Planet Not For Sale
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Should the World’s Largest Chemical Corporations Be Allowed to Attack States’ Chemical Safety Protections?
Patrick Gleeson, Trade and Policy Researcher of Global Trade Watch
How would you feel about the U.S. government paying foreign corporations to keep cancer-causing chemicals out of your water bottles?
That is a risk we’d face under a sweeping U.S.-EU “trade” deal under negotiation – the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA), also known as TTIP. As proposed, TAFTA would empower thousands of European firms – including chemical giants like BASF, Bayer, and Royal Dutch Shell – to bypass U.S. courts, go before extrajudicial tribunals and demand taxpayer compensation for U.S. policies – including chemical regulations.
We depend on such regulations every day to keep toxic chemicals out of our food, toys, rivers, and clothes. This past July, more than 100 organizations on both sides of the Atlantic sent a letter to TAFTA negotiators to warn against TAFTA’s threats to such commonsense protections:
Stricter controls (including restrictions on some or all uses) of hazardous chemicals – including carcinogens and hormone disrupting chemicals – are vital to protecting public health…EU and U.S. trade policy should not be geared toward advancing the chemical industry’s agenda at the expense of public health and the environment – but that appears to be exactly what is currently underway with TTIP.
While U.S. federal chemical regulations are sorely outdated – with no major overhaul since the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) – U.S. states have been filling in the gap, enacting forward-looking policies to protect us from chemicals that pose a threat to human health and the environment. State chemical safety policies cover everything from mandatory disclosure of chemical compounds on the packaging of consumer goods to outright bans on specific chemical compounds and additives. According to Safer States, 35 U.S. states have enacted 169 chemical safety policies, while 114 more such policies are pending in 29 states.
But this web of state-level protections on which most U.S. consumers depend could come under attack if TAFTA were to expand the controversial system known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). Six of the world’s 15 largest chemical firms are based in EU countries. The largest among them have facilities in many of the U.S. states that are currently contemplating new chemical restrictions.
Using TAFTA’s ISDS provisions, these foreign firms would be empowered to challenge U.S. state-level chemical protections with which U.S. firms must comply. They could do so on the basis of sweeping rights available only to foreign investors, alleging, for example, that new chemical restrictions violated their rights by frustrating their expectations. Such cases would be decided by tribunals unaccountable to any electorate, composed of three private lawyers authorized to order U.S. taxpayer compensation for “expected future profits” that the corporations claim they would have earned if not for the challenged chemical safety policies.
Recognizing the threat that ISDS poses to the autonomy of U.S. states to regulate in the public interest, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a bipartisan association representing state legislatures, has repeatedly stated it will oppose any deal that includes ISDS.
“The unpopular proposal to include ISDS in TTIP would force the public and their representatives to decide between compensating corporate polluters for lost profits due to stronger laws, or continuing to bear the health, economic and social burdens of pollution,” stated the July 2014 letter from more than 100 organizations.
To launch ISDS attacks against U.S. states’ chemical safety measures under TAFTA, European chemical firms would just need to have an investment in the United States – a broad criterion that many of the largest firms easily fulfil.
BASF, the world’s largest chemical company, is based in Germany but has 66 subsidiaries in the United States. BASF has particularly large facilities in 20 states, including Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and South Carolina. Each of these states has considered new chemical safety legislation this year, the likes of which BASF would be empowered to challenge before extrajudicial tribunals under TAFTA.
As a major supplier of chemicals to the U.S. market, BASF has already actively lobbied the U.S. Congress specifically to halt proposed restrictions on chemicals that it manufactures. In 2014 alone, BASF has spent $2.3 million to lobby Congress on chemicals-related policies. TAFTA would give BASF a new tool to chill the development of U.S. chemical safety measures.
Other European chemical corporations have facilities scattered throughout the United States, manufacturing products ranging from synthetic fibers to rubber chemicals to pesticides. Bayer, based in Germany, has subsidiaries in nine U.S. states, seven of which have been considering pending chemical safety legislation this year. Royal Dutch Shell, headquartered in the Netherlands, has a U.S.-based chemical division that claims to make “approximately 20 billion pounds of chemicals annually, which are sold primarily to industrial markets in the United States.” Shell’s U.S. chemicals division has facilities in Louisiana, which has been enacting new chemical safety measures. Were such new state-level regulations to be imposed on these corporations’ products out of concern for chemical safety, they would be empowered under TAFTA to demand taxpayer compensation.
Fifteen states, for example, are currently considering legislation related to a notorious chemical called bisphenol A, or BPA. BPA has been identified as an endocrine disruptor, a class of chemicals that, according to the National Institutes of Health, “may interfere with the body’s endocrine system and produce adverse developmental, reproductive, neurological, and immune effects in both humans and wildlife.” BPA is used extensively as a plastics coating and hardener in food and beverage containers, including water bottles and the lining of metal cans. BPA can seep into the foods and beverages it contains, leading to human consumption.
Though usage of BPA in baby bottles, pacifiers, and other baby products was phased out in recent years due to broad consumer concerns and government reports of potentially harmful impacts on infants’ development, BPA is still widely used in other consumer products. Recent studies have continued to indicate health concerns for adults, including a 2014 Duke Medicine study finding that BPA stimulates the growth of breast cancer cells and lowers the efficacy of cancer treatments. Another study this year, from the University of Cincinnati, finds a link between BPA levels in men and prostate cancer.
According to the NCSL, 12 states and the District of Columbia have enacted BPA restrictions thus far, including, for example, bans on BPA in reusable food containers and thermoses. With 15 states considering additional BPA-related protections just this year, we are likely to see more states enact policies to limit consumers’ exposure to this toxin.
The risk is real that such policies could become the target of ISDS attacks by European chemical firms under TAFTA. Some of these firms, including ones with investments in the United States, have already been lobbying against BPA restrictions in Europe for years. Bayer is even a member of an industry alliance known as the BPA Coalition, dedicated to convincing the public and policymakers “that the safe use of BPA poses no known health risk to people.”
Might such firms be interested in using TAFTA to demand U.S. taxpayer compensation for new efforts to keep our water bottles free of carcinogens? Let’s not find out.
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At Export Council, Obama Expected to Urge Corporate Interests to Help Him Obtain New Fast Track Powers to Expand the Status Quo U.S. Free Trade Pact Model That Congressional Democrats, Obama’s Base Oppose
At today’s meeting of the President’s Export Council, President Barack Obama is expected to urge yet another audience dominated by the corporate interests that opposed his election to help him obtain broad new Fast Track trade powers. Obama’s Fast Track request faces opposition by most Democratic members of Congress and base organizations as well as a bloc of conservative Republicans.
Obama also is likely to tout the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a pact that would expand the status quo U.S. trade agreement model that has led to staggering U.S. trade deficits, job loss and downward pressure on wages. When Obama picked up TPP negotiations from former President George W. Bush in 2009, consumer and environmental organizations, unions and congressional Democrats urged him to use the process to implement his 2008 election campaign promises to replace the old U.S. trade model based on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead, the administration has sided with the corporate interests that represent the majority of the approximately 600 official U.S. trade advisors and has replicated many of NAFTA’s most damaging provisions in the TPP.
