast enough. There are starv­ing peo­ple in Africa and the IGOs do not pre­vent their unnec­es­sary deaths.”

The WEF uses lan­guage very sim­i­lar to what social move­ments use. For exam­ple, the WEF claims it seeks “bot­tom-up” deci­sion-mak­ing, but does not define what that would look like. For social move­ments, this means less hier­ar­chy, pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion, trans­paren­cy, democ­ra­cy and gov­ern­ments lis­ten­ing to the peo­ple at the bot­tom, rather than tak­ing their cue from the elites at the top.

The WEF pro­motes a phi­los­o­phy couched in the con­cept of “mul­ti-stake­holderism,” anoth­er idea con­sis­tent with the view of social move­ments that the world is not unipo­lar, it has many actors.  The WEF uses this con­cept to give transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic non-state actors, deci­sion-mak­ing pow­er, while social move­ments see big busi­ness already hav­ing too much influence.

Mul­ti-nation­al cor­po­ra­tions wield great influ­ence over the glob­al econ­o­my. They decide the dis­tri­b­u­tion of vital neces­si­ties, e.g. the prices and quan­ti­ties of food and med­i­cine, how much work­ers will be paid as well as the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth and the selec­tion of prod­ucts to be man­u­fac­tured and where. Con­trol of inter­na­tion­al mar­kets is more in the deci­sion-mak­ing pow­er of transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions than of gov­ern­ments. WEF sees this as a rea­son to for­mal­ize the deci­sion mak­ing pow­er of transna­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions, mak­ing them part of gov­ern­ment, while people’s move­ments see a need to expand pub­lic par­tic­i­pa­tion in gov­ern­ment to act in the pub­lic inter­est rather than the pri­vate inter­est for com­mer­cial profit.

Which Path For­ward? What You Can Do

David Sogge writes in the “State of Davos” that “By cus­tom and by law, the for­mal man­age­ment of inter­na­tion­al affairs is a mat­ter for sov­er­eign nations and their rep­re­sen­ta­tives.” He points out “the UN Char­ter begins with ‘We the peo­ples’ and affirms the ‘equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.’”

As glob­al­iza­tion begins its third decade, the ques­tion before us is, do we want cor­po­rate rule or people’s rule? Is the wealth of a few more impor­tant than human rights?  What can be done to empow­er peo­ple? Should the nation-state become a thing of the past and cor­po­rate sov­er­eign­ty reign, or is there anoth­er path? This is a debate that can­not be fast tracked; it must be brought into the open before trade agree­ments cement cor­po­rate rule for decades to come.

We urge peo­ple to put their effort into stop­ping fast track leg­is­la­tion in Con­gress. This will not be easy because it is high on the president’s agen­da, many pro-busi­ness leg­is­la­tors and enti­ties like the Cham­ber of Con­gress. It can only be stopped if peo­ple work togeth­er per­sis­tent­ly to oppose it. Get involved here.

We expect that as fast track leg­is­la­tion moves through Con­gress, the White House and cor­po­rate lob­by­ists will inun­date mem­bers of Con­gress with promis­es in exchange for votes. In the past, votes were held open past the legal time lim­it as mem­bers of Con­gress were picked off one by one until there were enough votes to pass.

We need to main­tain per­sis­tent pres­sure on Con­gress to oppose fast track. When we stop fast track, there should be a broad dis­cus­sion of our vision for a glob­al­ized world struc­tured to sup­port uni­ver­sal human rights and pro­tec­tion of the planet.