Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NAFTA on steroids—Stop TPP!

Recently, I got an email from someone I met in the struggle to stop the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) back in 1993.  He was ahead of most of us in that he had actually written a book outlining the impending catastrophes that would result from this piece of economic extremism.  We had lost touch in the past 20 years (mostly my fault I am sure) so I was glad to hear from him.  And he inspired me to create this post.

One of the things we activists did that spring was arrange a political rally for our congressman who while a Democrat was clearly one of those "third-way" types that thought it was a fine idea to allow Wall Street to give money and help set the agenda for the party. Even so, we were his constituents and we held out the faint hope that a big turnout would convince him to see the flaws in the proposed legislation.  So our congressman was treated to a string of speakers who outlined how major elements of our economy were about to be sacrificed to the chance to buy socks for $2 a dozen.  We could have been talking to a wall—he voted for NAFTA in support of President Clinton who was making a big push to pass it.

I went home from the rally and wrote what I considered an impassioned plea to scuttle this obviously terrible idea that had somehow gained the support of the party of the people.  And while this critique of "free" trade has been on the Elegant Technology website since it first went up and has proven fairly popular over the years, this effort basically marked the end of any attempt by me to influence electoral politics.

Essentially my objections to these sorts of free trade agreements are due to my extensive reading of how economies developed which showed pretty conclusively that in nation after nation, advanced economies came into existence behind high tariff walls.  This is how industrialization came to Britain, USA, Germany, Japan, etc.  In fact, the idea of free trade only became popular when the Brits discovered that this was a perfect cover for the ruthless exploitation of their colonies and that it also had the delightful side effect of preventing places like India and China from developing a competing industrial system.

I had come to hate the free-trade argument precisely BECAUSE it was anti-development and as I had argued in Elegant Technology, the only way we could meaningfully address the growing environmental crises was to develop a whole new green infrastructure. And the best way to accomplish that was to employ the economic methods that had allowed the economy to develop in the first place.  A short summary of that argument can be found here.

So now the neoliberal swine who gave us NAFTA, etc. have a new scheme to offer. Like NAFTA, it is being negotiated in secret and will be subject to fast-track approval when it finally comes to Congress.  But I am personally not concerned that I don't actually know what is in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) because I would be astonished if there would be anything I could support.  These things tend to look pretty much alike.  Even so, I am delighted to see that WikiLeaks got ahold of and published the part that deals with intellectual property.  And while I am not especially concerned with this issue, there are many serious people who are including some with awesome intellectual clout like the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The folks behind the TPP are used to getting their way because they have the enormous power of unlimited funds behind them.  But this time they may not and this leak may be the event that upsets their best-laid plans.  While I am not predicting a defeat this time, I think it inevitable that their demise cannot be so far off.  Because the free-traders have a fatal flaw—their economics are catastrophically wrong and there are only about 250 years of economic history that proves it.

From Business Insider

WikiLeaks Just Published Part Of A Massive Free-Trade Treaty That's Under Negotiation


WikiLeaks has published a leaked draft from a massive international trade agreement that is currently being negotiated.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) involves a 12-nation regional trade bloc that accounts for almost 40% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and about one-third of all world trade. The U.S. is leading negotiations and expects them to be finished this year.

WikiLeaks published a draft, dated Aug. 30, that it says is the intellectual property rights chapter of the proposed pact that was debated in the 19th negotiating round.

Intellectual property law expert Matthew Rimmer told the Sydney Morning Herald that the leaked draft favored U.S. trade objectives and multinational corporate interests "with little focus on the rights and interests of consumers, let alone broader community interests."

Dr. Rimmer continued:
"One could see the TPP as a Christmas wish-list for major corporations, and the copyright parts of the text support such a view. Hollywood, the music industry, big IT companies such as Microsoft and the pharmaceutical sector would all be very happy with this."
Internet freedom advocates consider the TTP to be the biggest threat to the global Internet in years.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation describes the TTP as "a secretive, multi-national trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement."

Daniel Drezner of Foreign Policy notes that there are several inaccuracies in the WikiLeaks press release, but also says that the organization "actually makes a decent point to make on the intellectual property front."

WikiLeaks claims that the proposed IP chapter would "replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties."

The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was a proposed U.S. law that would have allowed the government to create a “blacklist” of copyright-infringing websites that could be blocked. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a stalled pact that would greatly increase the power of international bodies to enforce copyright laws.

“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons," according to WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange. more
The Guardian weighs in.

Thanks to WikiLeaks, we see just how bad TPP trade deal is for regular people

The more you know about the odious Trans-Pacific Partnership, the less you'll like it. It's made for corporate intellectual property and profits.

theguardian.com, Wednesday 13 November 2013

Among the many betrayals of the Obama administration is its overall treatment of what many people refer to as "intellectual property" – the idea that ideas themselves and digital goods and services are exactly like physical property, and that therefore the law should treat them the same way. This corporatist stance defies both reality and the American Constitution, which expressly called for creators to have rights for limited periods, the goal of which was to promote inventive progress and the arts.