“With the TPP, Obama is doubling down on the old, failed NAFTA trade pact status quo and even expanding on some of the NAFTA provisions that promoted American job offshoring, flooded us with unsafe imported food and increased medicine prices,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Given the TPP terms that would newly empower thousands of foreign firms to attack American health and environmental laws in foreign tribunals, incentivize even more U.S. job offshoring and ban the use of Buy American and Buy Local preferences, most Americans would be better off with no deal than what is in store with the TPP.”
Obama’s efforts to obtain Fast Track in the 113th Congress were rebuffed, as almost all House Democrats and a bloc of House GOP members indicated opposition.
Obama’s efforts to push more-of-the-same trade policies have been sidelined by the dismal outcomes of his 2011 U.S.-Korea FTA: The trade deficit with Korea in the first two years of the pact. In fact, the record shows that U.S. export growth with U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) partners lags behind the rate of export growth with non-FTA nations. In addition, the aggregate U.S. trade deficit with the group of 20 countries with which the U.S. has FTAs has increased more than fivefold since the FTAs took effect, due in part to a massive NAFTA trade deficit.
As negotiators gather in Washington, D.C. this week for closed-door meetings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), hundreds of activists from labor, environmental, consumer, human rights, public health, Internet freedom, faith and family farm activists joined concerned citizens to loudly make their voices heard outside of the secretive negotiations on Monday. (Meanwhile, a select group of official trade “advisors,” largely representing corporations, enjoys unprecedented access to the TPP negotiators meeting behind closed doors).
The rallying cry from the activists, who gathered in front of the United States Trade Representative’s office, was loud and clear: "No Fast Track now, No Fast Track ever! The TPP is a lost endeavor!"
Fast Track was a controversial maneuver that allowed past presidents to railroad through Congress unpopular deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Corporations have called for Fast Track to be revived to empower the Obama administration to unilaterally negotiate and sign the TPP before Congress gets an expedited vote, with no amendments allowed and debate strictly limited.
Fast Track faces widespread opposition in the U.S. Congress and among the U.S. public. Though a Fast Track bill was tabled about one year ago, it has gone nowhere due to massive opposition from most Democrats and a sizeable bloc of Republicans. This past September, nearly 600 organizations sent a letter opposing Fast Track to Chair Ron Wyden. A poll earlier this year found that 62 percent of U.S. voters oppose Fast Tracking the TPP.
Civil society and lawmakers have good reason to reject corporations' push to Fast Track the TPP. Although it’s impossible to know the full scope of the secret deal, leaks have confirmed some of the worst speculations: the TPP would empower corporations to offshore jobs, increase the price of medicines, weaken environmental standards, and chill domestic interest laws by "suing" the government for public interest policies that frustrate their "expectations."
Given the stakes, the energy of the rally was high. Protestors circled the building carrying signs and chanting the death knell of Fast Track and TPP: “Fast Track is a sneak attack -- we’re taking our democracy back! Good paying jobs are what we need, but TPP spells corporate greed!"
If you weren't able to make it to the rally, you can still make your voice heard by writing to your member of Congress to urge them to voice their opposition to Fast Tracking the TPP.
Yesterday President Obama, speaking to a room full of corporate executives, tried to downplay the contribution of corporate-pushed trade deals to the historic rise in U.S. income inequality.
Obama knew his audience -- corporate representatives eager to expand the status quo trade model by Fast Tracking through Congress the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are probably keen to deny that this model has been exacerbating inequality.
But such denial defies a consensus position among economists that recent trade flows have indeed contributed to today's yawning gap between rich and poor -- the only debate is how big of a role status quo trade has played.
It also defies U.S. public opinion -- in a recent Pew poll, a mere 17 percent of the U.S. public thought that trade has boosted U.S. wages, while 45 percent, across the political spectrum, saw trade as contributing to falling wages for U.S. workers.
Obama acknowledged yesterday that TPP proponents will have a tough time arguing that this time is different -- that reviving Fast Track authority in attempt to push through Congress another more-of-the-same trade pact would not fuel further inequality growth. Fast Track was the Nixon-created maneuver that allowed the executive branch to railroad through Congress controversial, inequality-spurring pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) by negotiating and signing the pacts before Congress got an expedited, no-amendments, limited-debate vote. A study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research finds that were the TPP to be Fast Tracked through Congress, all but the wealthiest among us would lose more to inequality increases than we would gain in cheaper goods, spelling a pay cut for 90 percent of U.S. workers.
Recognizing the unpopularity of Fast Track and the TPP, Obama told the business executives: “There are folks in my own party and in my own constituency that have legitimate complaints about some of the trend lines of inequality, but are barking up the wrong tree when it comes to opposing TPP, and I’m going to have to make that argument.”
Having to make that argument is not an enviable position -- it requires explaining away decades of evidence that Fast-Tracked deals have fostered greater U.S. income inequality. Here's a sampling of that evidence:
U.S. Wages Stagnate, Despite Doubled Worker Productivity
- U.S. wages barely increased in real terms since 1974, the year before Fast Track was first enacted, even as American worker productivity doubled.In 1974, the average hourly wage for American workers in today’s dollars was $19.24, while in 2014 it is up only 7 percent to $20.56. Over the same period, U.S. workers’ productivity more than doubled. Economists now widely name “increased globalization and trade openness” as a key explanation for the unprecedented failure of wages to keep pace with productivity, as noted in recent Federal Reserve Bank research. Even economists who defend status-quo trade policies attribute much of the wage-productivity disconnect to a form of “labor arbitrage.”
- Trade agreement investor privileges promote offshoring of production from the United States to low-wage nations. Today’s “trade” agreements contain various investor privileges that reduce many of the risks and costs previously associated with relocating production from developed countries to low-wage developing countries. Thus, many imports now entering the United States come from companies originally located in the United States and other wealthy countries that have moved production to low-wage countries. For instance, nearly half of China’s exports are now produced by foreign enterprises, not Chinese firms. Underlying this trend is what the Horizon Project called the “growing divergence between the national interests of the United States and the interests of many U.S. multinational corporations which, if given their druthers, seem tempted to offshore almost everything but consumption.” American workers effectively are now competing in a globalized labor market where some poor nations’ workers earn less than 10 cents per hour.
- Manufacturing workers displaced by trade have taken significant pay cuts. The United States has lost millions of manufacturing jobs during the Fast Track era, but overall unemployment has been largely stable (excluding recessions) as new low-paying service sector jobs have been created. Proponents of status quo trade raise the quantity of jobs to claim that Fast Tracked deals have not hurt U.S. workers. But what they do not mention is that the quality of jobs available, and the wages most U.S. workers can earn, have been degraded. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, about three out of every five displaced manufacturing workers who were rehired in 2014 experienced a wage reduction. About one out of every three displaced manufacturing workers took a pay cut of greater than 20 percent. For the average manufacturing worker earning more than $47,000 per year, this meant an annual loss of at least $10,000.
