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America the Beautiful: A Fire Sale for Foreign Corporations

Tuesday, 10 July 2012 10:01 By Dr Brian Moench, Truthout | News Analysis
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A group photo of leaders from the member countries of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP).A group photo of leaders from the member countries of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). (Photo: Gobierno de Chile)

This may be one of the most important stories ever ignored by the so-called "lame-stream, liberal" media. It's unlikely you're losing sleep over US trade negotiations, but the unfolding business agreement among the US and eight Pacific nations -the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - should cause every US citizen, from the Sierra Club to the Tea Party to get their pitch forks and torches out of the closet and prepare to "storm the Bastille."

The TPP negotiations have been going on for two years under extreme secrecy, no information has been made available to either the press or Congress about the US position. But on June 12, a document was leaked to the watchdog group, Public Citizen, revealing the current US position and the reason for the secrecy. The contents are surreal, shocking and prima facia evidence for how corporations have become the master puppeteers of our government.

The leaked document reveals that the trade agreement would give unprecedented political authority and legal protection to foreign corporations. Specifically, TPP would (1) severely limit regulation of foreign corporations operating within US boundaries, giving them greater rights than domestic firms; (2) extend incentives for US firms to move investments and jobs to lower-wage countries; and (3) establish an alternative legal system that gives foreign corporations and investors new rights to circumvent US courts and laws, allowing them to sue the US government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for lost revenue due to US laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges or their investment "expectations."

Despite the North American Free Trade Agreement's (NAFTA) failures, corporations are arm-twisting the federal government to pursue trade agreements as inevitable and necessary for economic progress. But 26 of the 28 chapters of this agreement have nothing to do with trade. TPP was drafted with the oversight of 600 representatives of multinational corporations, who essentially gave themselves whatever they wanted; the environment, public health, worker safety, further domestic job losses be damned.

Residents of the West should be particularly alarmed. TPP would allow the plunder of our natural resources by foreign corporations allowed to bypass US law. Disputes over Western land contracts for mining and timber, for example, would be settled by international tribunals. Even if you are oblivious to environmental concerns, you should be outraged at the total circumvention of national sovereignty. Foreign investors could bypass our legal framework, take any dispute to an international tribunal and pursue compensation for being denied access to our resources at fire-sale prices - with much of the West on fire as we speak.

It gets worse. Those tribunals would be staffed by private-sector lawyers that rotate between acting as "judges" and as advocates for the corporations suing the governments. American taxpayers could be forced to pay those corporations virtually unlimited compensation for trying to protect our air, land and water from much looser standards than current US law allows.

This agreement could directly affect efforts in my home state of Utah to hold the international mining giant, Rio Tinto, accountable to the Clean Air Act. A consortium of public health and environmental groups including WildEarth Guardians, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, Utah Moms for Clean Air and the Sierra Club have filed suit against Rio Tinto for mining more - and polluting more - than the amount allowed by the Environmental Protection Agency via provisions in the Clean Air Act. This agreement would allow disputes about their pollution to be settled by foreign "judges" who don't live in Utah, aren't personally affected by the outcome, aren't even US citizens and could be attorneys for mining companies. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chickens.

The original TPP nations were the US, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore and Brunei Darussalam. But Mexico, China, Japan and Canada are expected to be invited to join, so there is no comfort to be derived from the thought that only a few minor, foreign corporations will be given these extraordinary free passes to profit at our expense. Of course, American corporations will get the same opportunity to "invade" other countries, as if that makes this agreement any less grotesque.

TPP is much worse than NAFTA, which eviscerated middle-class jobs and wealth in the US. And this sellout to foreign corporations is not just a rogue brain cramp of President Obama. Mitt Romney demanded this agreement be signed months ago, and the notorious "climate change denying" US Chamber of Commerce can't get it signed fast enough. Romney has called Obama's the most hostile administration to business in recent history. If the TPP trade agreement is "hostile" to business, god help us if we have an administration, presumably Romney's, "friendly" to business.

If you thought that with Citizens United we had hit rock bottom in surrendering our democracy to the power of money, this TPP "trade agreement" would throw our democracy into free fall. Foreign corporations will be allowed to feast like termites upon America's natural resources, trash our environment and public health, violate our rights as American citizens and make us pay them if we try to protect ourselves.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Dr Brian Moench

Dr. Brian Moench, President, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, is a member of the radiation and health committee, Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) and a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The opinions expressed are his own and not an official position of UCS or PSR.


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