Corporations Are Colonizing Us With Trade Deals – and Wall Street Wants In

Richard Eskow

After 237 years, we’re becoming a colony again. Our nation’s losing the right to self-determination it fought so hard to win, and it’s happening on a scale unseen since the days of George III.

As is so often the case these days, this wholesale loss of our rights is being underwritten by corporate interests.

And, as usual, it’s being called “bipartisan” – by corporations who “buy” both Republican and Democratic “partisans.”

Terms of Surrender

Republicans cheered George W. Bush for saying, “I will never place U.S. troops under U.N. command.” Democrats cheered Barack Obama for saying, “I want us to control our own energy destiny.”

But both leaders pushed trade agreements that surrender our sovereign rights to faceless bureaucrats in international bodies – bodies that are dominated by multinational corporations.

Where are those cheering crowds now? Republicans backed a president who supported a agreements which put Americans’ rights – and their environment – “under the command” of foreign bodies.  And unless something changes Democratic voters will soon see their president give up even more control of our economic destiny.

WTO Stands For “We’re Taking Over”

Public Citizen, which has been doing excellent work on this issue, reports on three U.S. laws that were nullified by the World Trade Organization (WTO):  country-of-origin labels on meat, dolphin-safe labels on tuna, and the ban on sweet-flavored cigarettes designed to get kids addicted to the tobacco companies’ carcinogenic products. (What’s next:  Cherry-flavored crack?)

The WTO and the WTO “Appellate Body” – two bodies most Americans don’t even know exist – overruled these laws in a preemptory manner that would have outraged the Continental Congress.

We didn’t elect them. We can’t communicate with them. But they’ve issued three decrees which we must obey:

1) We are not to know where the meat we’re eating comes from.

2) We must accept the fact that we may unknowingly wind up eating the flesh of dolphins, arguably the most intelligent nonhuman species on the planet. And,

3) We must continue to allow the distribution of products designed to addict our children to a deadly and habit-forming substance.

How’s that for “controlling our own destiny”?

The Next Front

The next stage of our war for economic independence is being determined in trade talks that are being conducted in deep secrecy by a president who once promised “the most transparent administration in history.”

Laurel Sutherlin calls the Trans-Pacific Partnership “a worldwide corporate power grab of enormous proportions,” and that pretty accurately sums it up. (It’s hard to write about these deals without sounding hyperbolic, even if you’re only being descriptive.) As Sutherlin points out, the TPP “is among the largest and potentially most important ‘free trade’ agreements the world has ever seen …”

And yet, as Sutherlin notes, “one can hardly be blamed for not being familiar with it yet. The corporate cabal behind it … has done an exceptional job of maintaining an almost total lack of transparency as they literally design the future we will all inhabit.”

Although 600 corporate representatives have seen drafts of the agreement, access has been denied to even high-ranking members of Congress. Dave Johnson excerpts some provisions being considered in the secret talks, and they’re truly terrifying.

In fact, as Lori Wallach and Ben Beachy point out in a must-read editorial, the treaty’s provisions are so unpopular that the last negotiator felt it could only be concluded in secret. And now sovereignty-killing provisions are being considered for a trade agreement with member nations of the European Union.

Wall Street Wants a Piece

Now Wall Street’s trying to use these draft agreements to undermine our ability to protect ourselves from bank predation or another financial crisis. They’ve already tried to use the WTO’s archaic and destructive financial rules (Americans for Financial Reform has the details). Now Bloomberg News reports that banks and insurance companies are trying to use new proposed trade deals to overrule or further dilute portions of the Dodd-Frank Act.

That legislation was weakened by bipartisan negotiation, and a number of agencies have “slow-walked” its implementation by delaying the completion of draft regulations. But that’s not enough for trade groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Coalition of Service Industries, and the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association (SIFMA).

They see this as an opportunity to unleash their member companies, corporations with names like Citi and AIG, to plunder and pillage – we mean, “unleash the innovative creativity of the financial sector” once again.

Easily Confused

They don’t say that, of course.  One of their favorite gambits is to say that it’s too “confusing” to deal with different countries’ rules.  A group of compliant House Republicans, for example, recently wrote to complain that “the regulatory landscape (is) too difficult for financial firms to navigate.”

Imagine.  The five largest banks in America earned more than $20 billion in the first quarter of this year alone and still can’t figure out how to “navigate” regulations. But here’s a funny thing: They don’t always want the same rules as other countries. Nobody on Wall Street mentioned “an easier landscape” when the EU set limits on bankers’ bonuses, for example.

They don’t want a “common” set of rules. They want the “lowest common denominator” of rulemaking, established by international, corporate-controlled bodies accountable to no one.

Freedom Ain’t Free

There have been some heroes in this fight. The organizations cited above have done excellent work. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been speaking out forcefully. So has Florida Rep. Alan Grayson, who has started a petition against the proposed inclusion of WTO-like oversight bodies in the new European trade agreement.

But President Obama, like presidents Bush and Clinton before him, appears to be on the wrong side of this fight. He needs to hear from voters who insist on transparent talks and a return to full American sovereignty.

Senators and representatives need to get those emails and calls, too. Better make your voice heard quickly, while your vote still matters.

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