- Trade policy holds back wages even of jobs that can’t be offshored. Economists have known for more than 70 years that all workers with similar skill levels – not just manufacturing workers – will face downward wage pressure when U.S. trade policy creates a selective form of “free trade” in goods that non-professional workers produce. When workers in manufacturing are displaced and seek new jobs, they add to the supply of U.S. workers available for non-offshorable, non-professional jobs in hospitality, retail, health care and more. As increasing numbers of American workers, displaced from better-paying jobs by current trade policies, have joined the glut of workers competing for these non-offshorable jobs, real wages have actually been declining in these growing sectors.
- The bargaining power of American workers has been eroded by threats of offshoring. In the past, American workers represented by unions were able to bargain for their fair share of economic gains generated by productivity increases. But the investor protections in today’s trade agreements, by facilitating the offshoring of production, alter the power dynamic between workers and their employers. For instance, a study for the North American Commission on Labor Cooperation – the body established in the labor side agreement of NAFTA – showed that after passage of NAFTA, as many as 62 percent of U.S. union drives faced employer threats to relocate abroad, and the factory shut-down rate following successful union certifications tripled.
- Even accounting for Americans’ access to cheaper imported goods, the current trade model’s downward pressure on wages outweighs those gains, making most Americans net losers. Trade theory states that while those specific workers who lose their jobs due to imports may suffer, the vast majority of us gain from trade “liberalization” because we can buy cheaper imported goods. But when the non-partisan Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) applied the actual data to the trade theory, they discovered that when you compare the lower prices of cheaper goods to the income lost from low-wage competition under current policies, the trade-related losses in wages hitting the vast majority of American workers outweigh the gains in cheaper goods from trade. U.S. workers without college degrees (63 percent of the workforce) have lost an amount equal to 12.2 percent of their wages, even after accounting for the benefits of cheaper goods. That means a net loss of more than $3,400 per year for a worker earning the median annual wage of $28,000.
Income Inequality Increases in America
- The inequality between rich and poor in America has jumped to levels not seen since the robber baron era. The richest 10 percent of Americans are now taking more than half of the economic pie, while the top 1 percent is taking more than one fifth. Wealthy individuals’ share of national income was stable for the first several decades after World War II, but shot up 51 percent for the richest 10 percent and 146 percent for the richest 1 percent between 1974 and 2012 – the Fast Track era. Is there a connection to trade policy?
- Longstanding economic theory states that trade will increase income inequality in developed countries. In the 1990s a spate of economic studies put the theory to the test, resulting in an academic consensus that trade flows had indeed contributed to rising U.S. income inequality. The pro-“free trade” Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE), for example, found that nearly 40 percent of the increase in U.S. wage inequality was attributable to U.S. trade flows. In 2013, when the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) updated an oft-cited 1990s model estimate of trade’s impact on U.S. income inequality, it found that using the model’s own conservative assumptions, one third of the increase in U.S. income inequality from 1973 to 2011 – the Fast Track era – was due to trade with low-wage countries. The role of trade escalated rapidly from 1995 to 2011 – a period marked by a series of Fast-Tracked “free trade” deals – EPI found that 93 percent of the rise in income inequality during this period resulted from trade flows. Expressed in dollar terms, EPI estimates that trade’s inequality-exacerbating impact spelled a $1,761 loss in wages in 2011 for the average full-time U.S. worker without a college degree.
- Changes in technology or education levels do not fully account for American wage pressures. Some have argued that advances in computer technology explain why less technologically-literate American workers have been left behind, asserting that more education – rather than a different trade policy – is how America will prosper in the future. While more education and skills are desirable for many reasons, these goals alone will not solve the problems of growing inequality. First, as documented in a Federal Reserve Bank paper, inequality started rising as systematic U.S. trade deficits emerged, in the early Fast Track period, far before most workers reported using computers on the job. Second, college-educated workers have seen their wage growth stagnate, even in technologically sophisticated fields like engineering. Thus, addressing trade policy, not only better educating American workers, will be an essential part of tackling rising income inequality.
by Global Trade Watch intern Allie Gardner
You’ve likely heard about the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a sweeping deal under negotiation that would expand the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) model of trade across the Pacific. And you probably know of the damaging effects the TPP would have on American jobs, public health, food safety, and Internet freedom. But have you heard what the TPP would mean for labor rights?
Vietnam, one of the countries negotiating the TPP, is notorious for its labor rights abuses. Today, the Department of Labor issued a report declaring Vietnam as one of just four countries in the world that uses both child labor and forced labor in the apparel sector.
Through the use of such unethical labor practices, in addition to union repression and abysmal wages, Vietnam has been able to keep its production costs low. Under the TPP, U.S. businesses and workers would be forced to directly compete with Vietnamese firms on this uneven playing field.
A report last year by the Worker Rights Consortium found the Vietnamese apparel industry guilty of “the trafficking of persons as young as twelve years old from rural areas to work in ‘slave labor factories’… in Ho Chi Minh City.” In another recent report on Vietnam, the International Labour Organization revealed that more than nine out of ten Vietnamese factories it audited were violating the legal overtime limit for workers, who still did not earn a living wage. The average minimum wage in Vietnam is 52 cents per hour, half of the average minimum wage in China
Given Vietnam’s labor abuses, in addition to human rights violations such as an increased crackdown on political dissidents, voices ranging from the Washington Post editorial board to Human Rights Watch have lambasted the Obama administration’s plan to sign the TPP with Vietnam.
You can add your voice to this chorus of support for labor and human rights: ask your congressional representatives to say no to Fast Tracking the TPP. Tell them that U.S. workers should not be pitted against workers in Vietnam whose basic rights are being violated.
While telling Congress to say no to unfair trade, you can also say yes to fair trade. Tomorrow is “Fair Tuesday,” an opportunity to support workers by buying fairly traded products that respect their rights. Because the apparel and textile industries are part of buyer-driven commodity chains, consumers have the power to influence production practices by selectively buying from only those brands and companies that choose to treat their workers well.
Just as consumer activism means telling companies we do not support unethical labor practices, political activism means telling Congress that we do not support trade deals with countries in which such labor abuses are rampant. As this year’s holiday shopping season gets underway, say yes to workers’ rights by saying no to the TPP.
While leaders from the 12 countries negotiating the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement met around the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in China to discuss the agreement, activists and civil society from across the globe decided to stage some events of their own.
Throughout the week, rallies, creative actions, meetings, and town halls were planned in a number of countries to draw attention to the secret deal that threatens to limit domestic policies that promote food safety, access to medicine, internet freedom, and environmental protection. The deal would also empower corporations to sue governments in extrajudicial foreign tribunals, challenging public interest laws that they claim frustrate their expectations. (And that’s just what we know based on leaked texts, because the negotiations are taking place entirely in secret).
Over 700,000 petitions against Fast Track are delivered to U.S. Congress
In the United States, a broad coalition of labor unions, environmental, consumer, faith, online, and other groups assembled on Capitol Hill to deliver 713,674 petition signatures opposing “Fast Track,” the Nixon-era procedure that would empower President Obama to sign the deal before Congress is able to vote on it. Corporations are trying to revive Fast Track to railroad the TPP through Congress, as it would greatly limit lawmakers’ oversight over the content of the agreement by only allowing 20 hours of debate and forcing an up or down vote (with no opportunity for amendments).
