The Transpacific Partnership or TPP, the trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim countries that has been secretly negotiated and just released on November 5th would likely make Joseph Goebbels and Edward Bernays proud if they were alive today. It is one of the biggest pieces of shameless propaganda disguised as a “free trade” agreement that currently exists. It began as the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement signed by Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, and Singapore in 2005. Three years later Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the United States, and Vietnam joined the agreement and argued for it to have a much wider reach. The preamble of the document begins as typical, capitalist, “free market” propaganda does. They declare all parties involved are committed to all the right concerns like public safety, jobs, sustainability, welfare, the environment and so on, but it then it goes onto to explain how exactly they will erode our power to regulate corporations to ensure that they don’t destroy all these facets of our world simply because of their greed. According to research by Tufts University in Massachusetts conducted in 2014, Europe would actually lose about 600,000 jobs by 2025 with the TTIP in place and lead to a loss in personal income of between $165 and $5,500 depending on the country. This is not surprising as these trade agreements encourage outsourcing and only benefit the heads of the corporations involved.
Even parts of the preamble foreshadow the more dystopic provisions of the TPP like this paragraph, which states one of the goals of the TPP is to “AFFIRM that state-owned enterprises can play a legitimate role in the diverse economies of the Parties, while recognising that the provision of unfair advantages to state-owned enterprises undermines fair and open trade and investment, and resolve to establish rules for state-owned enterprises that promote a level playing field with privately owned businesses, transparency and sound business practices.” Giving state-owned enterprises advantages in the marketplace can be very positive. For example, nationalizing vital resources and distributing them freely or at a very low cost can save countless lives. The corporations that sell those resources can lose money in this process but that should not be a concern of the government or the people. Corporations should not have a level playing field with governments. Governments are supposed to operate to fulfill public interest and although they often don’t, the public at least has a say over their affairs and can make them accountable, whereas corporations have absolutely no obligation to serve public interest and purely operate for profit. They are a potentially more dangerous form of authority than governments for this reason.
Typical in capitalist propaganda, the term “free trade” in the TPP refers to the supposed “freedom” and “right” corporations have to extract as much resources from the Earth for profit, regardless of the cost to everyone else. Of course, there are good reasons regulations on corporations exist and while I am an anarchist and I don’t think the state is particularly effective at regulating corporations or enforcing these regulations, (Obama’s enthusiasm about the TPP and his record of crony capitalism is proof alone of this) many of the regulations on corporations that are in place right now are important because they do protect us and the environment (albeit in limited ways).
There are good reasons the EU has enacted labeling laws, laws against GMOs, chlorinated chicken, hormone treated meat, and cloned cattle. They are dangerous to public health, animals, and the environment. GMOs have been shown to be linked to cancer and autism, and most GMOs are designed to withstand the endless pesticide treadmill that enriches large agrichemical corporations like Monsanto, which spray their poison everywhere, pollute the water and soil, and sue farmers for “copyright infringement” when their GMO pollen infects and pollinates farmers’ plants. Over 60 countries have banned the use of GMOs but with the TPP in place, corporations can sue governments for labeling laws, laws against GMOs, chlorinated chicken, hormone treated meat, cloned cattle and anything else they deem “hurt their profits.” They argue they are entitled to all the money they would have made had these laws not existed, which is nothing short of insane. By the same logic corporations could argue they have the right to sue governments for their laws against slavery, which they could present as a “trade barrier” to their extraction of free labor. Because they claim they are “entitled” to profits by any means necessary, there is virtually nothing they can’t hypothetically lay claim to. They might as well try to sue governments for their laws against stealing. Those laws certainly represent a great deal of “lost profit.”
Corporations are succeeding in arguing the world is theirs for the taking and that their profits made by any means necessary trump public safety and the Earth we live in importance while at the same time touting how committed they are to public safety, jobs, welfare, the environment and so on. The TPP could be summed as follows: The world belongs to corporate monopolies, our powers supersede all other laws, our profits are the most important concern in the world, and if you stand in our way we will use our legal armies to bury you.
They are arguing they have this power by using the hegemonic World Bank’s tribunals that only apply to them with the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of the TPP. Corporations have already begun suing for “lost profits” they would have made had sensible laws restricting their destruction not been enacted. The TPP says these tribunals will be open to the public. However, the TPP also states “If a disputing party intends to use information in a hearing that is designated as protected information or otherwise subject to paragraph 3 it shall so advise the tribunal. The tribunal shall make appropriate arrangements to protect such information from disclosure which may include closing the hearing for the duration of the discussion of that information.” Because they decide what qualifies as “protected information” they could argue the bulk of the case is “protected” and therefore closed to the public, limiting our ability to know what they are even suing for or what is at stake.