In the years 2007 and 2008, candidate Obama indicated that he'd take a more nuanced view than the absolutist one from Hollywood and other interests that work relentlessly for total control over this increasingly vital part of our economy and lives. But no clearer demonstration of the real White House view is offered than a just-leaked draft of an international treaty that would, as many had feared, create draconian new rights for corporate "owners" and mean vastly fewer rights for the rest of us.

I'm talking about the appalling Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement, apartial draft of which WikiLeaks has just released. This treaty has been negotiated in secret meetings dominated by governments and corporations. You and I have been systematically excluded, and once you learn what they're doing, you can see why.

The outsiders who understand TPP best aren't surprised. That is, the draft "confirms fears that the negotiating parties are prepared to expand the reach of intellectual property rights, and shrink consumer rights and safeguards," writes James Love a longtime watcher of this process.

Needless to say, copyright is a key part of this draft. And the negotiators would further stiffen copyright holders' control while upping the ante on civil and criminal penalties for infringers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation says TPP has "extensive negative ramifications for users' freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process, and hinder peoples' abilities to innovate". It's Hollywood's wish list.

Canadian intellectual property expert Michael Geist examined the latest draft of the intellectual property chapter. He writes that the document, which includes various nations' proposals, shows the US government, in particular, taking a vastly different stance than the other nations. Geist notes:

[Other nations have argued for] balance, promotion of the public domain, protection of public health, and measures to ensure that IP rights themselves do not become barriers to trade. The opposition to these objective[s] by the US and Japan (Australia has not taken a position) speaks volumes about their goals for the TPP.

The medical industry has a stake in the outcome, too, with credible critics saying it would raise drug prices and, according to Love's analysis, give surgeons patent protection for their procedures.

Congress has shown little appetite for restraining the overweening power of the corporate interests promoting this expansion. With few exceptions, lawmakers have repeatedly given copyright, patent and trademark interests more control over the years. So we shouldn't be too optimistic about the mini-flurry of Capitol Hill opposition to the treaty that emerged this week. It's based much more on Congress protecting its prerogatives – worries about the treaty's so-called "fast track" authorities, giving the president power to act without congressional approval – than on substantive objections to the document's contents.

That said, some members of Congress have become more aware of the deeper issues. The public revolt against the repugnant "Stop Online Piracy Act" two years ago was a taste of what happens when people become more widely aware of what they can lose when governments and corporate interests collude.

If they become aware – that's the key. One of TPP's most abhorrent elements has been the secrecy under which it's been negotiated. The Obama administration's fondness for secret laws, policies and methods has a lot to do with a basic reality: the public would say no to much of which is done in our names and with our money if we knew what was going on. As Senator Elizabeth Warren pointed out, in a letter to the White House:
I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the administration's policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States. I believe in transparency and democracy and I think the US Trade Representative should too.
Thanks to WikiLeaks, we have at least partial transparency today. The more you know about the odious TPP, the less you'll like it – and that's why the administration and its corporate allies don't want you to know. more 
And now a word from folks who actually believe they can derail the TPP juggernaut. Whatever one might think about the lefty Kumbaya crowd, one can only wish these folks luck.  We cannot make progress unless the bad guys are first stopped.
Time to End the Failed Experiment

The People Can Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership


Momentum is growing in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Yesterday, the TPP was dealt two blows. Each could be lethal but the TPP, and its Atlantic counterpart, called TAFTA, are not dead yet. It is time for the movement of movements that formed to oppose the TPP to stand in solidarity, defeat these agreements and end the era of rigged corporate trade.

Yesterday’s first blow came from Wikileaks, showing once again that when government works in secret with big corporations, exposure by whistle blowers is critical to changing the corrupt direction of government and the economy. Wikileaks published the full text of the intellectual property chapter; the leaked document included the positions of all the parties. It will take time for all the corporate rigging in this lengthy document to be understood, but already it is evident that Internet freedom will be curtailed, access to healthcare will become more expensive and access to information will be undermined.

This is not the first leak of TPP text. Previous leaks are consistent with the Wikileaks leak – enhanced corporate power that puts profits before the needs of the people and the protection of the planet. The Wikileaks release shows that the United States is by far the most aggressive advocate for trans-national corporate interests, often isolated in pushing for harmful policies.

The second blow came from members of the U.S. House of Representatives. In recent days, several letters were sent to President Obama opposing Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority. Fast Track undermines Congress’ responsibility under the Commerce Clause to regulate trade between nations by allowing the president to sign the agreement before Congress even sees it. The letters made public on November 13th demonstrate broad bi-partisan opposition to Fast Track with 179 Members signing at least one of the three letters.