The groups also launched an online campaign resulting in thousands of calls and hundreds of thousands of e-mails to Members of Congress urging them to vote “No” on Fast Track. Across the country, 20 rallies and town halls brought the anti-Fast Track message to lawmakers’ home districts.Thousands protest against the TPP in New Zealand
More than 10,000 New Zealanders took to the streets in 17 locations to protest the TPP, gaining national news attention and social media buzz, and pushing the #TPPANoWay hashtag to number 2 worldwide. Protesters were joined by lawmakers from a number of political parties, including leaders from the Green Party and Labour Party. Participants rallied against the secrecy of the negotiating process and TPP's inclusion of the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism, among other issues.
Meanwhile in Japan, 50 activists staged an action outside of Prime Minster Shinzō Abe’s official residence in opposition to the TPP. More than 100 individuals representing farmers, labor groups, consumer organizations, medical advocates, lawyers, and university professors met with Japanese lawmakers to discuss concerns related to the TPP.
A number of flash mobs were organized around Australia. Opposition to the TPP was heard in Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Hobart, Adelaide, and Melbourne. A few days later, concerns about the TPP were represented during G-20 educational forums and protests which attracted thousands.Australian protestors rally against the TPP in Perth, Hobart, and Sydney
While negotiators and corporate advisors are hiding their agenda in confidential documents, activists worldwide are spreading their concerns on the Internet, Twitter, Facebook, and e-mail blasts. While leaders and trade ministers are meeting behind closed doors in undisclosed locations, thousands of citizens are responding by gathering on the streets, in libraries, town halls, and their lawmakers’ offices.
The message of citizens across the globe is clear: we are not willing to accept a "trade" deal negotiated in secret in the interest of corporations and at the expense of our rights to safety, democracy, and health.
Is President Obama really going to sell us out on trade? Did Sen. McConnell have a full or half smile in the last press conference where he talked about Fast Track? Is Rep. Boehner really going to have a showdown with President Obama over immigration and how will that impact Fast Track? What about the news stories stating that TPP will be signed next month? Oh, and how do the XL pipeline and deal with China on carbon emissions factor in?
Comrades, don’t let the results of the elections, and the political posturing that’s happened since, drive you crazy, distract you, or cause you to lose hope. We have a path to victory! Democrats lost control of the Senate, but we did not lose control over our campaign to stop corporate-driven, job-offshoring, democracy-stifling “free trade” agreements by stopping President Obama from getting Fast Track trade authority. In fact, we have a chance to bury Fast Track once and for all.
Don’t mistake my resolve and optimism as a suggestion that our victory is inevitable. Nothing can be further from the truth. We’re going to have to dig deep and fight harder than we ever have. There’s a giant corporate lobby fighting for Fast Track because they want the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) more than they’ve wanted any other trade deal. All their hopes and dreams for a global race to the bottom are wrapped up in the TPP. I live in Washington, D.C. and see the lobbying firsthand. Our opponents are out in full force. But over the past two years I’ve seen a bigger force. I’ve seen the power of us.
Truth be told, President Obama could have had Fast Track a long time ago. But we’ve been on the case day in and day out and we’ve stopped Fast Track thus far. This past Saturday, November 15, marked the one year anniversary of the game-changing letter to President Obama that Reps. Rosa DeLauro and George Miller released in which 151 Democratic members of the House of Representatives stated that, “…we will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.” And just three days prior, on November 12 a block of Republican members of the House of Representatives sent their own letters voicing their opposition to Fast Track to President Obama. Can you believe that it’s already been a year?! Our work together has been extraordinary, truly. We’ve been steady and consistent and we surely can’t stop and won’t stop now.
While the President and some congressional leaders sit in backrooms on Capitol Hill playing poker with the lives of over 800 million people across the world, let’s play chess. The fight to stop Fast Track has always been and will continue to be won or lost in the U.S. House of Representatives. Learning about the history of Fast Track will give you insightful perspective. Above all, don’t let the opposition distract us from our strategic path to victory. The corporate lobby is hard at work spinning a narrative of the inevitability of Fast Track because Republicans gained control of the Senate. That’s simply not reflective of reality. They’re trying to psych us out. In fact, here’s what Lori Wallach thinks:
Our strategy must remain sharp and vision focused on stopping Fast Track in this current Lame Duck session of Congress and in 2015 by demanding that our representatives vote NO on Fast Track. House, House, House!
Over the past few years, I’ve had the pleasure and honor of working with activists from all over the country. I’ve been lucky to reconnect with folks who were a part of the historic Battle in Seattle and Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) protests. Wow, we’ve been at this a long time! But back to my point, the World Trade Organization protests in Seattle in 1999 and the FTAA protests in Miami in 2003 remind us that we indeed do have the power to shut these “free trade” agreements down! But here’s the thing, we don’t need another Seattle to stop the TPP and Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA). All we have to do is stop Fast Track. That’s our greatest contribution to the international campaign to stop the TPP and TAFTA. So, keep up the great work!
Gather your comrades, build your resources, stay focused on the House of Representatives and steel yourself for the fight of a lifetime. Stopping Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership is so much more than a victory for fair trade. Stopping Fast Track now is about putting business-as-usual to rest and building a space for us to shape the future and world we all want to live in. Almost every issue that we care about (good-paying jobs, food safety, access to affordable medicines, environmental protections, Internet freedom, democracy, workers’ rights and much more) will be significantly negatively impacted if Congress gives President Obama the authority to ram TPP through congress and down the throats of people across the world.
Ring the alarm, my friends! It’s time and this time is ours. Stay strong. Keep focused. Stop Fast Track!
Opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the controversial trade pact being secretly negotiated between 12 Pacific Rim nations, continues to balloon. This week 176 million workers from the world’s largest trade union added their voice to the growing list of organizations and individuals speaking out against the trade pact.
On Tuesday, the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) released a statement calling on governments to halt TPP negotiations. The ITUC’s opposition to the TPP is significant not only because of the union's size, but also its breadth of representation: the ITUC has 325 affiliates in 161 countries and territories, including major labor unions in 9 of the 12 TPP countries.
Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, explained the confederation's declaration of TPP opposition: “This secretive trade deal is good for some multinational corporations, but deeply damaging to ordinary people and the very role of governments. Corporate interests are at the negotiating table, but national parliaments and other democratic actors are being kept in the dark. What we do know, much of it through leaks, is that this proposed deal is not about ensuring better livelihoods for people, but about giving multinational companies a big boost to profits. Governments should shut down the negotiations, and not re-open them unless they get genuine and transparent public mandates at home that put people’s interest in the centre.”
ITUC's concerns are widely shared: the pact is being negotiated in secret, excluding the input of civil society, experts, and lawmakers, while providing significant access to corporate interests. Also addressed in ITUC's statement is the TPP's inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement, a provision which empowers corporations to "sue" national governments before extrajudicial tribunals and demand compensation for "expected future profits" if they feel a country's domestic policies have undermined special rights for foreign firms. The statement also mentions that the TPP would likely increase the cost of life-saving medicines (a worry validated by the recent leak of the Intellectual Property chapter).
