The media have been pushing a line, following Republican victory in last week’s midterm election, that the one area where Barack Obama and a now GOP-controlled Senate might find room for compromise is trade, especially the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a twelve-nation deal. The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, The Washington Post and the Daily Beast, among others, along with Obama and few Republicans, have suggested that Mitch McConnell will be more likely to bring the deal to a vote than Harry Reid, who refused to do so.
But Public Citizen says talk of Republicans giving Obama fast-track approval is just wish fulfilment. It’s the House, not the Senate, that matters when it comes to trade authorization (Clinton got NAFTA early in his first term but later a Republican-controlled House denied him fast-track power, with 171 Democrats and seventy-one Republicans voting no). There are only “a handful of House Democrats who supported the bill: eight out of 201 members,” writes Public Citizen, and three of them attached conditions on their “yes” votes that are unacceptable to Republicans.
As with NAFTA, the lobbying will be intense to pass the deal, with the lucre of corporate campaign contributions sweetened by the praise that would be heaped on yea-voting members for transcending partisanship. It would be a disaster were the TPP to pass and go into effect, for multiple reasons: it deregulates financial speculation; it eviscerates the ability of nations to enforce environmental regulations; it locks in a deeply unequal trade and intellectual property-rights regime, granting a handful of the world’s largest corporations monopoly protection; and it encourages the privatization of public services and public property.
Worst of all, it, it globalizes the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, which allows corporations and investors to “sue governments directly before tribunals of three private sector lawyers operating under World Bank and UN rules to demand taxpayer compensation for any domestic law that investors believe will diminish their ‘expected future profits.’” Under such provisions, mining corporations have taken El Salvador to court for trying to limit their right to open-pit mine the country and pollute its rivers and El Lilly has sued Canada, complaining that its patent laws have hindered profits it could make on an ADD drug. Public Citizen writes that “over $3 billion has been paid to foreign investors under U.S. trade and investment pacts, while over $14 billion in claims are pending under such deals, primarily targeting environmental, energy, and public health policies.” “Corporate power unbound,” is how Northeastern law professor Brook Baker puts it, specifically of what ISDS means for pharmaceutical companies. Even Forbes thinks ISDS is “overkill,” since is socializes financial risks and “reinforces the myth that trade primarily benefits large corporations.” But that’s just honesty in advertising.