Sen. Elizabeth Warren: A trade deal’s corporate giveaway
February 27, 2015
The United States is in the final stages of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive free-trade agreement with Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven other countries. Who will benefit from the TPP? American workers? Consumers? Small businesses? Taxpayers? Or the biggest multinational corporations in the world?
One strong hint is buried in the fine print of the closely guarded draft. The provision, an increasingly common feature of trade agreements, is called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. The name may sound mild, but don’t be fooled. Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations. Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.
ISDS would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. laws — and potentially to pick up huge payouts from taxpayers — without ever stepping foot in a U.S. court. Here’s how it would work. Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences. If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators. If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.
If that seems shocking, buckle your seat belt. ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?
If the tilt toward giant corporations wasn’t clear enough, consider who would get to use this special court: only international investors, which are, by and large, big corporations.
Why create these rigged, pseudo-courts at all? What’s so wrong with the U.S. judicial system? Nothing, actually. But after World War II, some investors worried about plunking down their money in developing countries, where the legal systems were not as dependable. They were concerned that a corporation might build a plant one day only to watch a dictator confiscate it the next. To encourage foreign investment in countries with weak legal systems, the United States and other nations began to include ISDS in trade agreements.
Those justifications don’t make sense anymore, if they ever did. Countries in the TPP are hardly emerging economies with weak legal systems. Australia and Japan have well-developed, well-respected legal systems, and multinational corporations navigate those systems every day, but ISDS would pre-empt their courts too. And to the extent there are countries that are riskier politically, market competition can solve the problem. Countries that respect property rights and the rule of law — such as the United States — should be more competitive, and if a company wants to invest in a country with a weak legal system, then it should buy political-risk insurance.
The use of ISDS is on the rise around the globe. From 1959 to 2002, there were fewer than 100 ISDS claims worldwide. But in 2012 alone, there were 58 cases. Recent cases include a French company that sued Egypt because Egypt raised its minimum wage, a Swedish company that sued Germany because Germany decided to phase out nuclear power after Japan’s Fukushima disaster, and a Dutch company that sued the Czech Republic because the Czechs didn’t bail out a bank that the company partially owned. U.S. corporations have also gotten in on the action: Philip Morris is trying to use ISDS to stop Uruguay from implementing new tobacco regulations intended to cut smoking rates.
ISDS advocates point out that, so far, this process hasn’t harmed the United States. And our negotiators, who refuse to share the text of the TPP publicly, assure us that it will include a bigger, better version of ISDS that will protect our ability to regulate in the public interest. But with the number of ISDS cases exploding and more and more multinational corporations headquartered abroad, it is only a matter of time before such a challenge does serious damage here. Replacing the U.S. legal system with a complex and unnecessary alternative — on the assumption that nothing could possibly go wrong — seems like a really bad idea.
This isn’t a partisan issue. Conservatives who believe in U.S. sovereignty should be outraged that ISDS would shift power from American courts, whose authority is derived from our Constitution, to unaccountable international tribunals. Libertarians should be offended that ISDS effectively would offer a free taxpayer subsidy to countries with weak legal systems. And progressives should oppose ISDS because it would allow big multinationals to weaken labor and environmental rules.
Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal. If a final TPP agreement includes Investor-State Dispute Settlement, the only winners will be multinational corporations.
Elizabeth Warren, a Democrat, represents Massachusetts in the Senate. This column first appeared in The Washington Post.
January 4, 2015
It’s been over six years since the Cianbro Corp. published its feasibility study on the 220-mile strip of industrial development known as the East-West Corridor.
Since Cianbro CEO Peter Vigue met with strident opposition after airing his plan before the Penobscot County commissioners in Bangor in May 2013, the status of this construction project – which would be the largest in Maine’s history – has been shrouded in the same secrecy that has characterized the process all along.
No one in the affected regions asked for this project, no democratic process spawned it, yet many have experienced Cianbro employees showing up in our towns telling us, “This is going to happen.” As a result, many Maine citizens living near the proposed route continue to live with the stress of uncertainty, unable to make informed decisions about their futures.