Despite these concerns, TPP negotiators are moving ahead quickly to try to finish the beleaguered deal. Earlier this week, TPP country leaders met around the margins of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum to discuss the TPP. U.S. President Obama urged leaders to work to "break some of the remaining logjams" of the agreement. Those "logjams" include environmental protections, policies ensuring affordable medicine, and safeguards on sovereignty and democracy.
While negotiators continue to miss deadlines to close the deal, opposition continues to grow among labor unions, activists, lawmakers, environmental advocates, consumer organizations, economists, and a wide-array of other individuals and groups. Negotiators and governments should heed ITUC's call, halt the TPP negotiations, and take a moment to reflect on exactly what why there is so much disapproval of the TPP.
The report pitches the deal as a gift to small businesses.
It was financed by FedEx, the 64th largest corporation in the United States.
Why did the Atlantic Council need to call on big business to try to persuade us that TAFTA would be good for small businesses?
The report itself provides the answer: “Those [small and medium enterprises, or SMEs] that have heard of the negotiations tend to believe that TTIP is designed principally to help large companies…”
That is, small businesses do not see TAFTA as a deal that is intended to further their interests, but those of their outsized competitors.
That view makes sense, given small firms’ experience under past free trade agreements (FTAs), including the deal implemented in 2012 with Korea. The Atlantic Council’s report claims, without citing a source, that SMEs have seen exports grow under the Korea FTA.
Not according to the U.S. government. U.S. Census Bureau data reveal that both small and large U.S. firms saw their exports to Korea fall in the year the FTA was implemented (the latest year of data availability), compared to the year before implementation.
In fact, small firms have endured the steepest downfall of exports to Korea under the FTA. U.S. firms with fewer than 100 employees saw exports to Korea drop 12 percent while firms with more than 500 employees saw exports only decline by 1 percent. As a result, under the Korea FTA, small businesses are capturing an even smaller share of the value of U.S. exports to Korea (just 16 percent), while big businesses are capturing a larger share.
Perhaps anticipating small firms’ “tendency to believe” that another FTA would disadvantage them relative to their large competitors, the Atlantic Council decided to forego a broad-based, statistically-relevant survey of small firms’ views on TAFTA. Instead, the think tank “interviewed several representatives” of a few hand-picked firms.
But even this small, anecdotal exercise did not report the small businesses’ aggregate answers to fundamental questions, such as “Have you heard of TAFTA?” or “Based on what you know about TAFTA, are you in favor of such an agreement?”
Those aren’t hypothetical questions. Indeed, they were part of the Atlantic Council’s survey, which can be found online.
Why didn’t the Atlantic Council report the aggregate responses to its own survey questions? Maybe because the results were not what the think tank sought. A call to the Atlantic Council indicated that small firms who received the survey were largely unresponsive to questions about how TTIP would benefit them.
The lack of interest from small businesses comes despite the Atlantic Council’s efforts to sell the deal in the text of the survey. Abandoning any pretense of impartiality, the survey informed businesses that TAFTA was “an ambitious effort to create sustainable economic growth and job creation in the United States and European Union” before asking if they supported the deal.
Small firms’ non-responsiveness begs the obvious question: shouldn’t the fact that small businesses are not interested in cheerleading another FTA be cause for concern about the FTA? When an invitation to name the benefits of a prospective deal is met with silence, it should probably prompt one to question the deal’s merits.
It probably should not prompt one to ask FedEx to sponsor a report intent on explaining to small businesses what’s best for them.
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Forbes just published this response from Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy (GTW director and research director) to a counterfactual Forbes opinion piece by John Brinkley in support of investor-state dispute settlement.
By Lori Wallach & Ben Beachy
Even those who support the controversial idea of a parallel legal system for foreign corporations, known as investor-state dispute settlement or ISDS, likely cringed at John Brinkley’s recent attempt to defend that system. (“Trade Dispute Settlement: Much Ado About Nothing,” October 16.)
In trying to justify trade agreement provisions that provide special rights and privileges to foreign firms to the disadvantage of their domestic competitors, Brinkley wrote 24 sentences with factual assertions. Seventeen of them were factually wrong.
To his credit, it is no easy task to defend a system that empowers foreign corporations to bypass domestic courts and laws to demand taxpayer compensation for domestic policies that apply equally to their local competitors, but that they claim frustrate special privileges granted to them as foreign investors. The cases are heard by extrajudicial tribunals not bound by precedent. Decisions are not subject to substantive appeal.
Brinkley’s mission was particularly difficult given how unpopular the ISDS system has become. Indeed, one reason that the CATO Institute has come out against ISDS is the realistic concern that its inclusion in the proposed trans-Pacific and transatlantic free trade pacts could derail those negotiations.
ISDS is risky to include in a transatlantic deal
In Europe, the incoming European Commission President and the Economic Minister of Germany have both indicated that they oppose including ISDS in the U.S.-EU deal. Whether one focuses on the threat to solvency or fair competition, it’s especially risky to include ISDS in a transatlantic deal. Doing so would newly empower more than 70,000 U.S. and EU subsidiaries of cross-registered firms to demand compensation based on special foreign investor privileges—an unprecedented increase in liability for both the United States and the EU.
Around the world, governments from Australia to South Africa have started to rebuke ISDS as studies have shown countries have failed to attract more FDI by enacting ISDS agreements, while governments—and their treasuries—have come under increasing ISDS attacks by foreign firms.
Only 50 cases were launched in the first three decades of ISDS pacts. But in each of the past three years more than 50 cases have been filed annually. The current stock of 568 ISDS cases includes demands for compensation over land use policies, tobacco controls, energy and financial regulations, pollution cleanup requirements, patent standards and other policies that apply equally to domestic firms, and that often have been approved by domestic high courts.
This trend and its threat to the rule of law have led esteemed jurists from free-trade-minded nations such as Singapore, New Zealand and Australia to join the U.S. National Conference of State Legislatures (which represents our states’ majority GOP-controlled legislatures) in opposing ISDS.
Reviewing the facts
In his quixotic effort to defend the ISDS system, Brinkley made a real mess of the facts. There’s not space to go through all 17 factual errors, but it’s important to correct his biggest blunders.
For instance, Brinkley argued, “What matters is not whether [the foreign corporations] can sue, but whether they can win.” He then proceeded to misstate the win record.
In fact, the United Nations figures on ISDS case outcomes, which Brinkley cited, show that foreign corporations have gained favorable rulings or settlements in 57 percent of the ISDS cases launched to date.
Foreign corporations have “won” against Canada’s ban on hazardous waste exports, the Czech Republic’s decision to not bail out a bank, a Mexican municipality’s decision to not allow the expansion of a contaminated toxic waste facility, and a Canadian requirement for any and all firms obtaining oil concessions to contribute to research and development in the affected province.
