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Meet RCEP, a Trade Agreement in Asia That’s Even Worse Than TPP or ACTA

By Jeremy Malcolm | EFF | June 4, 2015

It’s been a big few weeks for leaked trade agreements. Just when we thought we had seen all the leaked text of the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), Wikileaks went ahead and published some more yesterday. And on the same day, a leaked draft of the intellectual property chapter of yet another trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was leaked by Knowledge Ecology International (KEI).

If we described TISA as a treaty you’ve never heard of, RCEP has been even more obscure. RCEP can be compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), except that rather than being driven by the United States, it is being driven by the ten-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), with the addition of their trading partners from the broader Asia-Pacific region including most notably India and China, who are absent from the TPP pact.

We might then, expect that RCEP could be the “anti-TPP”; a vehicle for countries to push back against the neo-colonial ambitions of the United States, by proposing alternative, home-grown standards on the TPP’s thorniest issues such as copyright, patents, and investor protection. Some members of RCEP have indeed spoken out against the TPP because of its unbalanced promotion of strict copyright and patent laws, and some commentators have characterized RCEP and the TPP as competitors.

But based on yesterday’s leaks, the promise of RCEP pushing back against the TPP is being squandered. Instead, its IP chapter is turning out as a carbon copy. The text for the chapter that South Korea proposes, which KEI rightly and succinctly describes as “terrible”, calls for many of the same provisions and more, including:

  • Copyright terms of life plus 70 years.
  • Prohibiting temporary copies of works in electronic form (a thoroughly misguided and anti-innovation provision that has even been erased from the TPP).
  • Confining copyright limitations and exceptions to those which comply with the three-step test, which ignores exceptions, such as the quotation right, that are exempted from that test under international law.
  • Remuneration rights to performers for radio airplay, which goes beyond U.S. law.
  • A prohibition on the Internet retransmission of broadcasts, mirroring proposals for a Broadcast Treaty that would inhibit the free use of public domain material.
  • A prohibition on trafficking in devices used to circumvent DRM, even if the circumvention is for fair use purposes.
  • Inflated awards for copyright or patent infringement, by calculating damages payable for the infringing works on the assumption that they were sold at full retail market value.
  • Granting ex officio authority to customs authorities that allows them to seize goods suspected of being infringing at the border, without even the need for a complaint by the claimed rightsholder.
  • Criminal penalties for “commercial scale” copyright and trademark infringement, even where the infringer has not sought or made any profit from the activity.
  • Criminal penalties against those who record any part of an audiovisual work in a cinema, regardless of whether the clips recorded would amount to fair use, for example because they are to be used in criticism or review.
  • Suspension of the Internet accounts of repeat infringers, and censorship of bulletin boards that are “considered to seriously damage the sound use of copyrighted works” (whatever that means).
  • Authorizing a fast-track process for rightsholders to obtain personal information of alleged infringers from their ISP, without a judicial order.

This draft is much worse than a previous leaked Japanese proposal that was earlier published by KEI. It’s far worse than ACTA, and is even worse than the most recent leaked draft of the TPP. Far from setting up a positive alternative to the TPP, South Korea is channeling the USTR at its worst here—what on earth are they thinking? The answer may be that, having been pushed into accepting unfavorably strict copyright, patent, and trademark rules in the process of negotiating its 2012 free trade agreement with the United States, Korea considers that it would be at a disadvantage if other countries were not subject to the same restrictions.

There are other examples of this kind of vicious cycle; for example, when negotiating its FTA with the United States, Australia resisted increasing its copyright term to life plus 70 years (knowing that it would derive no benefit from doing so), before eventually capitulating. Now Australia (along with Chile and Singapore, both of which were also forced into increasing their copyright terms in similar circumstances), are amongst those pushing extended copyright terms to other countries in the TPP. (We know this from the first leaked text of the TPP IP chapter, which reveals them as proponents of a life plus 70 year term.)

Since RCEP is shaping up as even more extreme than the TPP, one might well ask with resignation whether concluding a trade agreement with balanced IP rules is actually impossible. Surprisingly, it isn’t. Consider the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership [PDF] (TPSEP), yet another trade agreement in the so-called “noodle bowl” of bilateral and multilateral Asian FTAs. If the TPSEP sounds like a relative of the TPP, that’s because it is. In fact, it’s the predecessor of that broader agreement, that was concluded in 2006 between Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore, and remains in force between those countries.