In addition, many Maine working people who passionately believe that the East-West Corridor is inappropriate development for our state are spending their own money and time organizing and raising awareness about the effects of this project. There are no deep-pocketed corporations sponsoring the opposition.
It’s simply not right that a Maine corporation can wield this kind of power and control over Maine people, and what we have here is nothing more than a local example of the corrosive corporate hegemony extant in this country.
It’s past time for the Cianbro Corp. to step up, and not just make the process transparent, but also take this boondoggle of a project off the table once and for all.
Note: this Letter also published in the Ellsworth American, and Bangor Daily News
SEPTEMBER 3, 2014 | Global Justice Ecology Project
The city of Detroit’s state appointed emergency manager has hired the notorious Veolia North America, the American subsidiary of the equally notorious Veolia Environment, headquartered in Paris. Veolia, one of the leading privatizers of water systems in the world and Veolia North America has colonized American cities, especially those located on the Great Lakes.
The Company has been hired to “advise” the city on “how to find cost savings” in the sewer and water department. The city has now opened up bids on privatizing the water and sewer system in Detroit, which has been resisted for years.
Wait, it only gets worse. The United States is in the middle of negotiating a trade deal with the European Union, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, aka TTIP, which could undermine communities ability to halt hostile privatizations efforts, hinder attempts to reclaim water systems from EU corporations and make it harder to hold private water companies accountable.
Just what Detroiter’s that are already suffering human rights violations and access to water need! We see the future and it is here.
Read the whole story in Mitch Jones’ story at Food and Water Watch
How Free Trade Might Harm Detroit Again
Mitch Jones, Food and Water Watch. Sept 2, 2014.
While once a central component of the economic activity of the United States, Detroit – like other American cities reliant on manufacturing – has fallen on hard times. To be clear, this isn’t an accident of misfortune. Detroit was targeted by both the “free trade” and anti-labor agenda that took over American politics in the 1970s. As a result, the city lost thousands of jobs and its economy suffered. The current crisis in Detroit involving water shut-offs is a symptom of this agenda.
The state-appointed emergency manager for Detroit opened up bids for privatizing the sewer and water department. Recently, the city hired private water company Veolia Water to advise the city on “cost savings” within the department. Headquartered in Paris, Veolia Environnement operates as Veolia Water North America in the United States and is the second largest water company in the country, serving about 10.5 million people in 32 states. In addition to advising the city on cost savings within the department, Veolia is also one of the companies that have expressed interest in a privatized Detroit water system.
Demand System Change
July 21, 2014
For Immediate Release: Monday, July 21, 2014
Contact: Adrienne Bennett, Press Secretary, 207-287-2531
AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage signed a memorandum of agreement today with Premier David Alward of New Brunswick to encourage economic development and support job creation between Maine and the Canadian Province.
The agreement, also referred to as a Memorandum of Understanding, is designed to strengthen relations between the two regions by working together to create jobs and cooperate areas of trade development, tourism, transportation, energy, culture and emergency preparedness.
“We are pleased to continue our strong working relationship with New Brunswick,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “We have a history of cooperating with each other, and this agreement further strengthens our commitment to regional efforts that will create economic development, improve government efficiencies and promote tourism and commerce between our state and the province.”
Governor LePage has met with New Brunswick Premier David Alward several times since 2011 to discuss economic opportunities between Maine and the Canadian Province. This is the first time such an agreement has been signed with New Brunswick. A New Brunswick-Maine Joint Committee will be responsible for implementing the agreement.
“Our government is proud to continue working with the State of Maine. This agreement will improve the quality of life in the entire region”, stated Premier Alward. “This complements several other initiatives already underway in our province. Whether it’s through increasing tourism, improving emergency management services, or strengthening the regions infrastructure, our joint efforts are vital to social and economic growth”, added Alward.
The agreement encourages Maine and New Brunswick to coordinate with their business communities to set up partnerships and implement economic development initiatives. The agreement also encourages an exchange of cross-border solutions for clean energy, such as hydropower and bioenergy, which could lower home heating costs for the people of Maine.
In April 2013, Governor LePage signed a similar agreement with Premier of Quebec Pauline Marois.