Foreign firms and the success of their ISDS cases
Foreign firms have also proven successful in using the threat of an ISDS case to extract favorable settlements, which often oblige governments to pay large sums to the foreign firms. A government paid $900 million to a firm in one recent ISDS settlement.
ISDS settlements have also led governments to alter policies challenged by foreign corporations. An ISDS case that a U.S. chemical company launched against Canada’s ban on a toxic gasoline additive – one currently also banned in the United States – resulted in Canada overturning the ban. In another ISDS settlement, the German city of Hamburg was obliged to roll back environmental requirements on a Swedish corporation’s coal-fired power plant.
Without explanation, Brinkley chose simply to ignore all of the ISDS cases that were settled in favor of the foreign firm, distorting his “scoreboard” of ISDS case outcomes. And he did not mention that even when governments “win,” they are still on the hook for high legal costs and tribunal fees associated with defending these cases – an average of $8 million per case.
Investor-state disputes vs. state-state disputes
Brinkley’s accounting became even more confused when he conflated investor-state disputes withstate-state disputes – and similarly made a mish-mash of our critique. Brinkley appears not to realize the difference between the ISDS system, in which any covered foreign corporation claiming to have an investment in a country can drag a government to an extrajudicial tribunal to challenge its policies, and trade agreement dispute settlement in which cases may only be brought by government signatories to pacts.
He stated, for example, that “the aggrieved foreign investor can turn to a dispute settlement body at the…WTO [World Trade Organization].” False. The WTO only allows governments – not foreign corporations – to bring cases against governments.
Brinkley then picked one state-state dispute that the United States lost at the WTO and wondered why the UN did not include it in its list of investor-state cases against the United States. He added the lost WTO state-state case to his tally of investor-statechallenges that the United States has faced to date, and summarized his hodgepodge U.S. win-loss record as, “we’ll say 13-1.”
Brinkley seems unaware that in fact the United States has lost 61 out of 67state-state cases brought against it at the WTO – a 91 percent loss rate.
As for investor-state cases brought against the United States, few such cases exist thanks to the reality that 52 of the 54 countries with which the United States has an ISDS-enforced pact are not major FDI exporters. Brinkley appears strangely unconcerned that the U.S. government plans to dramatically expand its investor-state liability under the U.S.-EU deal, which would open the door to foreign investor claims from 11 of the world’s 20 largest FDI exporters.
The Loewen fluke
Brinkley also cited an ISDS case that Loewen, a Canadian funeral home conglomerate, launched against the U.S. government over Mississippi’s jury trial system and the standard common-law requirement to post bond before pursuing an appeal. (Loewen had lost a state court case battle against a rival funeral home operator.)
Brinkley argued that because the tribunal dismissed Loewen’s ISDS claim, there is no cause for concern. But the tribunal actually supported a number of Loewen’s claims on the merits. It only dismissed the case without imposing a penalty on the U.S. government thanks to a remarkable fluke: Loewen’s lawyers reincorporated the firm as a U.S. company, thus destroying its ability to obtain compensation as a “foreign” investor.
Such luck should not be expected to continue, particularly if, under the U.S.-EU deal, foreign investor privileges are granted to thousands of European firms operating here.
Before we subject our national treasury, our domestic firms or our laws to an unprecedented expansion of ISDS liability, we should take a cold, hard look at the legacy to date of this extraordinary system. It would help to start with actual facts.
Ms. Wallach and Mr. Beachy are the director and research director, respectively, of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.
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Fast Track’s Chances Diminished by GOP Senate Sweep; Obama Flexibility on Japan Agriculture Market Access in TPP Reduced; Bipartisan Campaigning Against Status Quo Trade Policy Heightens Public Awareness
The GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate probably reduces the chances that President Barack Obama gets Fast Track at all before his presidency is over or that a deal is completed on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). There has been a major corporate PR campaign to push the opposite narrative. However, a close look at the interplay of the actual politics and policy on Fast Track and the TPP show that the GOP election sweep may, counterintuitively, actually not promote the corporate trade agenda.
Fast Track: The issue is not who is Senate Majority leader. The fight over trade authority is always won or lost in the U.S. House of Representatives. Recall that second-term Democratic President Bill Clinton lost a bid for Fast Track in 1998 in the GOP-controlled House with 171 Democrats and 71 GOP members voting “no.” (Clinton had Fast Track for only two of his eight years. Indeed, in the past two decades, the only president to obtain Fast Track was President George W. Bush, and winning that five-year grant required a two-year effort at the start of Bush’s first term and a lot of political capital, after which Fast Track passed by one vote in a GOP-controlled House in 2002.)
The reason that the GOP controlling the Senate could make Fast Track’s passage less likely is related to who will now be writing a trade authority bill. The old Fast Track trade authority mechanism faces a significant bloc of GOP House opposition and virtually no House Democratic support. Outgoing Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) had undertaken an inclusive process to get input to write his own version of trade authority, which he dubbed Smart Track. That process and its outcome could have broken the bipartisan House opposition to the old Fast Track system.
But neither incoming Finance Committee Chair Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) nor the likely GOP Ways and Means Committee leader supports major changes to the old Fast Track authority delegation process. Indeed, the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill to establish trade authority was finally introduced in January 2014 only because GOP Finance and Ways and Means leaders opposed even modest changes to the actual authority delegation process from the 2002 bill. Changes to the actual terms delegating congressional authorities are also opposed by the business lobby. Nor do Hatch or the Ways and Means GOP leaders have the inclination or the relationships to widen the base of support for a bill.
But altering the way in which Congress’ authority is delegated, to provide Congress with a more fulsome role throughout the process and with more accountability over negotiators, is necessary to build bipartisan House support for a new delegation of trade authority. Updates to negotiating objectives or the level of transparency required cannot overcome the issues at the core of the House allergy to Fast Track.
A significant bloc of House GOP does not want to delegate more power to Obama, especially as the GOP has been attacking him as the “imperial president” who grabs legislative authority for his own. Tea party activists oppose Fast Track per se and anything that empowers Obama, which leaves GOP lawmakers who support Fast Track exposed to the dreaded tea party primary threat. To make political matter worse, House GOP lawmakers know that even if the GOP votes were available to pass Fast Track on a party line vote, almost no Democrats will vote to give their own president such authority, so any fallout from future trade pacts would be owned solely by the GOP.
As a policy matter, many GOP conservatives think the lump sum delegation of various authorities granted to Congress in the Constitution busts vital checks and balances. (It empowers a president to “diplomatically legislate” by negotiating binding non-trade terms to which U.S. law must be conformed; to sign and enter into a trade pact before Congress approves it; to write legislation not subject to committee mark-up and force a vote on it within 90 days of submission; and to pre-set the rules for floor consideration.)
That is why, when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) indicated no floor time would be provided for Fast Track this year, the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill (introduced Jan. 9, 2014) was already dead on arrival in the House:
- There were literally only a handful of House Democrats who supported the bill: eight out of 201 members. And three of those eight conditioned their “yes” votes on the bill also extending Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which Hatch viscerally opposes.