For those of us used to FTAs that ratchet up standards of copyright, patent and trademark protection, the TPSEP is somewhat remarkable. It explicitly acknowledges “the need to achieve a balance between the rights of right holders and the legitimate interests of users and the community with regard to protected subject matter,” but goes further than this to give some specific examples of user-friendly policies that countries should be permitted to adopt, including:

  • Respecting the first sale doctrine, even for works sold across borders.
  • Prohibiting companies from removing your fair use rights through small print in license agreements.
  • Allowing users to bypass DRM for fair use purposes.

These are the kind of pro-user rules that could have differentiated RCEP from the TPP, if its members were bold enough to think outside the box. And since RCEP is still at an earlier stage of discussion, they still can: Korea’s proposed rules are an opening gambit, not an agreed text.

Unfortunately, the process of negotiation of the RCEP is just as closed as that of the TPP, which makes it the wrong place for IP rules altogether. But now that the text has been leaked and it has been revealed to be so atrocious, we can begin to build pressure for the negotiating countries to open up the process. If, heaven forbid, the TPP eventually passes—and perhaps even more so if it doesn’t—the Asia-Pacific region needs to ensure that its trade regime doesn’t lock in restrictive and punitive copyright, patent, and trademark rules.

June 7, 2015 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics | , , , , | 1 Comment

Bringing SOPA to the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Robert Holleyman in the Seat

By Binoy Kampmark | Dissident Voice | March 6, 2014

The machinery to dominate global intellectual property by American fiat was further tightened by the announcement of Robert Holleyman as deputy US trade representative.  President Obama’s announcement is just another reminder of what sources of inspiration are governing the drive by Washington to control the downloading and dissemination of information via the Trans-Pacific Partnership. After all, Holleyman was a former lobbyist of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), the bill introduced by US Rep. Lamar S. Smith (R-Tx) to gift US law enforcement authorities with the means to combat copyright infringements.

Indeed, Holleyman’s own blurb as an author for The Huffington Post considers him as “one of the 50 most influential people in the intellectual property world”, an individual who “was instrumental in putting into place the global policy framework that today protects software under copyright law.”  Such is the nature of mislabelled internationalism – Washington’s policy by another name.

Holleyman has also been heavily involved as a former president of the Business Software Alliance, a body representing the main software vendors including Apple, IBM, and Microsoft. Through the consortium, Holleyman unintentionally put the problems of SOPA, and its sister legislation, PROTECT-IP, in the bright spotlight. He found himself fighting, at least for a time, a losing battle. Protest against them was extensive, with January 18, 2012 featuring the “largest online protest in history”. Congress took heed, shelving the bills. The vendors pondered the next move.

SOPA’s reach would have been global, enabling US law enforcement the means to target websites and individuals outside its jurisdiction. The carceral provisions of the bill were also hefty – five year prison terms for downloading unauthorised content.

It would have also been a rather formidable mechanism to insinuate censorship into the Internet. The legislation would allow the content provider or the US Justice Department to block sites hosting material supposedly in breach of copyright. Having such a provision would effectively overburden internet service providers to err on the side of caution and “over-block” material. If ever you want to enshrine censorship, a fine way of doing so is frightening the hosts into censoring themselves.

The secret negotiations of the TPP have proven to be a feast of select company. The negotiators themselves, such as Stefan Selig, nominee for under-secretary for international trade at the Commerce Department, have a direct line to the Bank of America. Selig’s accounts have been inflated to the tune of $9.1 million in bonus pay and $5.1 million in incentive pay. Happy is the bank that can sue for diminished assets and target governments in courts of law.

The clubbable ones are the software demons who have been “cleared” to have briefings, some 700 “stakeholders”. The “cleared advisors” also represent groups such as the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Entertainment Software Association, and the Recording Industry Association of America.

While the premise of having such vendors involved is ostensibly to protect innovation, the converse is true. The world of innovation does not matter to those who claim they have the ideas and want to protect them at cost. That is a recipe for sloppiness and envy.

The anti-democratic slant in the TPP process has also impressed itself upon observers. The press, and even members of Congress, have been kept at bay. Till parts of the treaty were published by WikiLeaks, elected officials could only view the document on visiting the Trade Representative Office. They would not be able to reproduce or transcribe it.

While SOPA and its twin PIPA were shelved indefinitely, the Obama administration has decided to shop in other forums to enforce some of their provisions. One way of doing so is through the faulty premise of free trade, which is simply another way of making some trade freer than others. The American firm features prominently in that guise of freedom.

Aspects of the leaked intellectual property chapter of the TPP so far indicate a model with SOPA trimmings. Provisions, for example, holding ISPs liable for hosting copyright infringement, have been preserved. The life of certain, corporate-owned copyrights will also be extended. In other words, this is SOPA by stealth, a process that “could not [be] achieved through an open democratic process.”