Another provision in the Investment chapter of the TPP essentially allows corporations to sue if governments decide to expropriate anything unless it interferes with a property right. The TPP states “An action or a series of actions by a Party cannot constitute an expropriation unless it interferes with a tangible or intangible property right or property interest in an investment.” Therefore, if a government wanted to expropriate or nationalize ground water, for example, and make it free for all so that corporations couldn’t lay claim to it and charge people for it, they could theoretically sue for “lost profits” they would have made by extracting that water that isn’t theirs. They could also claim that the government’s free water is decreasing the prices at which corporations can sell their water and therefore they are “owed” compensation for “lost profits.”
Governments, much less the people, are not afforded this same right in the TPP. According to this document, there is no legitimate nationalization or expropriation without property right infringement. People have no inherent rights to resources or property without a title, deed, or receipt, but these corporations do. The Week‘s Ryan Cooper, said of the TPP “When it comes to dispute settlement, corporations are just looking for ways to abuse the state’s monopoly on force for private gain.”
In October of 2015 economists Joseph Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh wrote of the TPP “To be sure investors — wherever they call home — deserve protection from expropriation or discriminatory regulations. But ISDS goes much further: The obligation to compensate investors for losses of expected profits can and has been applied even where rules are nondiscriminatory and profits are made from causing public harm. … Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice — first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product.”
Of the environment the TPP claims to be committed to its welfare, but it also says “The Parties further recognise that it is inappropriate to establish or use their environmental laws or other measures in a manner which would constitute a disguised restriction on trade or investment between the Parties.” The World Bank’s tribunals will deem what is a “disguised restriction” on trade so they could decide that oil that governments have decided must be left in the ground to limit contributions to global warming is not really an environmental protection but rather a “barrier to trade.” The TPP also states that countries can only institute a forest or agricultural safe guard measure if “the aggregate volume of [agricultural or forest] imports of those originating goods” exceeds a certain number of metric tons or square meters that they deem appropriate. These numbers are to increase every year and they are listed in the TPP.
As stated, companies have already begun suing governments for damages for laws that prevent their destructive practices under other free trade agreements, of which there are over 3000 that govern international, investor-state disputes. For example, in 2012 a Canadian company, Lone Pine Resources, sued the Canadian government “under Article 1117 of the NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] for the arbitrary, capricious, and illegal revocation of the Enterprise’s valuable right to mine for oil and gas under the St. Lawrence River by the Government of Quebec without due process, without compensation, and with no cognizable public purpose.i” They sued for $250 million. Of course, there was a very cognizable purpose to restricting their mining, despite the company’s claims. The government was trying to prevent pollution of the St. Lawrence River and limit carbon dioxide in the atmosphere but such concerns aren’t important to corporations like Lone Pine Resources. NAFTA, the agreement used as the justification in the suit, has also killed 700,000 jobs in the US and increased poverty in Southern Mexico where these American jobs were outsourced, at first creating many jobs in Mexico that vanished as soon as the WTO invited these corporations to outsource the same jobs to China where labor protections are even weaker. The same is likely to occur with the TPP in Vietnam where “labor unions are illegal and workers are paid one half to one third of what Chinese workers are paid.ii” There are also many provisions in the TPP that exclude Vietnam and other smaller signatories like Brunei and Malaysia from protections in place. Of course, they will get the raw end of the deal.
The government of Ecuador was also sued for $1.77 billion (including interest the figure was $2.3 billion) by US oil company, Occidental Petroleum when the government terminated their contract in 2006 because they violated a provision of the contract by selling part of its oil exploration concession without the approval of the government. Exxon Mobil also sued Venezuela for nationalizing oil projects in 2007 and received $1.6 billion from the country in 2014iii, and it’s not only oil companies that have taken advantage of these ridiculous “free-trade” agreements. In 2010 Phillip Morris sued Uruguay for $25 million under the bilateral investment treaty between Switzerland and Uruguay for its anti-smoking legislation, claiming that it “devalued their trademarks.” Phillip Morris also filed a similar suit against Norway for its ban on display of tobacco products, which it fortunately lost.
Australia enacted similar laws along with additional laws requires the plain packaging of cigarettes that warn consumers of the dangers of smoking and in 2011 Phillip Morris sued Australia under the Hong Kong bilateral investment treaty with Australia. It lost this case as well, but it didn’t stop them from continuing to sue several other countries for similar laws. Most recently, Phillip Morris and British American Tobacco also filed suit against Britain for plans for plain packaging laws this year, seeking $17.1 billion dollars. With all of these lawsuits, a question arises: what if the government were to criminalize tobacco? Would they still seek compensation or more of it since they consider selling the most lethal substance on Earth as some kind of right? When Bayer legally sold heroin in America in the 19th century, no lawyer at Bayer ever considered suing the government for making the substance illegal. Certainly, this would have been laughed off, just as a drug lord trying to sue a government for criminalizing cocaine would be. But because the the legal teams and lobbyists of these corporations have become so powerful and they have invented so many of these “free trade” agreements with absurd scope, all of this is on the table.
