The Trans Fat-cific Partnership – Clogging the artery of local democracy and sustainability

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The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is referred to as a “trade agreement” between the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations but it is a Trojan horse for granting even more privileges and undeserved rights for multinational elite mega-firms. To state it bluntly, the TPP basically lets a cabal of foolish lawyers interfere with saving the planet. If the TPP is approved in its current form, it will basically pull the rug out from any efforts to cultivate sustainable local economies and food systems. That is why The Land Stewardship project is one of many groups who has been mobilizing to stop it from being approved by the US Congress. Similar to Trans Fats, the TPP is an artificially concocted health hazard that needs to be labeled, publically denounced, avoided, boycotted and then banned.

On Thursday April 16th, 2015 leaders in the U.S. House and Senate leaders announced that they have reached a deal on legislation aimed at ramming the Trans Pacific Partnership through Congress. They intoduced a bill usually known as Fast Track but formally titled “The Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015, TPA-2015”. It will come to a vote in coming weeks and must be stopped at all costs. Elite corporate interests are pushing hard for this fast track bill in order to limit the opportunity that public opposition has to stop overall approval of the TPP. 

 

This is a Community Voices submission and is moderated but not edited. The opinions expressed by Community Voices contributors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the TC Daily Planet.

SUING FOR PROFITS THAT THEY WOULD HAVE MADE

There is a most particularly problematic part of the TPP is a type of arbitration called the “investor state dispute settlement”. It means multinational elite mega-corporations are awarded the privilege to sue any democratically-elected state, federal or local governing bodies for taxpayer dollars over any pro-environment/ pro-worker laws the corporatists deem as an impediment to “expected future profits.”  An elected government requiring GMO food and and country of origin labeling for meat products are good examples of what would trigger a multinational elite mega-firm to sue for profits that they would have made. 

Any such public policies or citizen safeguards that dare to impede the machine of reaping maximum profits at all costs are selectively slapped with the label of “an unfair barrier to trade” or “erecting artificial trade barriers” by these all-empowered corporate lawyers when trade is not even the real issue at hand. Then this “lawsuit” claiming an unfair barrier to “trade” will be taken not to a regular court but will be arbitrted by an international tribunal where the same biggest corporate interests get the privilege play the roles of judge, jury and executioner and that is closed off from all outside influence.

Such trans-national autocracy is already happening. Under the WTO “trade authority”, the American Electronics Association, (AeA) took the European Union “to court” in order to resist proposals for a ban on toxic components and for the use of a minimum 5% recycled plastic in the manufacture of electronic goods. According to the American NGO Public Citizen, the AeA “made the astounding claim that there is no evidence that heavy metals, like lead, pose a threat to human health or the environment”. This goes to show the unscupolous actors who would be inclined to take advantage of the investor state dispute settlement will lie and decive to get their way.  

In such cases, the sovereignty of nations, elected bodies or coalitions are no longer a respected given. Multinational corporations and elite mega-firms hence become the new sovereign. It is a double standard to utilize free market ideology as a justification. Penalizing requirements for GMO or country of origin labeling is an assault on the genuine free market because obstructing complete information on products prevents people from achieving the market ideal of voting with their dollars for their values and what they truly want. Speakign to the theme of Trans Fars, at least trans-fats are now labeled and so people can choose to avoid them!

THE TPP DYSTOPIA

Here is a narrative that describes what things would be like if the TPP-empowered corporate lawyers become are permitted to become defacto rulers of the world.

Supposed I am a manager a local school cafeteria and I really want to buy healthy food from local organic farmers I personally know and support. My freedom and liberty to pursue that happiness is denied to me under the TPP anti-procurement policies because it infringes on the so-called “right” that all-entitled big agribusiness has to its market share (and to shove whatever GMO frankenfoods they may wish to down our children’s throats). That local organic farmer who wants to sell to the local school cafeteria is genuinely trying to do well by going good. He does not want secret fracking chemicals to contaminate the water supply for his produce so he successfully lobbies his local government to ban fracking in his jurisdiction. Then the TPP emboldens the all-entitled drilling companies to interfere in the free market of democratic decision making and sue for millions of dollars in profits that they would have make if the fracking ban was never put in place! This is already happening too much in the world. Already under NAFTA, an oil company is suing a town in Quebec for $250 Millionin damages because they established a moratorium on fracking. 

If Minneapolis, Minnesota raises its minimum wage to $15, then multinational corporations could use the TPP sue the city and force taxpayers to pay for the profits that they would have made. The TPP gives a great green light thumbs up to attacking workers’ rights to organize. 

This dystopian TPP world where the investor state dispute settlement reigns supreme leaves no safe haven to run and hide for those who have an actual shred of respect for fairness and reason. This is what it looks like if the artieries of local democracy and sustainable community development get clogged with Trans fats.

OBSESSIVE SECRECY

It is an intelligent question to ask who has actually spoken out in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. One of them is David MacLennan CEO of Cargill wrote in the Star Tribune how the TPP is “open trade” that will enable greater consumer choice, create jobs, lower prices, secure food supply, foster competition and so on. How can we trust any talking point promises of prosperity that the cheerleaders for the TPP promise when the TPP itself is enshrouded in such obsessive secrecy? The actual text of the TPP has been intentionally kept secret from the public. Who is able to see the text? 600 or so mostly corporate “advisers” are the only ones deemed to be pure enough status in order to have access to the text. It is no surprise that only corporations are considered to be legitimate enough stakeholders for the drafters of the TPP. No one else, even most lawmakers from the participating countries, gets to have any input or to even see the draft language. The TPP has been negotiated in secret since 2008 among some of the world’s most powerful corporations and Wall Street banks while our elected representatives and the public have been shut out. Some lawmakets have seen the draft language but are not permitted to talk about it in public. The TPP is somehow considered a treaty and treaties are often negotiated in tight secrecy due to legitimate security conserns.