The fact that the Obama administration has also sought to sideline Congress in the debate is indicative of that. As Henry Farrell observed, “The United States appears to be using the non-transparent Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations as a deliberate end run around Congress on intellectual property, to achieve a presumably unpopular set of policy goals.”  Senate Democrats have been mindful of their shrinking role, and have blocked the president’s attempt to obtain “fast-track authorisation”.

The effect of such authorisation would give the administration scope to limit congressional consultation while using its prerogative powers. Congress would become, in effect, a chamber of marionettes. Appointments such as Holleyman’s show little change of heart away from that policy. The copyright vanguard, along with the dance of secrecy, is digging its heels in.

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and can be reached at: bkampmark@gmail.com.

March 7, 2014 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Corruption, Deception, Full Spectrum Dominance, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks

By Lee Fang | Republic Report | February 18, 2014

Officials tapped by the Obama administration to lead the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations have received multimillion dollar bonuses from CitiGroup and Bank of America, financial disclosures obtained by Republic Report show.

Stefan Selig, a Bank of America investment banker nominated to become the Under Secretary for International Trade at the Department of Commerce, received more than $9 million in bonus pay as he was nominated to join the administration in November. The bonus pay came in addition to the $5.1 million in incentive pay awarded to Selig last year.

Michael Froman, the current U.S. Trade Representative, received over $4 million as part of multiple exit payments when he left CitiGroup to join the Obama administration. Froman told Senate Finance Committee members last summer that he donated approximately 75 percent of the $2.25 million bonus he received for his work in 2008 to charity. CitiGroup also gave Froman a $2 million payment in connection to his holdings in two investment funds, which was awarded “in recognition of [Froman’s] service to Citi in various capacities since 1999.”

Many large corporations with a strong incentive to influence public policy award bonuses and other incentive pay to executives if they take jobs within the government. CitiGroup, for instance, provides an executive contract that awards additional retirement pay upon leaving to take a “full time high level position with the U.S. government or regulatory body.” Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, the Blackstone Group, Fannie Mae, Northern Trust, and Northrop Grumman are among the other firms that offer financial rewards upon retirement for government service.

Froman joined the administration in 2009. Selig is currently awaiting Senate confirmation before he can take his post, which collaborates with the trade officials to support the TPP.

The controversial TPP trade deal has rankled activists for containing provisions that would newly empower corporations to sue governments in ad hoc arbitration tribunals to demand compensation from governments for laws and regulations they claim undermine their business interests. Leaked TPP negotiation documents show the Obama administration is seeking to prevent foreign governments from issuing a broad variety of financial rules designed to stem another bank crisis.

A leaked text of the TPP’s investment chapter shows that the pact would include the controversial investor-state dispute resolution system. A fact-sheet provided by Public Citizen explains how multi-national corporations may use the TPP deal to skirt domestic courts and local laws. The arrangement would allows corporations to go after governments before foreign tribunals to demand compensations for tobacco, prescription drug and environment protections that they claim would undermine their expected future profits. Last year, Senator Elizabeth Warren warned that trade agreements such as the TPP provide “a chance for these banks to get something done quietly out of sight that they could not accomplish in a public place with the cameras rolling and the lights on.”

Others have raised similar alarm.

“Not only do US treaties mandate that all forms of finance move across borders freely and without delay, but deals such as the TPP would allow private investors to directly file claims against governments that regulate them, as opposed to a WTO-like system where nation states (ie the regulators) decide whether claims are brought,” notes Boston University associate professor Kevin Gallagher.

February 18, 2014 Posted by | Corruption, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Fighting Income Inequality Requires a Return of Manufacturing Jobs

By Arshad M. Khan | Dissident Voice | February 1, 2014

A recurrent theme in this administration is often spellbinding rhetoric followed by … well, very little in the way of follow-through programs. Lately, there has been the inequality issue. Taken up once more in the State of the Union (SOTU) address, the remedy proposed was an increase in the minimum wage. Yes, it needs to be raised but to focus on it alone simply evades the complexities to be navigated to confront the challenges of inequality.

One major cause is the export of well-paid manufacturing jobs and with them proprietary technology and skills. Higher and higher level jobs (and concomitant expertise) are being exported. Ross Perot’s ‘whoosh of jobs’ in the wake of NAFTA will become a hurricane (or more accurately a typhoon) as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is realized. Yet, the administration sees no contradiction in promoting TPP vigorously and attacking income inequality rhetorically. NAFTA failed to render a level playing field for the American worker by excluding environmental safeguards, working conditions, worker safety and benefits (even on a purchasing-power-parity equivalence). The secretive negotiations for TPP are expected to do the same.

