This op-ed ran in the Charleston Gazette; it’s dated now, and refers to a fight we won, against the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas). But it all applies to the latest fight, now against the TPP.
Fast Track Could Hurt the U.S.
Right now, a gang operating in Washington, D.C., is setting up one of the biggest train robberies in history. If they can pull it off, a train loaded with goodies belonging to the public will run straight through Congress and on out to the board offices of the world’s biggest corporations. There’s only one way to pull off a heist this size…that’s to set up a special, fast track, and then run that train through flashing and wailing, so fast nobody can flag it down and inspect it.
But if we do get it stopped, what’ll we find? Gold? Cash? Nothing like that. No, these trains are loaded with boring paperwork, full of confusing acronyms like WTO and GATT and FTAA. WTO is the World Trade Organization. FTAA stands for Free Trade Area of the Americas, a planned expansion of NAFTA beyond Mexico to the rest of Latin America. If you take a close look at the details, though, you’ll realize that what that train is really carrying is power – the power of the people to make the decisions that count, about all kinds of important things. In other words, what they’re planning to steal is democracy.
I’m not speculating here. A lot of this has already happened, through NAFTA and the WTO. NAFTA has a provision called Chapter 11 that gives corporations the right to directly sue governments that pass laws that might cut into their profits.
It was used by the Metalclad Corporation when the town of San Luis Potosi in Mexico tried to refuse to host a toxic waste dump. Now the town is paying $16.7 million in damages, and construction has begun. The NAFTA tribunal also decided that the United States does not have the right to refuse to let Mexican trucks run all over the country, even though Mexico has much lower safety standards. Remember that tanker that overturned here in West Virginia, and the delay in finding out what it was carrying because the driver didn’t speak English? Expect a lot more of that.
Then there was the case that Ethyl Corporation brought before the NAFTA tribunal because Canada had the nerve to ban their product, MMT, a gasoline additive suspected of causing brain damage in children. There was no ruling; seeing the writing on the wall in other decisions, the Canadian Parliament dropped their ban, paid $13 million in compensation to Ethyl, and declared publicly that MMT is safe. In a very similar case, California banned another toxic gasoline additive called MTBE after finding massive drinking water contamination, and the Canadian company that makes it is suing. These are just a few examples.
The WTO doesn’t have a provision, yet, that allows corporations to directly sue governments; they still have to go to the trouble of getting their home governments to sue on their behalf. But they have the same sweet arrangement if they do, wherein they get to have a secret panel of unaccountable trade bureaucrats rule on their case instead of the regular courts.
So far these panels have struck down virtually every public health, safety, or environmental law that’s been challenged. This is not surprising when we see that the committees that advise the negotiating teams have hundreds of corporate reps deeply involved, but few or no public interest advocates.
We all know that the mess of our campaign finance system creates a tendency for our representatives in Congress to be more interested in pleasing their contributors than their constituents. This is a problem we need to solve, but meanwhile, if we don’t stop that train, it won’t matter who we elect or what they vote for. FTAA, the WTO, and the like will give corporations more rights to simply veto any laws they don’t like. Which means our Congress will assume a ceremonial, decorative function like the European royalty…and the world’s oldest democracy will be history.