Why the TPP is all about corporate power, not trade

June 20, 2013

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — just like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) and every other so-called "trade agreement" — isn't really about trade at all.

Whether it is framed as "free trade" as touted by conservatives or "fair trade" as promoted by liberals, the real question is about who gets to make decisions about how goods, services (and now money itself) flows between international borders. 

The TPP is just the latest and most blatant effort to shift decisionmaking authority away from and beyond citizen control to unelected and unaccountable transnational corporate CEOs. Transnational corporations are ever more running to the international level to escape what semblance of public control exists at the nation-state level — all in the name of "harmonizing" laws. In every single instance, it has resulted in a race to the bottom regarding both wages and health, safety and environmental protection laws.

It is worth noting that historically, corporations have attempted to escape democratic control for more than a century in three ways:

  1) From one level of government to another (more to less accountable): from local to state, state to nation. The TPP is simply the latest effort to shift decisionmaking from the nation state to the global level where there are even fewer pressure points given the rigged pro-corporate decisionmaking process.

  2) From the legislative to judicial arena. Judges are often appointed and, thus, easier to influence by the corporate crowd. There are fewer judges to influence and legislators. Legislators are the closest elected officials (at least on paper) to the public.

  3) From the legislative to the regulatory arena. Regulatory bodies shield public officials and corpses between the public and themselves, providing a wonderful foil where the public receives their obligatory 3 minutes to testify. 

This last process deserves further scrutiny. Today, most regulatory bodies are often about the business of "regulating" vs prohibiting harms — prohibitions are what legislators do. Regulatory decisions, when they do go against the public, can still be appealed to courts. Frankly, these days environmental regulations regulate environmentalists, worker safety regulations regulate workers, and so on.

Historically, regulatory agencies were used to counter widespread calls for publicly owned enterprises. They still are. To understand the history and context of how the agencies that purport to regulate a given industry are actually controlled by the industries themselves,  I strongly recommend  "Help I've Been Colonized and I Can't Get Up: Take a Lawyer and an Expert to a Hearing and Call Me in a Decade"  by Jane Anne Morris, available at www.poclad.org.  Indeed, this process is so widespread and common that it has a name in the law profession: "regulatory capture."  

And as profoundly undemocratic as the process of reguallatory capture is, let's be clear that the Obama administration's TPP proposal will allow corporations to bring a challenge directly against a country over so-called trade "barriers." You know, the few remaining health, safety, environmental and consumer protection laws that we have left!  Under the TPP, any corporation can take a conflict to a "dispute resolution" process which bypasses any courts or juries of any nation.

Maybe we should start calling Obama's TPP proposal what it really is: The Corporate Power Proposal (CPP).  After all, only 5 of 29 of the proposal's chapters even deal with actual trade.  As an important side note, one provision of the Corporate Power Proposal would either ban or severely limit the ability of local and state governments to set up public banks, which is gaining momentum every day as an alternative to the "Too Big to Fail, Too Big to Jail" banks that are pushing for the TPP.

We at the Green Shadow Cabinet are "all-in" regarding our opposition to the TPP. Who's at the table during the negotiations…and who's not…is basically all one needs to know about how much this agreement promotes peace, justice, democracy and ecology.

Opposing the TPP provides an opportunity for "We the People"  to unify across the political spectrum on issues of protecting/expanding self-governance. It's going to take all of us. And we can and must win this one.

~ David Cobb serves as Chair of the Commission on Corporations and Democracy in the Democracy Branch of the Green Shadow Cabinet.  This statement is one of over a dozen issued in support of the Green Shadow Cabinet's June 17th call for action against the TPP.