A letter spearheaded by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) garnered the support of three-quarters of House Democrats with 151 Members telling President Obama they oppose Fast Track, writing:

“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.”

Important leaders of the Democratic Party signed the letter including 18 out of 21 Ranking Members who would chair committees if the Democrats were in the majority. This means that to pursue Fast Track authority, President Obama will need to challenge three-quarters of his own party.

But, that is not all. In another letter, organized by Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and signed by 12 of the 16 Democratic Party members of the Ways and Means Committee, which is primarily responsible for Fast Track legislation, members expressed opposition to Fast Track unless it was radically different from previous grants of authority. The letter says it “cannot just be an extension of earlier trade promotion authorities. Any new proposed TPA must . . . ensure Congress plays a more meaningful role in the negotiating process.”

And, the opposition is bi-partisan. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) drafted a letter signed by 23 Republicans. The Republican letter emphasized that Congress has the “exclusive authority to set the terms of trade.” Further, “The Founders established this clear check and balance to prevent the president from unilaterally negotiating with foreign nations and imposing trade policies that Congress would deem to be against the national interest.” They write that they refuse to “cede our constitutional authority to the executive” through Fast Track.

These are just the latest problems in the quest for Fast Track, indeed a bill has yet to be introduced. The previous US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, said in 2012 “We’ve got to have it.” He wanted the authority by the end of 2012. In April, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) promised Obama Fast Track by June of 2013. The broad bi-partisan opposition announced this week shows that winning Fast Track has very little support in Congress. In fact, the letters may be the death knell for such legislation.

The Wikileaks documents show there is a lot of division among the negotiating nations with important disagreements on key aspects of the text. Without Fast Track to guarantee passage of the TPP, these nations will be even less likely to agree to demands by the U.S. Further, Asian countries are negotiating their own competing agreement, which does not include the United States but, unlike the TPP, does include China.

Latin American countries are also speaking out against the TPP. Earlier this year, Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead TPP negotiator quit to warn people of the dangers of the TPP – highlighting how big financial institutions will dominate their governments and how the TPP “will become a threat for our countries: It will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.” And, recently the Parliament of Peru passed a resolution “requesting that the government open a ‘public, political, and technical debate’ on the binding rules being negotiated in the TPP.”

In the United States, cities and counties are beginning to pass TPP Free Zones, saying they will not obey the TPP if it becomes law. These local governments are concerned with provisions that would not allow them to give preference to buying local, buying U.S. made goods or other provisions that undermine their sovereignty.

In addition to opposition in the U.S. government and foreign governments, a mass citizen uprising is developing against the TPP. There have been large protests in many of the countries involved in the negotiations as well as in the United States. The night before the Wikileaks documents were released, 13 cities did visibility protests opposing the TPP in light shows. In September we joined with activists in Washington, DC in a series of protests, including covering the office building of the US Trade Representative in banners to expose their secret trade agreement. Protests are scheduled for Salt Lake City, UT on November 19th where lead negotiators from 12 countries will hold meetings. A global day of protest is planned for December 3 against not only the TPP but also the WTO and all toxic trade agreements.

The TPP is running into resistance in Congress, local governments and among Pacific nations in Asia and Latin America; and by people who oppose the agreement all over the world. This is part of a growing movement of movements – all of the movements impacted by corporate trade, e.g. labor, environmental, Internet freedom, healthcare, food sovereignty, immigrant’s rights, banking regulation – are joining together to defeat it.

The people are winning. Fourteen trade agreements have been stopped in the last 14 years and as Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce wrote this week “the WTO has not concluded a single new multilateral trade agreement since it was created in 1995.” Mass protest against rigged corporate trade agreements can end the experiment in trade that puts profits ahead of the people and planet.

We are on the verge of defeating Fast Track. It is important that we keep the pressure on Congress. Neither the TPP nor TAFTA will become law if people learn what is in them and Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility to review their impact. Denying the President Fast Track is the essential step to defeat both of these agreements.

Once we defeat Fast Track and prevent TPP and TAFTA from becoming law, we need to remain in solidarity and work to transform trade so it becomes “fair” trade that puts the necessities of the people and the protection of the planet first. The people will have firmly established that they will not tolerate rigged corporate trade deals. If corporations want to see trade between nations, they need a new approach – transparent, participatory and fair – with new goals of serving the people and planet. more

To get involved in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership visit http://www.FlushTheTPP.org.

Kevin Zeese JD and Margaret Flowers MD co-host ClearingtheFOGRadio.org on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC and on Economic Democracy Media, co-direct It’s Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC. Their twitters are @KBZeese and @MFlowers8.

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