The TPP seems to be prepared for the criminalization of tobacco and other products these corporations sell. They could argue laws against it violate this provision of the agreement: “Except as otherwise provided in this Agreement, no Party shall adopt or maintain any prohibition or restriction on the importation of any good of another Party or on the exportation or sale for export of any good destined for the territory of another Party, except in accordance with Article XI of the GATT 1994 and its interpretative notes, and to this end Article XI of the GATT 1994 and its interpretive notes are incorporated into and made a part of this Agreement, mutatis mutandis.”
Mining companies have also sued governments under the same free-trade agreements for restricting these companies from mining protected land. This year Pacific Rim, a Canadian Gold company now owned by OceanaGold sued El Salvador for $301 million, half of its national budget for not allowing gold to be dug up within its borders due to concerns about drilling poisoning the water.iv The country has already spent $6 million in court defending itself. So according Pacific Rim clean drinking water is not a right for El Salvadoreans but making a profit digging up their gold and poisoning their water is a corporate right. Is your blood starting to boil?
The TPP also aims to eliminate tariffs for trading across borders of the countries involved. Tariffs can ensure local economies grow instead of importing the cheapest products possible made with child labor, slavery, or under deplorable working conditions, so these provisions eliminating tariffs could be potentially very harmful.
The TPP also targets internet freedom and free speech. Evan Greer of the digital rights group, Fight for the Future (FFTF) campaign said of the TPP “If U.S. Congress signs this agreement despite its blatant corruption, they’ll be signing a death warrant for the open Internet and putting the future of free speech in peril.” Section J of chapter 18 on intellectual property which addresses Internet Service Providers (ISPs) requires ISPs to take down any material accused of violating copyrights before they know if these claims are legitimate. The FFTF also explained “a U.S company could order a website to be taken down in another country, and there would be no way for the person running that website to refute their claims if, say, it was a political criticism website using copyrighted content in a manner consistent with fair use. Section J makes it so ISPs are not liable for any wrongdoing when they take down content—incentivizing them to err on the side of copyright holders rather than on the side of free speech.”
This is the provision in the TPP that gives them this power: “With respect to the functions referred to in paragraph 2(c) and paragraph 2(d), these conditions shall include a requirement for Internet Service Providers to expeditiously remove or disable access to material residing on their networks or systems upon obtaining actual knowledge of the copyright infringement or becoming aware of facts or circumstances from which the infringement is apparent, such as through receiving a notice 156 of alleged infringement from the right holder or a person authorised to act on its behalf, (b) An Internet Service Provider that removes or disables access to material in good faith under subparagraph (a) shall be exempt from any liability for having done so, provided that it takes reasonable steps in advance or promptly after to notify the person whose material is removed or disabled.”
Of potentially dangerous pharmaceuticals, the TPP states “The Parties shall seek to improve their collaboration on pharmaceutical inspection, and to that end each Party shall, with respect to the inspection of pharmaceuticals products within the territory of another Party: (a) notify that Party prior to conducting an inspection, unless there are reasonable grounds to believe that doing so could prejudice the effectiveness of the inspection; (b) where practicable, permit representatives of that Party’s competent authority to observe such inspection; and (c) notify that Party of its findings as soon as possible following an inspection and, if the findings will be publicly released, no later than a reasonable time before any such release. However, the inspecting Party is not required to notify its findings if it considers that its findings are confidential and should not be disclosed.” In other words, pharmaceutical corporations will be warned of any upcoming inspections, they get to potentially change their practices or hide them during inspection, and inspectors are not even required to disclose their findings if they are considered “confidential.”
The TTIP or the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a companion agreement to the TPP is perhaps even more dystopic, as is the TiSA or the Trade in Services Agreement, which covers 70% of the global services economy and aims to privatize banking, health care, and transport. The CETA or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the EU is another “free trade” disaster being negotiated right now with similar provisions about copyright infringement as the TPP, ACTA (Anti-counterfeiting Trade Agreement), SOPA, and PIPA have. CETA also sets up investor-state tribunals, which allow corporations to sue governments for “profit losses” and do not give states or people the same ability. To stop TPP, TTIP, TiSA, CETA, and other free-trade disasters like it sign as many petitions as you can like this one, which already has 3 million signatures: https://speakout.38degrees.org.uk/campaigns/european-citizen-s-initiative-eu-put-a-stop-to-ttip-and-ceta-1, protest, sabotage the operations of these corporations, destroy their property, boycott them, hurt their profits in any way possible, write to their CEOs, and write to your representatives, letting them know you won’t stand for another power grab by the world’s hegemonic, imperialistic corporations.