A Report by Corporate Accountability International
Back in 2011, we were made aware of this article which links the World Bank with several transnational corporate entities, including Nestle, to private water worldwide, but especially targeting countries with a lower socioeconomic status. I was then informed by an expert source that it was not being spearheaded by the World Bank, but rather the World Economic Forum.
Then the other day, Nickie Seckera of Community Water Justice, who has been resisting Nestle’s expanding empire over the water in Fryeburg, sent along this information:
The Alliance for Water Stewardship offers a partnership with founding members as Nestlé, Unilever, Veolia and many more to help secure the multinational corporate agenda of controlling groundwater resources.
Beware of organizations as this who claim to protect global water resources. For whom are they protecting it? Corporate-backed organizations as this are out for protection of their future profits in securing water sources all over the world for their dominance over local people. The prospects of commodification and control could change how we access drinking water for all future generations. As we know, they are not out for the common good but for profit – and the highest bidder will win access to life.
“The Alliance for Water Stewardship is a partnership of global leaders in sustainable water management who are dedicated to promoting responsible use of freshwater that is socially, economically and environmentally beneficial. AWS drives collective responses to shared water challenges through its stakeholder-endorsed international Water Stewardship Standard. AWS’s Founding Partners are American Standard, CDP, Centre for Responsible Business, Centro del Agua para America Latina y el Caribe, Ecolab, European Water Partnership, Fundacion Chile, Fundacion FEMSA, Future500, General Mills, The Gold Standard Foundation, Hindustan Unilever Foundation, Inghams, Marks & Spencer, Murray Darling Basin Authority, Nestle, Pacific Institute, Sealed Air, United Nations Environment Programme, the UN Global Compact’s CEO Water Mandate, The Nature Conservancy, The Water Council, Veolia, Water Environment Foundation, Water Footprint Network, Water Stewardship Australia, Water Witness International, WaterAid and WWF.”
Thank you Nickie for your outstanding work.
Wednesday, 13 November 2013 09:39
The TPP has been shrouded in secrecy from the beginning because the Obama administration knows that the more people know about it, the more they will oppose the agreement. The release of the full Intellectual Property chapter today by Wiikileaks confims what had been suspected, the Obama administration has been an advocate for transnational corporate interests in the negotiations even though they run counter to the needs and desires of the public.
This is not surprising since we already knew that 600 corporate advisers were working with the US Trade Representative to draft the TPP. This means that for nearly four years some of the top corporate lawyers have been inserting phrases, paragraphs and whole sections so the agreement suits the needs of corporate power, while undermining the interests of people and the planet.
Now from these documents we see that the US is isolated in its aggressive advocacy for transnational interests and that there are scores of areas still unresolved between the US and Pacific nations. The conclusion: the TPP cannot be saved. It has been destroyed by secret corporate advocacy. It needs to be rejected. Trade needs to be negotiated with a new approach — transparency, participation of civil society throughout the process, full congressional review and participation, and a framework that starts with fair trade that puts people and the planet before profits.
Congress needs to reject Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority as these documents show the Obama administration has been misleading the people and the Congress while trying to bully other nations. This flawed agreement and the secrecy essential to its becoming law need to be rejected.
For more on the TPP visit www.FlushTheTPP.org
The TPP is the forerunner to the equally secret US-EU pact TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), for which President Obama initiated US-EU negotiations in January 2013. Together, the TPP and TTIP will cover more than 60 per cent of global GDP.
Leaked Documents Reveal Obama Administration Push for Internet Freedom Limits, Terms That Raise Drug Prices in Closed-Door Trade Talks
U.S. Demands in Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement Text, Published Today by WikiLeaks, Contradict Obama Policy and Public Opinion at Home and Abroad
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Secret documents published today by WikiLeaks and analyzed by Public Citizen reveal that the Obama administration is demanding terms that would limit Internet freedom and access to lifesaving medicines throughout the Asia-Pacific region and bind Americans to the same bad rules, belying the administration’s stated commitments to reduce health care costs and advance free expression online, Public Citizen said today.
WikiLeaks published the complete draft of the Intellectual Property chapter for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed international commercial pact between the United States and 11 Asian and Latin American countries.
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