As a result, almost everything we use in our daily lives is made abroad: refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, TVs, computers, phones, fixtures, fittings, clothes, shoes, automobiles among which even iconic names often have innards imported, pet foods, toys, etc., etc. Gone with them are the jobs of the men and women who built them. Even high-end airplane manufacture is not exempt. Consider the new 777: While Boeing is responsible for a major portion of the structure, Mitsubishi, Kawasaki and Fuji are significant contributors furnishing fuselage panels and the wing center section. Other bits and pieces have been contracted elsewhere in the world including Australia, Brazil, Korea and Italy. The concept differs from Airbus which retains almost all its jobs and technology in Europe. Also in contrast, Boeing recently threatened to pack up and shift the manufacture of the 777x forcing machinists into benefits concessions.

Germany which exports few jobs follows a model encouraging job retention. Very simply a company’s supervisory board has equal management and labor representation (10 members from each side). It must approve major decisions, and it appoints the management board. No surprise that jobs stay home.

A line in the SOTU address mentions job training. Here too the long-standing German apprenticeship model, which develops highly skilled workers and offers alternative skills to a university education, deserves a closer look. But the least anyone undertaking such programs can expect is a job. Yet, just about every jobs report in the last half-dozen years shows most jobs generated are in the low-paid, low-skill service sectors like the hospitality industry and ambulatory care.

What we need desperately are policies and programs to bring back manufacturing jobs, and to restore our crumbling infrastructure. The latter not only alleviates unemployment but together with education and job training enhances the attractiveness of relocating manufacturing jobs to this country.

Now that would be a step towards reducing income inequality.

Arshad M. Khan is a retired professor. He can be reached at: backfire@ofthisandthat.org.

February 1, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite, Timeless or most popular | , , , , , | Comments Off on Fighting Income Inequality Requires a Return of Manufacturing Jobs

American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies

obama-arrival-sotu

By Glen Ford | Black Agenda Report | January 29, 2014

“Believe it,” said the current Prevaricator-in-Chief, in the conclusion to his annual litany lies. President Obama’s specialty, honed to theatrical near-perfection over five disastrous years, is in crafting the sympathetic lie, designed to suspend disbelief among those targeted for oblivion, through displays of empathy for the victims. In contrast to the aggressive insults and bluster employed by Republican political actors, whose goal is to incite racist passions against the Other, the sympathetic Democratic liar disarms those who are about to be sacrificed by pretending to feel their pain.

Barack Obama, who has presided over the sharpest increases in economic inequality in U.S. history, adopts the persona of public advocate, reciting wrongs inflicted by unseen and unknown forces that have “deepened” the gap between the rich and the rest of us and “stalled” upward mobility. Having spent half a decade stuffing tens of trillions of dollars into the accounts of an ever shrinking gaggle of financial capitalists, Obama declares this to be “a year of action” in the opposite direction. “Believe it.” And if you do believe it, then crown him the Most Effective Liar of the young century.

Lies of omission are even more despicable than the overt variety, because they hide. The potentially most devastating Obama contribution to economic inequality is being crafted in secret by hundreds of corporate lobbyists and lawyers and their revolving-door counterparts in government. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal, described as “NAFTA on steroids,” would accelerate the global Race to the Bottom that has made a wasteland of American manufacturing, plunging the working class into levels of poverty and insecurity without parallel in most people’s lifetimes, and totally eviscerating the meager gains of three generations of African Americans. Yet, the closest Obama came to even an oblique allusion to his great crime-in-the-making, was to announce that “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help [small businesses] create even more jobs. We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’” Like NAFTA twenty years ago – only far bigger and more diabolically destructive – TPP will have the opposite effect, destroying millions more jobs and further deepening worker insecurity. The Trans Pacific Partnership expands the legal basis for global economic inequalities – which is why the negotiations are secret, and why the treaty’s name could not be spoken in the State of the Union address. It is a lie of omission of global proportions. Give Obama his crown.

