The American Bear

Sunshine/Lollipops

Trans Pacific Partnership is a Threat To National Sovereignty | Dr. Chandra Muzaffar

The proponents of the Trans Pacific Partnership argue that the TPP would bring huge benefits to Malaysia “with as much as US $ 40 billion (RM 128.4 billion) in annual export gains and US $ 25 billion in annual income gains by 2025.” Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in particular will reap a bonanza. The TPP, it is said, will also “give Malaysia preferential access to a US $ 15 trillion economy, which means access to the US $ 500 billion in US government tenders.” As against these projections, there are issues of tremendous significance pertaining to the TPP that have been raised by a variety of citizen groups in almost all the 12 countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam) that are currently part of the negotiation process. These issues have emerged as a result of leaks since no officially sanctioned draft has been placed before the public.

The negotiations — the 18th round of which will commence in Kota Kinabalu (Malaysia) on the 15th of July 2013 — are shrouded in secrecy though representatives of major corporations such as Monsanto, Walmart, Bank of America, JP Morgan, Cargill, Exxon-Mobil, and Chevron, among others, it is alleged, have had full access to the draft and have been “suggesting amendments.” One of the issues that has caused grave concern is a set of rules in the TPP which apparently would empower foreign corporations to bypass domestic laws and courts and challenge government policies and regulations aimed at protecting the public interest via tribunals linked to the World Bank and the UN. If this is true, it would be an affront to national sovereignty.

[…] The TPP … prohibits governments and central banks from imposing capital controls or banning risky financial products. Central banks would have diminished capacity to regulate the entry and exit of speculative capital. Countries that are part of the TPP would be compelled to create an even more conducive environment for casino capitalism.

[…] The TPP … allows pharmaceutical corporations to increase the price of medicines and to limit consumer access to cheaper generic drugs. Monopoly patents would be better protected and the purchase of generic drugs would be made more difficult. At the same time, by designating a whole spectrum of policies, regulations and practices as “trade barriers” the proposed agreement undermines some of the people oriented measures associated with different TPP countries.

While some of the provisions of the TPP may be set aside at the behest of individual countries, it is obvious that the US which is the driving force behind the pact is determined to use it as its vehicle to strengthen its economic position in the Pacific region in the face of the rise of China. It explains why China itself — economically the most dynamic nation in the region — has not been invited to join the TPP. This is why it would be naïve to view the TPP as a mere economic and trade arrangement. Its underlying motive is clearly political. It is a critical weapon in the US arsenal for curbing and containing the emergence of a power which has the potential of shaping the future of the entire Pacific in the decades to come.

The US will not allow this to happen. It knows that in order to remain as the world’s sole superpower it has to ensure that it is at the helm of that one region with the greatest economic viability and vitality. The US already has 320,000 troops in the Pacific region. That is the military arm of Pacific Power. The TPP is designed to secure the economic dimension of Pacific Power.

Neoliberal Overload | Nile Bowie

One of the least discussed and least reported issues is the Obama administration’s effort to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement to the forefront, an oppressive plurilateral US-led free trade agreement currently being negotiated with several Pacific Rim countries. Six hundred US corporate advisors have negotiated and had input into the TPP, and the proposed draft text has not been made available to the public, the press or policymakers. The level of secrecy surrounding the agreements is unparalleled – paramilitary teams scatter outside the premise of each round of discussions while helicopters loom overhead – media outlets impose a near-total blackout of reportage on the subject and US Senator Ron Wyden, the Chair of the Congressional Committee with jurisdiction over TPP, was denied access to the negotiation texts. “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PhaRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement,” said Wyden, in a floor statement to Congress.

In addition to the United States, the countries participating in the negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Japan has expressed its desire to become a negotiating partner, but not yet joined negotiation, partly due to public pressure to steer-clear. The TPP would impose punishing regulations that give multinational corporations unprecedented rights to demand taxpayer compensation for policies they think will undermine their expected future profits straight from the treasuries of participating nations – it would push the agenda of Big PhaRMA in the developing world to impose longer monopoly controls on drugs, drastically limiting access to affordable generic medications that people depend on. The TPP would undermine food safety by limiting labeling and forcing countries like the United States to import food that fails to meet its national safety standards, in addition to banning Buy America or Buy Local preferences.