- The House GOP leadership could not count more than 100 members as “yes” votes on the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill. They had a bloc of members with solid “no” votes – some of whom signed letters against Fast Track in 2013 – and a large bloc who could not commit to vote “yes.” That is why the House GOP leadership never marked up the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill or moved it toward a floor vote. And that is why House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said in May he needed to see 50 firm Democrat votes before he would move the bill.
Reid’s announcement in January certainly made it more certain that the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill would not be moving. But even without Reid’s opposition, Boehner could never find the 50 Democrats he needed to make up for the GOP members he could not count as “yes” votes on the Camp-Baucus-Hatch bill.
And, the House election results do not appear to fix Boehner’s math problem. To fully assess what the new House makeup means for Fast Track, the dust will have to settle on the results to see whether it is a wash, slightly harder for Fast Track to pass (e.g., if a number of Fast Track-opposing tea party GOP candidates replaced GOP members who were for Fast Track) or slightly easier (e.g., if a lot of “Wall Street” GOP candidates replaced no-on-Fast-Track Democrats.)
One more way in which GOP control of the Senate complicates the path for trade authority: Hatch also hates TAA while Wyden supported expanding it. Adding TAA to the old Fast Track process does not add new Democratic support, but not having TAA could result in literally no House Democratic support. For instance, the House’s leading Democratic Fast Track boosters, U.S. Reps. Ron Kind (D-Wis.) and Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) – among the eight House Democrats who supported the Camp-Baucus-Hatch Fast Track bill – said absent a TAA extension, they would not support it.
Thus, not having Wyden as Senate Finance Committee chairman actually decreases the chances that Obama will ever get a delegation of trade authority. But that would not be such a shocker anyway. Since Congress woke up to what Fast Track really means with the Fast-Tracked passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the World Trade Organization (WTO) almost 20 years ago, Congress has allowed Fast Track to be in effect for only five of the 20 years.
TPP: The election results may also complicate Obama’s goal of signing a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. As the TPP misses yet another do-or-die deadline – this time a November date announced by Obama in June that was related to the imminent Asia-Pacific Economic Partnership (APEC) meeting – to get a deal, any deal, the administration might be ready to step back from its position regarding Japan and agriculture market access in the TPP. Except, the demand that the TPP include the zeroing of all agricultural tariff comes mainly from the Republicans, as does the call to throw Japan out of the TPP talks unless Japan concedes to this demand.
Both Parties Competed to Highlight Rejection of Unfair Trade in Competitive Races, Heightening Public Awareness and Further Complicating Obama’s Bid for Fast Track: Analysis of the most-watched races of the 2014 elections reveals bipartisan competition to align campaign positions with the American public’s opposition to current U.S. trade policies and the job offshoring they cause. A raft of ads spotlighting the damage caused by status quo trade policies has heightened constituents’ anger about damaging trade deals and the expectation that their newly elected representatives will reject the administration’s attempt to Fast Track more of the same deals.
Some of 2014’s most high-profile races featured both candidates competing to portray themselves as the greater opponent of unfair trade. Republican challengers sought to outdo the fair-trade voting records of Democratic incumbents by proclaiming their own rejection of existing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), while the incumbents touted their votes against the FTAs and their opposition to Fast Track.
Incumbents who could not themselves claim a fair trade record still campaigned with the trade frame by attacking their opponents on offshoring, voicing opposition to tax policies that incentivize offshoring or citing instances of being “tough on China.” Even Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), with a 100 percent record of supporting unfair trade deals, was obliged to create and air an ad claiming he “fought against unfair foreign trade” after multiple ads attacked him for supporting damaging trade deals and costing American jobs.
Closely watched races in which both candidates vied to portray themselves as a stronger opponent of unfair trade included:
- Minnesota’s 8th Congressional District – Nolan vs. Mills: In the closely fought race for Minnesota’s eighth district seat – one of the most competitive races in this election cycle – incumbent U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan (D-Minn.) turned around a likely GOP pick-up after vying with Republican Stewart Mills to declare greater opposition to status quo trade. This race spotlights the difficulty Obama’s quest for Fast Track authority will face in the next Congress, as conservative GOP members campaigned against the trade status quo and thus will be expected by their voters to stop more-of-the-same trade policies. In one ad, Mills tried to convert popular rejection of existing FTAs into rejection of incumbents, blaming “politicians like Rick” for “trade deals that reward outsourcers, while killing Minnesota jobs.” Nolan, who was not in office during the votes for any existing FTAs, touted his own opposition to unfair deals. Nolan’s campaign website stated that he “has fought against ‘fast-tracking’ the ongoing TPP trade negotiations, and will continue to stand up for fair trade.” Nolan was one of 151 House Democrats to sign a letter last year against Fast Tracking the TPP. Voters opted for Nolan, who trumped Mills.
- U.S. Senate in Michigan – Peters vs. Land: In the competitive Michigan U.S. Senate race between U.S. Rep. Gary Peters (D-Mich.) and Terri Lynn Land (R), both candidates competed to make known their opposition to unpopular trade deals. Competing against Peters’ 100 percent record of opposition to FTAs, Land sought to flaunt her own anti-FTA position, stating in an ad, “My plan will save Michigan jobs by ending unfair foreign trade deals and developing new agreements that open up markets for Michigan exports.” Michigan has lost more than 250,000 manufacturing jobs (about one out of every three) since NAFTA was enacted. Peters’ campaign website touted his own fair trade record, stating, “He has stood up for Michigan manufacturers and opposed any new trade deal that does not require our foreign trading partners play by the same rules as American companies.” In the end, Peters beat Land handily although the race had long been deemed a tossup.
- U.S. Senate in Kentucky – McConnell vs. Grimes: Trade loomed large in this headline-grabbing race between McConnell and his Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. The Senate Majority PAC launched an ad that showed video footage of McConnell expressing support for NAFTA, and stated, “Mitch McConnell’s been tragically wrong about foreign trade deals. They’ve cost America over half a million jobs.” Another Senate Majority PAC ad criticized McConnell for “pushing foreign trade deals that send Kentucky jobs to new homes far away.” As his numbers plummeted in the early fall, McConnell’s campaign ultimately was forced to respond by adopting the same frame used against him, claiming in an ad that McConnell “fought against unfair foreign trade,” despite having cast 20 out of 20 votes in favor of unfair trade since 1991. McConnell beat Grimes after running against his own voting record.
World Trade Organization Rules Against Popular U.S. Country-of-Origin Meat Labels on Which Consumers Rely
Compliance Panel Says U.S. Policy Still Violates WTO Despite Changes Made to Comply With 2012 WTO Order; U.S. Should Not Change COOL Policy
Today’s ruling by a World Trade Organization (WTO) compliance panel against U.S. country-of-origin meat labeling (COOL) policies sets up a no-win dynamic, and the Obama administration should appeal the ruling, Public Citizen said.
If the administration were to weaken COOL, U.S. consumers would lose access to critical information about where their meat comes from at a time when consumer interest in such information is at an all-time high and opposition would only grow to the administration’s beleaguered trade agenda. If the administration again were to seek to comply with the WTO by strengthening COOL, then Mexico and Canada – the two countries that challenged the policy – likely would continue their case, even though cattle imports from Canada have increased since the 2013 strengthening of the policy.