The president who promised in his 2008 campaign to support a hike in the minimum wage to $9.50 by 2011, and then did nothing at all to make it happen, says this is the “year of action” when he’ll move heaven and earth to get a $10.10 minimum. He will start, Obama told the Congress and the nation, by issuing “an executive order requiring federal contractors to pay their federally-funded employees a fair wage of at least $10.10 an hour because if you cook our troops’ meals or wash their dishes, you should not have to live in poverty.” Obama neglected to mention that only new hires – a small fraction, beginning with zero, of the two million federal contract workers – will get the wage boost; a huge and conscious lie of omission. The fact that the president does not even propose a gradual, mandated increase for the rest of the two million shows he has no intention of using his full powers to ameliorate taxpayer-financed poverty. We can also expect Obama to issue waivers to every firm that claims a hardship, as is always his practice.

What is Obama’s jobs program? It is the same as laid out at last year’s State of the Union, and elaborated on last summer: lower business taxes and higher business subsidies. When you say “jobs,” he says tax cuts – just like the Republicans, only Obama first cites the pain of the unemployed, so that you know he cares. “Both Democrats and Republicans have argued that our tax code is riddled with wasteful, complicated loopholes that punish businesses investing here, and reward companies that keep profits abroad. Let’s flip that equation. Let’s work together to close those loopholes, end those incentives to ship jobs overseas, and lower tax rates for businesses that create jobs right here at home.” Actually, Obama wants to lower tax rates for all corporations to 28 percent, from 35 percent, as part of his ongoing quest for a Grand Bargain with Republicans. For Obama, the way to bring jobs back to the U.S. is to make American taxes and wages more “competitive” in the “global marketplace” – the Race to the Bottom.

In the final analysis, the sympathetic corporate Democrat and the arrogant corporate Republican offer only small variations on the same menu: ever increasing austerity. Obama bragged about reducing the deficit, never acknowledging that this has been accomplished on the backs of the poor, contributing mightily to economic inequality and social insecurity.

Obama offers nothing of substance, because he is not authorized by his corporate masters to do so. He takes his general orders from the same people as do the Republicans. That’s why Obama only speaks of minimum wage hikes while Republicans are in power, rather than when his own party controlled both houses of Congress. Grand Bargains are preferred, because they are the result of consensus between the two corporate parties. In effect, the Grand Bargain is the distilled political will of Wall Street, which feeds the donkey and the elephant. Wall Street – the 1 percent – believes the world is theirs for the taking, and they want all of it. Given this overarching truth, Obama has no choice but to stage a festival of lies.

~

Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com

January 29, 2014 Posted by | Deception, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , , | Comments Off on American State of the Union: A Festival of Lies

Paul Krugman’s Ignorant Assessment Of TPP Shows What A Nefarious Proposal It Is

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | December 13, 2013

… It appears that Krugman has decided to discuss the TPP agreement after many of his readers asked him to weigh in. And his response is basically to dismiss the entire agreement as not really being a big deal one way or the other. The entire crux of his analysis can be summed up as: trade between most of the countries in the negotiations are already quite liberalized, so removing a few more trade barriers is unlikely to have much of a consequence. Therefore, the agreement is no big deal and he doesn’t get why people are so up in arms over it.

On his basic reasoning, he’s correct. There’s little trade benefit to be gained here. In fact, some countries have already realized this. But that’s why the TPP is so nefarious. It’s being pitched as a sort of “free trade deal,” and Krugman analyzes it solely on that basis. That’s exactly what the USTR would like people to think, and it’s part of the reason why they’ve refused to be even the slightest bit transparent about what’s actually in the agreement.

Instead, the TPP has always been a trade liberalization agreement in name only. Sure, there’s some of that in there, but it’s always been about pushing for regulatory change in other countries around the globe, using trade as the club to get countries to pass laws that US companies like. That’s why there’s an “IP chapter” that is entirely about building up barriers to trade in a so-called “free trade” agreement. It’s why a key component of the bill is the corporate sovereignty provisions, frequently called “investor state dispute settlement” (in order to lull you to sleep, rather than get you angry), which allow companies to sue countries if they pass laws that those companies feel undermine their profits (e.g., if they improve patent laws to reject obvious patents — leading angry pharmaceutical companies to demand half a billion dollars in lost “expected profits.”)

Krugman judging the TPP solely on its net impact on trade is exactly what TPP supporters are hoping will happen, so it’s disappointing that he would fall into that trap. Thankfully, economist Dean Baker, who does understand what’s really in TPP, was quick to write up a powerful and detailed response to Krugman that is worth reading.

However it is a misunderstanding to see the TPP as being about trade. This is a deal that focuses on changes in regulatory structures to lock in pro-corporate rules. Using a “trade” agreement provides a mechanism to lock in rules that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to get through the normal political process.

