Here we go again. Under the guise of “free trade,” President Obama is following in the footsteps of his predecessors by pushing yet another global pact designed to let multi-national corporations overrule popular democracy. Much like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) would grant new rights to corporations to challenge our hard-won democratic laws protecting public health, consumers, and the environment.
Essentially, the TPPA would allow corporations to legally contest democratic laws before an international tribunal. The tribunal could not only overrule our legal standards, but also impose economic sanctions against us if we refuse to abide by its rulings. If passed, the agreement would go into effect between the United States and twelve Pacific Rim countries, including Canada, Mexico, New Zealand and Australia, posing one of the biggest threats ever to our countries’ climate, consumer, and worker protection laws. According to the Electronic Freedom Foundation, other TPPA measures would restrict internet users’ freedom of speech, curb their right to privacy and due process, and hinder their ability to innovate.
Noted MIT professor Noam Chomsky says of the pact: “It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke. These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.” In other words, the pact would grant even more power to corporations at a time when their free-wheeling practices have already contributed mightily to growing economic inequality, financial insecurity, environmental pollution, and public health crises. Indeed, a select group of corporate partners — companies like General Electric, Goldman Sachs, and Pfizer — have sent legions of lobbyists to Washington to push the TPPA at all costs, knowing full well that looser regulations will help boost their bottom lines at our expense.
What’s worse is that the terms of the agreement are being negotiated in secret, with the Obama administration regarding the terms of the deal as classified information, even going so far as to limit Congress’s ability to review the negotiation text. Thankfully, a growing number of congressional representatives are coming out against this corporate domination scheme, along with a coalescing movement of grassroots organizations and community groups across the country. The climate advocacy group 350.org has organized an online petition calling on Congress to reject the TPPA. An Inter-Continental Day of Action will be held on Friday, January 31st with activities scheduled in cities around the world.
Rather than granting unaccountable corporations more control over our lives, communities, and environment, we the people must begin demanding that corporations serve the public interest first. Our common heritage is our climate, our water, our energy, our airwaves, and our land. Corporations have proven themselves incredibly capable of amazing innovation, speedy dissemination of new technologies, and efficient provision of services (at least to those with the ability to pay for them). But they’ve simultaneously proven themselves to be incredibly incapable of creating sufficient employment opportunities for supporting our families, ensuring public health, stabilizing our communities, or sustaining our environment — arguably the most fundamental aspects of everyday life that hold our society together.
Given these colossal failures, the last thing we should be doing is enshrining new rights to corporations into international treaties. It is they who should serve at our pleasure. We should not only reject the TPPA, we must overturn the Citizens United federal ruling that granted corporations unlimited rights to donate money to political candidates, essentially transforming our elections into little more than bidding wars between the wealthiest donors to control seats in Congress.
Eventually, as our social and ecological crises come to a head, we will need to reassert public authority over corporations entirely, making their existence subject to performance measures that we democratically decide together must be met. We could harness the market to put them in competition with one another to meet public objectives like providing employment, housing, creating sustainable transportation and energy systems, and much more. Failure to do so would simply mean their public contracts would end, and new opportunities would be granted to those who can.