According to leaked draft texts, the TPP would also impose investor protections that incentivize offshoring jobs through special benefits for companies – the TPP stifles innovation by requiring internet service providers to police user-activity and treat small-scale individual downloads as large-scale for-profit violators. Most predictably, it would rollback regulation of finance capital predators on Wall Street by prohibiting bans on risky financial services and preventing signatory nations from exercising the ability to independently pursue monetary policy and issue capital controls – signatories must permit the free flow of derivatives, currency speculation and other manipulative financial instruments. The US-led partnership – which seeks to impose ‘Shock and Awe’ Globalization – aims to abolish the accountability of multinational corporations to the governments of countries with which they trade by making signatory governments accountable to corporations for costs imposed by national laws and regulations, including health, safety and environmental regulations.

The proposed legislation on Intellectual Property will have enormous ramifications for TPP signatories, including Internet termination for households, businesses, and organizations as an accepted penalty for copyright infringement. Signatory nations would essentially submit themselves to oppressive IP restrictions designed by Hollywood’s copyright cartels, severely limiting their ability to digitally exchange information on sites like YouTube, where streaming videos are considered copyrightable. “Broader copyright and intellectual property rights demands by the US would lock up the Internet, stifle research and increase education costs, by extending existing generous copyright from 70 years to 120 years, and even making it a criminal offense to temporarily store files on a computer without authorization. The US, as a net exporter of digital information, would be the only party to benefit from this,” said Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network. [it gets worse]

Will the RCEP Kill the TPP and Why You Never Heard of Either One | Dissident Voice

Unless you subscribe to Public Citizen or the Kucinich Report (from retiring Congressman Dennis Kucinich), you won’t have heard of the secret trade negotiations related to the Transpacific Partnership (TTP), aka the Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The TPP is a “free” trade agreement like NAFTA or GATT (the treaty which created the WTO) but much worse. A major goal of US multinational corporations for the TPP is to impose on trading partners a set of extreme foreign investor privileges and rights and their private enforcement through the notorious “investor-state” system. This system allows foreign corporations to challenge, at international tribunals, health, consumer safety, environmental, and other laws and regulations that potentially affect the profitability of both domestic and foreign companies. If a corporation “wins”, the taxpayers of the “losing” country must foot the bill. (See Investment rules harm public health). Thus TPP will virtually obliterate the right of member countries to protect labor rights, enforce environmental and food safety standards and otherwise protect their citizens from amoral and rapacious corporate profit-seeking.

RCEP stands for the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership. This is a newly proposed free trade treaty coming out of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at their recent summit in Phnom Penh (Cambodia). Negotiations on RCEP are expected to start in earnest in 2013 (see ASEAN leaders begin RCEP negotiations). Outside of the Asian and Australian press, the RCEP has been virtually invisible in the corporate media.

The most important difference between the two free trade treaties is that TPP excludes China, Japan and Korea. RCEP would include all fifteen Asia countries comprising ASEAN, plus China, India, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand and exclude the US (See post-US world born in Phnom Penh). In other words, half the world’s population.

Both Korea and Japan have been invited to join TPP but are waffling, owing to harsh TPP provisions that potentially undermine their sovereignty and their economies.

Obama has deliberately excluded China, the world’s second largest economy, from TPP. Why? Because the US is engaged in a trade war with China and doing everything possible to isolate China economically and militarily (see Trade war in the Pacific).

With many Asian countries, especially Korea, Japan and Thailand, showing a clear preference for the less restrictive RCEP, the President’s end run around China, Congress and the American public may have backfired. [continue]

I talked informally with a negotiator from New Zealand about balancing investor interests with the public interest. We share our approval of fundamental labor standards in America and New Zealand. But he looked at me and declared, ‘No country in the world would let the International Labor Organization tell them what their labor laws should be, would they?’ He said it so forcefully, that I immediately imagined a nest of unaccountable, faceless bureaucrats, with dubious backgrounds, writing minimum wage laws for Idaho. God no! What country would forfeit its sovereignty like that! My heart sank. Then he stopped for a moment, lowered his eyes, and said, ‘But, …. that’s exactly what we’re doing right now, for investor interests, aren’t we?’ Yes. That is exactly what he and the other negotiators were doing. They were giving authority to unaccountable tribunals to give investors the upper hand over public interest. We Don’t Know, Exactly, What the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is, But I’m Against It

Leaked: US proposal on copyright’s limits | Ars Technica

The [Trans-Pacific Partnership] met last in early July in San Diego, CA for a round of negotiations, but none of the draft texts were made public. After that round of negotiations concluded, the USTR sent an e-mail to the press announcing that it was proposing language on fair use and limitations to copyright in the international treaty, a first for the generally conservative agency. But the leaked text, revealed by Knowledge Ecology International, suggests that these exceptions to IP rules won’t be quite as open as some fair use advocates had hoped.