The ruling further complicates the Obama administration’s stalled efforts to obtain Fast Track trade authority for two major agreements, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement. Both of these pacts would expose the United States to more such challenges against U.S. consumer, environmental and other policies.
“Many Americans will be shocked that the WTO can order our government to deny U.S. consumers the basic information about where their food comes from and that if the information policy is not gutted, we could face millions in sanctions every year,” said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “Today’s ruling spotlights how these so called ‘trade’ deals are packed with non-trade provisions that threaten our most basic rights, such as even knowing the source and safety of what’s on our dinner plate.”
The WTO compliance panel decided that changes made in May 2013 to the original U.S. COOL policy in an effort to make it comply with a 2012 WTO ruling against the law are not acceptable and that the modified U.S. COOL policy still constitutes a “technical barrier to trade.” The panel decided that the strengthened COOL policy afforded less favorable treatment to cattle and hog imports from Canada and Mexico, despite a 52 percent increase in U.S. imports of cattle from Canada under the modified policy. The panel stated that the alleged difference in treatment did not “stem exclusively from legitimate regulatory distinctions.”
The United States has one chance to appeal this decision before the WTO issues a final, binding ruling. Under WTO rules, if the U.S. appeal fails, Canada and Mexico would be authorized to impose indefinite trade sanctions against the United States unless or until the U.S. government changes or eliminates the popular labeling policy.
Today’s ruling follows a string of recent WTO rulings against popular U.S. consumer and environmental policies. In May 2012, the WTO ruled against voluntary “dolphin-safe” tuna labels that, by allowing consumers to choose to buy tuna caught without dolphin-killing fishing practices, have helped to dramatically reduce dolphin deaths. In April 2012, the WTO ruled against a U.S. ban on clove-, candy- and chocolate-flavored cigarettes, enacted to curb youth smoking. In each of those cases, U.S. policy changes made to comply with the WTO’s decisions also have been challenged before WTO panels similar to the one that issued today’s ruling.
“The WTO again ruling against a popular U.S. consumer protection will just spur the growing public and congressional concerns about the big Pacific and European trade deals the administration is now pushing and the Fast Track authority to railroad through Congress more agreements that undermine basic consumer rights,” said Wallach.
The COOL policy was created when Congress enacted mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat – supported by 92 percent of the U.S. public in a recent poll – in the 2008 farm bill. This occurred after 50 years of U.S. government experimentation with voluntary labeling and efforts by U.S. consumer groups to institute a mandatory program.
In their successful challenge of COOL at the WTO, Canada and Mexico claimed that the program violated WTO limits on what sorts of product-related “technical regulations” signatory countries are permitted to enact. The initial WTO ruling was issued in November 2011. Canada and Mexico demanded that the United States drop its mandatory labels in favor of a return to a voluntary program or standards set by an international food standards body in which numerous international food companies play a central role. Neither option would offer U.S. consumers the same level of information as the current labels. The United States appealed.
The WTO Appellate Body sided with Mexico and Canada in a June 2012 ruling against COOL. The U.S. government responded to the final WTO ruling by altering the policy in a way that fixed the problems identified by the WTO tribunal. However, instead of watering down the popular program as Mexico and Canada sought, the U.S. Department of Agriculture responded with a rule change in May 2013 that strengthened the labeling regime. The new policy provided more country-of-origin information to consumers, which satisfied the issues raised in the WTO’s ruling. However, Mexico and Canada then challenged the new U.S. policy. With today’s ruling, the WTO has announced its support for the Mexican and Canadian contention that the U.S. law is still not consistent with the WTO rules.
At the beginning of the year, we warned you about the upcoming trade tsunami. Well hold on to your hats everyone, because another “trade” storm is heading our way.
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiators are meeting in Australia this month and are aiming to finish the massive 12-country “trade” agreement.
Despite mounting evidence that the TPP should not be completed — including the leak of another part of the top-secret text earlier this week — President Barack Obama wants the TPP done by November 11. That is when he will be meeting with other TPP-country heads of state in China at the Asia-Pacific Economic Conference.
With the TPP’s threats to food safety, Internet freedom, affordable medicine prices, financial regulations, anti-fracking policies, and more, it’s hard to overstate the damage this deal would have on our everyday lives.
But the TPP isn’t the only threat we currently face. We are also up against the TPP’s equally ugly step-sisters: TAFTA and TISA. And Obama wants to revive the undemocratic, Nixon-era Fast Track trade authority that would railroad all three pacts through Congress.
The Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA) is not yet as far along as the TPP, but TAFTA negotiations recently took place in Washington, D.C., and more are set for a few weeks from now in Brussels. The largest U.S. and EU corporations have been pushing for TAFTA since the 1990s. Their goal is to use the agreement to weaken the strongest food safety and GMO labeling rules, consumer privacy protections, hazardous chemicals restrictions and more on either side of the Atlantic. They call this “harmonizing” regulations across the Atlantic. But really it would mean imposing a lowest common denominator of consumer and environmental safeguards.
The Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) is a proposed deal among the United States and more than 20 other countries that would limit countries’ regulation of the service sector. At stake is a roll back of the improved financial regulations created after the global financial crisis; limits on energy, transportation other policies needed to combat the climate crisis; and privatization of public services — from water utilities and government healthcare programs to aspects of public education.
TPP, TAFTA and TISA represent the next generation of corporate-driven “trade” deals. Ramming these dangerous deals through Congress is also Obama’s impetus to push for Fast Track. Fast Track gives Congress’ constitutional authority over trade to the president, allowing him to sign a trade deal before Congress votes on it and then railroad the deal through Congress in 90 days with limited debate and no amendments. Obama opposed Fast Track as a candidate. But now he is seeking to revive this dangerous procedural gimmick.
Because of your great work, we’ve managed to fend off Fast Track so far. This time last year, the U.S. House of Representatives released a flurry of letters showing opposition to Fast Track from most Democrats, and a wide swath of Republicans. This is something the other side was not expecting, and they were shocked. We won that round, but Obama and the corporate lobby are getting ready for the final push.
Because Fast Track is so unpopular in the House, Speaker John Boehner has a devious plan to force the bill through Congress in the “lame duck” session after the November elections. We need to make sure our “ducks” are in a row before that.
Some members of Congress are working on a replacement for Fast Track. U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) says he will create what he calls “Smart Track.” It is not yet clear if this will be the real Fast Track replacement we so desperately need, or just another Fast Track in disguise.
Sen. Wyden will want to be ready to introduce his Smart Track bill right as the new Congress starts in January 2015. This means we have only a couple of months left to make sure his replacement guarantees Congress a steering wheel and an emergency brake for runaway “trade” deals.
With all these deadlines drawing near, it’s clear that a knock-down, drag-out fight is imminent. But we will be ready. The TPP missed deadlines for completion in 2011, 2012, and 2013 — if we keep up the pressure, we can add 2014 to that list as well. That’s why there will be a TPP/TAFTA/TISA international week of action Nov 8-14 — more details coming soon!