To take a couple of examples, our drug patent policy (that’s patent protection, as in protectionism) is a seething cesspool of corruption. It increases the amount that we pay for drugs by an order of magnitude and leads to endless tales of corruption. Economic theory predicts that when you raise the price of a product 1000 percent or more above the free market price you will get all forms of illegal and unethical activity from companies pursuing patent rents.

Anyhow, the U.S. and European drug companies face a serious threat in the developing world. If these countries don’t enforce patents in the same way as we do, then the drugs that sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars per prescription in the U.S. may sell for $5 or $10 per prescription in the developing world. With drug prices going ever higher, it will be hard to maintain this sort of segmented market. Either people in the U.S. will go to the cheap drugs or the cheap drugs will come here.

For this reason, trade deals like the TPP, in which they hope to eventually incorporate India and other major suppliers of low cost generics, can be very important. The drug companies would like to bring these producers into line and impose high prices everywhere. (Yes, we need to pay for research. And yes, there are far more efficient mechanisms

for financing research than government granted patent monopolies.)

Full article

December 14, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Economics | , , , , | Comments Off on Paul Krugman’s Ignorant Assessment Of TPP Shows What A Nefarious Proposal It Is

The Most Nefarious Part Of The TPP Proposal: Making Copyright Reform Impossible

By Mike Masnick | Techdirt | November 14, 2013

So with yesterday’s revealing of the IP chapter of the TPP, there are plenty of great analyses out there of what’s in there, but I wanted to highlight some parts that are the most nefarious and downright slimy in that they represent parties (mainly the US) pretending to do one thing while really doing another. These are tricks pulled by a dishonest, shameful USTR, entirely focused on making his corporate buddies richer at the expense of everyone else. Remember, our current USTR, Michael Froman, has a long history of this kind of crap. While he hasn’t been there throughout the negotiating process, it shouldn’t be surprising that he “delivers” this sweetheart deal to a few legacy industry players.

Watch closely, and you’ll see supporters of TPP, and especially USTR employees, make the claim that nothing or almost nothing in the TPP will require legal changes in the US. They’ll say that this is just about “harmonizing” norms across borders to make it easier for businesses to do business internationally. This is a lie.

It’s a lie in two different ways. First, there are multiple provisions in here that will absolutely require changes to US law. We’ll discuss a few in other posts, but what’s much more nefarious and downright obnoxious, is that this would lock in a variety of really bad copyright policies, making it nearly impossible for Congress to go back and change them. And that’s a real issue, because, as we’ve been discussing, Congress is actually discussing copyright reform again. The head of the US Copyright Office, Maria Pallante, has proposed a bunch of changes to copyright law (some good, some bad), and astoundingly, just as Congress is at least trying to have the discussion about whether or not those and other ideas make sense, the USTR is looking to effectively tie everyone’s hands by saying “these things cannot be changed,” including many of the reforms that Pallante has directly proposed.

That’s really quite incredible if you think about it. On the one hand, you have the very head of the Copyright Office suggesting some reforms, and you have Congress beginning the process to explore that. On the other, you have the USTR totally ignoring the sole power of Congress to make copyright and patent law, and effectively saying “you cannot make any of the suggested reforms.” And then the USTR has the gall to ask Congress to give up its power to challenge specific provisions in the agreement? While we’re concerned about the Congressional copyright reform process, at least it’s being done in the open. The USTR has been hashing out the plan in TPP in total secrecy for years.

Who the hell does the USTR think they are that they can flat out override the Constitution and the Congressional process, and effectively block them in and stop any meaningful attempt at copyright reform? All done via a process driven entirely by a few special interests? It’s anti-democracy. It’s pure corporate cronyism by the worst cronies around.

Now, defenders of this proposal will lie. They’ll claim that technically (1) Congress has to approve this and (2) nothing in a trade agreement can limit Congress’s ability to pass laws. Neither point is really true (the fun with things that are “technically” true, but false in reality). As mentioned above, the USTR (and President Obama) is pushing extra hard for Trade Promotion Authority, which basically is Congress granting the USTR full power over the TPP. Normally, Congress would be able to debate, challenge and reject questionable provisions in the agreement. But, with TPA “fast track” ability, Congress could only give a yes/no vote on the whole package. And, yes, some will claim that they can just vote no, but the reality is that there are other parts of this agreement that are designed to make that nearly impossible. There are all sorts of little things that we’ll be told we “need.” TPA is a bit of theater. What’s delivered to Congress will almost have to be passed — so if it’s granted (before it’s even public what’s in the full agreement) — Congress has effectively approved the whole agreement.