Back in July, a USTR spokesperson said the trade agency would push for rules “that will obligate Parties to seek to achieve an appropriate balance in their copyright systems in providing copyright exceptions and limitations for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research.” But in the new leaked draft text, while very similar phrasing appears, there seems to be room to crack down on any anticipated broad terms of fair use.

The US and Australia, for instance, proposed what entities like the EFF and KEI fear could be a rightsholder-friendly three-step test to determine what exceptions to copyright are allowable. The leaked texts specifically say that the participating countries should confine these limitations “to certain special cases that do not conflict with a normal exploitation of the work, performance, or phonogram, and do not unreasonably prejudice the legitimate interests of the right holder.”

It’s important to note that the draft is just that—a draft. But the leak suggests that the US and Australia are pushing for more restrictive language, while countries like New Zealand, Chile, Malaysia, Brunei, and Vietnam are in favor of more open rules to allow “a party to carry forward and appropriately extend into the digital environment limitations and exceptions in its domestic laws.” The US and Australia opposed that wording, and sought to change the language to suggest “that each party may, consistent with the foregoing, adopt or maintain… exceptions and limitations for the digital environment.”

In other words, the US and Australia are saying a country can’t just decide on “limitations and fair use” based on existing domestic IP laws, some of which may be quite broad. Instead, limitations must conform to international agreements [made in secret with no public or congressional scrutiny, ed.], including the TPP, which can be more restrictive.

When Corporations Are Answerable Only to Themselves | Paul Craig Roberts

The [TransPacific Partnership agreement] is likely serving many agendas. As we learn more, the motives behind the TPP will become clearer. From my perspective as an economist and former member of government, the problem with Ron Kirk’s TPP is that the agreement is constructed to serve private, not public interests. Kirk is a public official charged with serving and protecting the public interest. Yet, he has conspired in secret with private interests to produce a document that exempts private corporations from public accountability.

There is a paradox here. While financial corporations and now all corporations are being made independent of government, US citizens have lost the protection of law and are now subject to being detained indefinitely or murdered without due process of law. Corporations gain an unimaginable freedom while citizens lose all freedom and the rights that define their freedom. Similarly, foreign countries, which as members of TPP can be exempt from US law, are subject to “pre-emptive” US violation of their air space and borders by drones and troops sent in to assassinate some suspected terrorist, but which also kill citizens of those countries who are merely going about their normal business.

Perhaps one way to understand TPP is that the US government is now extending its own right to be lawless to corporations. Just as the US government today is only answerable to itself, the TPP makes corporations answerable only to themselves.

President Obama: Corporate Globalizer | Mark Engler

With recent revelations about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement, it is now safe to say that President Obama has surpassed George W. Bush as a champion of the flawed and offensive ideology of corporate globalization.

This argument requires some explanation. Here’s the backstory: As the Bush administration commenced in the early 2000s, many argued that his foreign policy represented a continuation of the Clinton-era approach to promoting “free trade” neoliberalism overseas. However, I contended that, especially after the launch of the Iraq war in 2003, the unilateralist bullying of the neocons represented a split from past practice.

No doubt, big arms and big oil had their needs met by the Bush agenda. But his administration was wary of multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organization and the World Bank, which were central instruments of U.S. policy under Clinton. The Bush approach relied on our-way-or-the-highway, coalition-of-the-willing hard power. This made a significant portion of corporate America uncomfortable, especially businesses trying to navigate and expand in foreign markets. It also left the soft-power agenda of “free trade” in an uncertain state.

This was essentially the thesis of my 2008 book, How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy. Around the time the book came out, I wrote:

In October 2007…the Wall Street Journal reported that the [Republican] party could be facing a brand crisis as “[s]ome business leaders are drifting away from the party because of the war in Iraq, the growing federal debt and a conservative social agenda they don’t share.”

