Every [Corporation] for Himself: The TPP’s Growing Controversy
In March 2010, the United States and 11 other countries began the first round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP was proposed to enhance trade and investment among the Pacific Rim nations, via lower tariffs and additional “common framework” regulations (intellectual property protections, dispute settlements, etc.) This summer, the US Senate approved fast-track authority, a policy that allows the White House to send trade deals to Congress for up-or-down votes, with the Senate unable to filibuster them and lawmakers unable to amend them. The fast-track debate, and its eventual approval, put a spotlight on the massive trade agreement over the course of this past year.
Just this week, international headlines have declared that the 12 member nations have come to a final agreement. If passed, the TPP would officially become the largest trade deal in global history.
Amid the discussion of fast-track approval, populist politicians and domestic labor unions began to publicly denounce the TPP. It was argued that the essence of these behind-the-door negotiations denied the public of their right to know what this mega-partnership entailed for the common man. Lobbying, establishment politics, and years of undercover arrangements began to frighten Americans everywhere. The uneasiness, without a doubt, remains well warranted.
Over time, remnants of the trade deal’s content began to become public. Those who condemned the TPP continued to, but this time with the ability to identify its negative externalities.
Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was one of the first political figures to publicly condemn the TPP; her recently published Washington Post editorial, which criticizes what is arguably the most controversial component of the TPP, represents only one facet of her fight. Her attack targeted the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), a clause of the deal that grants international corporations the ability to sue governments for laws that harm their “expected future profits.” What’s even more startling is that corporate lawyers, not independent judges, conduct these settlements. This ultimately means that if a company refuses to comply with safety standards established for the protection of consumers (i.e. health/food safety regulations, environmental protections, etc.) and wins its case before the panel of corporate mediators, a nation would not only have to disregard their cause for protective standards, but would also be required to pay billions of dollars in damages. The arbitrary nature of this dispute resolution not only defies state sovereignty, but as Warren argues, exclusively grants victory to the biggest multinational corporations in the world.
Vermont Senator and leftist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has been equally unapologetic about his disapproval of the trade agreement. On his senate website, Sanders released a public statement articulating “10 Ways that TPP would hurt Working Families”. In the release, he expands upon the TPP’s direct marginalization of the middle-class consumer and draws its similarities to previous trade deals like NAFTA. Guaranteed outsourcing due to the low minimum wages in member states, wage threats from these drastic discrepancies in the cost of labor, and the surge of prescription drug prices as a result of pharmaceutical monopolies are just a few of the listed consequences.
Warren and Sanders certainly aren’t in this fight alone. Standing behind them are Congresswoman Rose DeLauro (D-CT) and Congressman George Miller (D-CA), who led an effort with 151 Democrats in the House of Representatives to inform President Obama of their disapproval in the “lack of adequate congressional consultation in many areas of the proposed pact.” More recently, former Secretary of State and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reversed her previously supportive stance on the trade agreement. Regardless of her motives, a policy flip-flop just further solidifies the narrative established by the American people. This narrative, which many argue Clinton is attempting to resonate with, speaks loud and clear. The TPP isn’t looking out for us or our interests; the TPP is looking out for the businesses that lobby behind our backs.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership warrants the alarming reality of America’s current state as a “corporatocracy"—what economist Jeffery Sachs termed as an economic and political system dominated by multinational corporations and their corporate interests. The nature of the TPP’s development should be outright alarming to the general public, but the realities of the deal itself should elicit even more outrage.
With mere months before Congress even has the ability to enact the finalized agreement, many efforts have begun to push state representatives to vote against the notorious trade deal. Petitions are establishing widespread Internet presence, NGO’s like Doctors Without Borders are pleading member nations to reconsider the agreement’s pernicious tradeoffs to health, and if anything, a cultivation of awareness is stimulating the political sphere.
While inciting discourse is the first step, it isn’t enough. Americans must continue to fight actively for their voices to be heard. Now is the time for Americans everywhere to familiarize themselves with a trade deal that not only limits their significance as constituents of a democratic state, but also establishes a unique political precedent. Forget the idea of valuing corporations as people; the U.S. values corporations above them.
- Jami Tanner