As for the claim that Congress’ hands cannot be bound by a trade agreement, this is again technically true, but it ignores that it becomes realistically impossible. The second that Congress tries to change a law that goes against the TPP — such as, say, reducing the term of copyrights from the insane level today to merely crazy — lobbyists and pundits will come screaming from every direction about how we can’t abandon our “international obligations.” We’ll hear horror stories about how breaking the agreement will have widespread implications, including trade wars, tariffs and other horrible things. Once it’s in the trade agreement, “breaking it” becomes effectively impossible.

The lobbyists for the entertainment industry know this stuff cold. Over the past three decades they’ve perfected this process of getting crap they can’t get done in Congress pushed through in various trade agreements, and then they use that to mold US law to exactly how they want it. They’re not even shy about it, admitting this is exactly how they got the DMCA in the first place. Considering that the TPP has a form of DMCA-on-steroids, it shouldn’t be a surprise that they’re using an even bigger trade agreement to do the same thing.

All of this should lead to a basic question: why is the USTR and President Obama directly trying to undermine Congress’ sole authority over copyright and patent policy? Are they proud of the tricks they tossed in the agreement? I imagine that when the USTR staffers move on to their jobs in the same industries that pushed them to write the agreement this way, they’ll all laugh about that time they fucked over the American public.

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Comments Off on The Most Nefarious Part Of The TPP Proposal: Making Copyright Reform Impossible

The People Can Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership

Time to end the failed experiment with rigged corporate trade and put in place fair trade for the people and planet before profits

By Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers | The People’s Voice | November 14, 2013

Momentum is growing in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Yesterday, the TPP was dealt two blows. Each could be lethal but the TPP, and its Atlantic counterpart, called TAFTA, are not dead yet. It is time for the movement of movements that formed to oppose the TPP to stand in solidarity, defeat these agreements and end the era of rigged corporate trade.

Yesterday’s first blow came from Wikileaks, showing once again that when government works in secret with big corporations, exposure by whistle blowers is critical to changing the corrupt direction of government and the economy.  Wikileaks published the full text of the intellectual property chapter; the leaked document included the positions of all the parties.  It will take time for all the corporate rigging in this lengthy document to be understood, but already it is evident that Internet freedom will be curtailed, access to health care will become more expensive and access to information will be undermined.

This is not the first leak of TPP text. Previous leaks are consistent with the Wikileaks leak – enhanced corporate power that puts profits before the needs of the people and the protection of the planet.  The Wikileaks release shows that the United States is by far the most aggressive advocate for trans-national corporate interests, often isolated in pushing for harmful policies.

The second blow came from members of the U.S. House of Representatives.  In recent days, several letters were sent to President Obama opposing Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority.  Fast Track undermines Congress’ responsibility under the Commerce Clause to regulate trade between nations by allowing the president to sign the agreement before Congress even sees it. The letters made public on November 13th demonstrate broad bi-partisan opposition to Fast Track with 179 Members signing at least one of the three letters.

A letter spearheaded by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) and Rep. George Miller (D-CA) garnered the support of three-quarters of House Democrats with 151 Members telling President Obama they oppose Fast Track, writing:

We will oppose ‘Fast Track’ Trade Promotion Authority or any other mechanism delegating Congress’ constitutional authority over trade policy that continues to exclude us from having a meaningful role in the formative stages of trade agreements and throughout negotiating and approval processes.

Important leaders of the Democratic Party signed the letter including 18 out of 21 Ranking Members who would chair committees if the Democrats were in the majority.  This means that to pursue Fast Track authority, President Obama will need to challenge three-quarters of his own party.

But, that is not all. In another letter, organized by Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and signed by 12 of the 16 Democratic Party members of the Ways and Means Committee, which is primarily responsible for Fast Track legislation, members expressed opposition to Fast Track unless it was radically different from previous grants of authority. The letter says it “cannot just be an extension of earlier trade promotion authorities. Any new proposed TPA must . . . ensure Congress plays a more meaningful role in the negotiating process.”

And, the opposition is bi-partisan. Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) and Rep. Michelle Bachmann (R-MN) drafted a letter signed by 23 Republicans.  The Republican letter emphasized that Congress has the “exclusive authority to set the terms of trade.” Further, “The Founders established this clear check and balance to prevent the president from unilaterally negotiating with foreign nations and imposing trade policies that Congress would deem to be against the national interest.” They write that they refuse to “cede our constitutional authority to the executive” through Fast Track.

These are just the latest problems in the quest for Fast Track, indeed a bill has yet to be introduced.  The previous US Trade Representative, Ron Kirk,  said in 2012: “We’ve got to have it.” He wanted the authority by the end of 2012.  In April, Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT) promised Obama Fast Track by June of 2013.  The broad bi-partisan opposition announced this week shows that winning Fast Track has very little support in Congress.  In fact, the letters may be the death knell for such legislation.