When it comes to corporate responses to [Bush’s] Global War on Terror, we mostly hear about the likes of Halliburton and Blackwater—companies directly implicated in the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and with the mentality of looters. Such firms have done their best to score quick profits from the military machine. However, there was always a faction of realist, business-oriented Republicans .who opposed the invasion from the start, in part because they believed it would negatively impact the U.S. economy. As the [Bush administration’s] adventure in Iraq has descended into the morass, the ranks of corporate complainers have only grown.

The “free trade” elite have become particularly upset about the administration’s focus on go-it-alone nationalism and its disregard for multilateral means of securing influence. This belligerent approach to foreign affairs, they believe, has thwarted the advance of corporate globalization. In an April 2006 column in the Washington Post, globalist cheerleader Sebastian Mallaby laid blame for “why globalization has stalled” at the feet of the Bush administration. The White House, Mallaby charged, was unwilling to invest any political capital in the IMF, the World Bank, or the WTO….Frustrated by Bush’s failures, many in the business elite want to return to the softer empire of corporate globalization and, increasingly, they are looking to the Democrats to navigate this return.

My concern back then was that a Democrat (either Obama or Hillary Clinton) would be elected to office and then abandon the overt militarism and “imperial globalization” of the Bush administration, but embrace a subtler, more multilateralist “free trade” neoliberalism—reclaiming the agenda of corporate globalization. I would have been pleased if this prediction had proved wrong. Sadly, Obama has provided irrefutable evidence that he has boarded the corporate globalist bandwagon. [READ]

Breaking ’08 Pledge, Leaked Trade Doc Shows Obama Wants to Help Corporations Avoid Regulations

"[What] we’re talking about with this leaked chapter is literally a parallel system of justice. People have domestic laws and courts, trying to defend our rights and get our needs met. Corporations would have a parallel system of private attorneys, three of them, no conflict-of-interest laws. The U.S. and the other countries would submit themselves to the jurisdiction of this corporate kangaroo court, and these three random attorneys would have the right to order the U.S. government to pay unlimited amounts of our tax dollars to corporations and investors who, A, claim regulatory costs need to be refunded, or, B, are saying they’re not being treated well enough, regardless if the policies they dislike are the exact same ones that apply to all of us. Even under NAFTA’s system, which has some of this, $350 million have already been paid out to corporations by governments, over toxics bans, zoning laws, timber rules. This is a sneaky outrage. And if people actually put a spotlight on it, we can stop it." — Lori Wallach of Global Trade Watch

A draft agreement leaked Wednesday shows the Obama administration is pushing a secretive trade agreement that could vastly expand corporate power and directly contradict a 2008 campaign promise by President Obama. A U.S. proposal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact between the United States and eight Pacific nations would allow foreign corporations operating in the U.S. to appeal key regulations to an international tribunal. The body would have the power to override U.S. law and issue penalties for failure to comply with its ruling. We speak to Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, a fair trade group that posted the leaked documents on its website. “This isn’t just a bad trade agreement,” Wallach says. “This is a ‘one-percenter’ power tool that could rip up our basic needs and rights.”

The False Promise of Obama's Trade Deals | Timothy Wise and Kevin Gallagher

It is bad enough that President Obama is reversing his campaign pledge and supporting Bush-era trade deals with Korea, Colombia and Panama. Starting this week in Chicago, the US will be hosting the first major trade negotiations since the “Battle in Seattle” World Trade Organisation talks came here in 1999. This occasion is for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with a wide range of industrialised and developing Pacific Rim countries.

 As part of his plan to revive the US economy and create jobs, Obama claims he will be unveiling “a trade agreement for the 21st century”. Ironically, though, he will be pushing the same “Nafta-style” trade pacts he campaigned against, and to howls of protest from his own electoral base. Let us not forget what he said:

“I voted against Cafta, never supported Nafta, and will not support Nafta-style trade agreements in the future,” Obama told Ohio voters (pdf) in 2008. “While Nafta gave broad rights to investors, it paid only lip service to the rights of labor and the importance of environmental protection.”

“Lip service” would be a good way to describe the reforms in US trade policy under Obama. As co-chairs of a three-country task force to reform Nafta, we can say that not only do the administration’s TPP proposals fail to reform most of Nafta’s worst provisions, they actually take several steps backward. [read more]