Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) is emerging as a champion in the fight over provisions the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement that could undermine our (and other) country's ability to keep the giant multinational corporations under control.
One of these provisions is called Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS), which sets up a system where corporations can sue governments in "corporate courts" where corporate lawyers decide cases. (Yes, really.)
Senator Warren is taking this on. Warren, joined by Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman expressing concern over the inclusion of certain provisions in TPP. The Washington Post has the story, in "Elizabeth Warren, other Democrats raise concerns about free-trade pact with Asia":
Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday voiced new concerns over President Obama’s trade agenda as congressional Democrats ramp up efforts to slow the administration’s bid to finalize a major free-trade pact in Asia that the president has called a top priority.
... Warren (D-Mass.) ... said in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could erode U.S. financial safeguards designed to “prevent future financial crises.”
... The senators are focused on three specific provisions, and they do not state outright opposition to the 12-nation pact, which is still being negotiated.
[. . .]In her letter, Warren raises concerns that the deal could include provisions that would allow foreign companies to challenge U.S. policies before a judicial panel outside the domestic legal system, increasing exposure of American taxpayers to potential damages.
The letter (click for full PDF) expresses concern that these corporate courts could undo our efforts to rein in the excesses of the financial industry that led to the 2008 crash. At the same time several House Democrats, Representatives Bill Pascrell, Jr., Lloyd Doggett, Linda T. Sanchez, John Lewis and Jim McDermott, are sending a similar letter expressing concern about the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnerstip (TTIP), a companion agreement to the TPP.
Warren has previously expressed her concerns over the scope of TPP. Here are a few examples:
● "Elizabeth Warren: It’s time to work on America’s agenda," Washington Post, November 7, 2014:
But the lobbyists’ agenda is not America’s agenda. Americans are deeply suspicious of trade deals negotiated in secret, with chief executives invited into the room while the workers whose jobs are on the line are locked outside. They have been burned enough times on tax deals that carefully protect the tender fannies of billionaires and big oil and other big political donors, while working families just get hammered. They are appalled by Wall Street banks that got taxpayer bailouts and now whine that the laws are too tough, even as they rake in billions in profits. If cutting deals means helping big corporations, Wall Street banks and the already-powerful, that isn’t a victory for the American people — it’s just another round of the same old rigged game.
● "Enough Is Enough: The President's Latest Wall Street Nominee," Huffington Post, November 19, 2014:
I have voted against only one of President Obama's nominees: Michael Froman, a Citigroup alumnus who is currently storming the halls of Congress as U.S. Trade Representative pushing trade deals that threaten to undermine financial regulation, workers' rights, and environmental protections. Enough is enough.
● Elizabeth Warren's Netroots Nation speech, July, 2014 (starting at 8:11, "Take a look at what happens with trade deals.")
For big corporations, trade negotiations are like Christmas morning, they can get special gifts through trade negotiations that they could never get through Congress. How does that happen? Because trade negotiations are held in secret so that big corporations can do their work behind closed doors. Giant corporations get insider access to promote their interests, while workers' rights and environmental regulations are just gutted. From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters, outsourcers are all smacking their lips at the possibility of rigging the upcoming trade deals.
Now, stop and ask yourself, why are trade deals secret? I've actually heard supporters say they have to have secrecy, because if people knew what was going on, they would be opposed. It's true, it's what I've heard from their supporters. Well my view is that if people would be opposed, then we shouldn't have those trade deals.
TPP is being negotiated in secret, so we don't have all the information about what is in it. However, portions have leaked and what we have seen is not promising. Also, the record of previous "NAFTA-style" trade agreements tells us these agreements are negotiated using a rigged process designed to deliver agreements that boost the giant, multinational corporations at the expense of people in the US and other countries.
We can stop this, and after we stop this we can demand that existing agreements be renegotiated to protect working people, lift wages and protect the environment worldwide.
Richard Long, a fellow with Campaign for America's Future, contributed to this post.