We only know what we do about the TPP because thankfully Wikileaks released a draft version of the ‘Environment Chapter’ from the Trans-Pacific Partnership which basically confirms what we already suspected. The only environmental protections the TPP wants to get its public relations points from are toothless window dressing policies, with no substantial enforcement measures and no penalties given to a state if they do not implement the already weak plan. The TPP standards are of a global race to the bottom nature. In other words, they fall below the standards for US free trade agreements set in May 2007 when the Democratic-controlled Congress reached a deal with President George W Bush.

FAST TRACK, OR FATS TRANS?

Early in 2014, I personally was part of a group of over a dozen that met with a staffer at the Minneapolis office of Senator Amy Klobuchar out of worries she might be convinced to vote for the TPP. We were told by her staffer not to worry because Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, backed up by labor union support, had essentially put the brakes on the TPP train by declaring his opposition to “fast-track” authority for “trade” agreements. What is “fast track”, or better yet “fats trans” authority? Under fast track authority elected representatives and senators can’t give any amendments or any filibusters to the TPP with only a strict time limit for debate. Without the authority to fast track the TPP straight into an up or down vote, the TPP would be picked apart by scrutinous legislators who will uncover enough unsavory aspects to stop the Trojan Horse boondoggle dead in its tracks. To revisit the metaphor, granting Fast Track authority means that we are not allowed to include Trans fats on food product labels, so consumers/ legislators are denied the most powerful means to boycott the products that are dangerous to them. 

It is strategic to keep opposition to the TPP untainted by partisanship because it is a rare issue that has provoked opposition both from progressive and from the Tea Party. But voters were not without warning before last year’s mid-term elections. According to an Article in The Hill released in September 2014- titled “GOP Senate’s first 100 days” Senators Bob Corker (R-TN) and Rob Portman (R-OH) said approving fast track authority for “trade” agreements is among the top of the list for Republicans if they gain control of the US Senate. If they are speaking for every GOP senator, then this means same party that has issued over 400 filibusters in recent years all of the sudden wants an immediate up or down vote with no filibuster debate for this one special case. Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), a member of the Republican leadership, said Obama might sign both the Keystone XL pipeline and fast-track legislation approved by a GOP Senate. “Both of them if they were on his desk would be hard things for the president not to agree on,” he said according to the Hill article. To Senator Blunt’s credit, President Obama did announcce in his State of the Union address his support of fast track authority for trade agreements in rather coded language. 

Public outrcry must make the case to President Obama and members of congress from both parties that nothing could hardly be more treasonous than Fast Track. The only reason why a legislator would actually want fast track is because they are bought off by the corporatists and are salviating for getting the TPP corporate bonanza at all costs but know the TPP will be too unpopular to pass congress otherwise. They know damn well the TPP would not survive if it had to stand up to the usual public scrutiny and congressional input.

If you are a legislator pushing for fast track you are hence declaring oneself to be in hot pursuit of something you know full well to be too detrimental to the public interest to withstand honest scrutiny. Why else would you be so determined want to deny other lawmakers an opportunity to bring daylight to the TPP before voting on it? Fast Track Authority for Trade Agreements is a relic of the Nixon era in the 1970s when trade negotiations were mostly about quotas and tariffs rather than thousands of pages of a retrograde corporate power grab wish list that has nothing to do with trade.

President Obama in recent months has finally been talking a full vocal game and has make setting and meeting national and international climate goals a top priority for executive initiatives. So why on earth would President Obama support the Trans-Pacific Partnership and gives the fossil fuel industry its most powerful weapon ever to shut down climate action? Text leaked from the TPP, shows that it would award multinational fossil fuel corporations like Exxon the right to sue any city, state or national government bans fracking, or stops a pipeline, or puts a price on carbon pollution or any climate action thathurts their profits. How unjust could it possibly be to put taxpayers on the hook to bail out big carbon, when we finally get climate action strong enough to hit their bottom lines?


GLOBALIZATION IN REVERSE

Fast Track may be justified on behalf of some national or international security pretext, the same rationalization they use to keep the TPP or other “trade deals” secret from the public. However, there are many more reasons why this decades-long experiment with corporate globalization puts international security at risk. It has already proven to be a socioeconomic cancer for subsistence people and ecosystems across the world.

What we need to encourage is local self-sufficiency with food and energy. The ship of corporate globalization is destined to sink once we strike the iceberg of peak oil and prohibitively higher global shipping costs. Using WTO-style governance to penalize nation’s environmental efforts to jumpstart local clean energy is like slashing lifeboats off of the Titanic in hopes that the ship would sink just a little bit slower. At just the moment we need to be building up local community resilience to face peak oil and climate disruption, the TPP threatens to slam the accelerator down in the opposite direction from which we need to go.

This is a price we have to pay for political leaders who talk about the economy as if there is no such thing as peak oil. It is the price we have to pay for having a media where the Transition Town perspective of spinning globalization in reverse to build community resilience does not get a slot on the Sunday talk shows. But together with groups like the Land Stewardship Project, we can build avenue where we could voice these pro- sustainability, pro-local self determination values and to label the Trans- Pacific- Partnership as the TRANS paciFic pArTnerShip.