The Wikileaks documents show there is a lot of division among the negotiating nations with important disagreements on key aspects of the text. Without Fast Track to guarantee passage of the TPP, these nations will be even less likely to agree to demands by the U.S.  Further, Asian countries are negotiating their own competing agreement, which does not include the United States but, unlike the TPP, does include China.

Latin American countries are also speaking out against the TPP. Earlier this year, Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead TPP negotiator quit to warn people of the dangers of the TPP – highlighting how big financial institutions will dominate their governments and how the TPP “will become a threat for our countries: It will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.” And, recently the Parliament of Peru passed a resolution “requesting that the government open a ‘public, political, and technical debate’ on the binding rules being negotiated in the TPP.”

In the United States, cities and counties are beginning to pass TPP Free Zones, saying they will not obey the TPP if it becomes law.  These local governments are concerned with provisions that would not allow them to give preference to buying local, buying U.S. made goods or other provisions that undermine their sovereignty.

In addition to opposition in the U.S. government and foreign governments, a mass citizen uprising is developing against the TPP.  There have been large protests in many of the countries involved in the negotiations as well as in the United States. The night before the Wikileaks documents were released, 13 cities did visibility protests opposing the TPP in light shows.  In September we joined with activists in Washington, DC in a series of protests, including covering the office building of the US Trade Representative in banners to expose their secret trade agreement. Protests are scheduled for Salt Lake City, UT on November 19th where lead negotiators from 12 countries will hold meetings. A global day of protest is planned for December 3 against not only the TPP but also the WTO and all toxic trade agreements.

The TPP is running into resistance in Congress, local governments and among Pacific nations in Asia and Latin America; and by people who oppose the agreement all over the world. This is part of a growing movement of movements – all of the movements impacted by corporate trade; e.g. labor, environmental, Internet freedom, health care, food sovereignty, immigrants’ rights, banking regulation – are joining together to defeat it.

The people are winning. Fourteen trade agreements have been stopped in the last 14 years and as Tom Donohue of the US Chamber of Commerce wrote this week “the WTO has not concluded a single new multilateral trade agreement since it was created in 1995.” Mass protest against rigged corporate trade agreements can end the experiment in trade that puts profits ahead of the people and planet.

We are on the verge of defeating Fast Track. It is important that we keep the pressure on Congress. Neither the TPP nor TAFTA will become law if people learn what is in them and Congress fulfills its constitutional responsibility to review their impact. Denying the President Fast Track is the essential step to defeat both of these agreements.

Once we defeat Fast Track and prevent TPP and TAFTA from becoming law, we need to remain in solidarity and work to transform trade so it becomes “fair” trade that puts the necessities of the people and the protection of the planet first. The people will have firmly established that they will not tolerate rigged corporate trade deals. If corporations want to see trade between nations, they need a new approach – transparent, participatory and fair – with new goals of serving the people and planet.

To get involved in the campaign to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership visit Flush the TPP.

Kevin Zeese, JD and Margaret Flowers, MD co-host Clearing the FOG on We Act Radio 1480 AM Washington, DC, co-direct Its Our Economy and are organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC.Their twitters are @KBZeese and MFlowers8.

November 14, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics | , , , , , | Comments Off on The People Can Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership

How Can the New York Times Endorse an Agreement the Public Can’t Read?

By Maira Sutton | EFF | November 7, 2013

The New York Times’ editorial board has made a disappointing endorsement of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), even as the actual text of the agreement remains secret. That raises two distressing possibilities: either in an act of extraordinary subservience, the Times has endorsed an agreement that neither the public nor its editors have the ability to read. Or, in an act of extraordinary cowardice, it has obtained a copy of the secret text and hasn’t yet fulfilled its duty to the public interest to publish it.

Without a publicly available agreement, readers are forced into the uncomfortable position of taking official government statements at face value. That’s reflected in the endorsement, which fails to note the myriad ways in which TPP has been negotiated undemocratically, shutting out public oversight while permitting corporate interests to drive the agenda. Given these glaring issues, it is disconcerting that the Times would take such a supportive stance on an agreement that is likely to threaten innovation and users’ digital rights well into the 21st century.

That situation leaves unanswered questions. Does the editorial board, for example, support the TPP provisions that would give private corporations new tools to undermine national sovereignty and democratic processes? Because “investor-state dispute settlement,” slated for inclusion in both the TPP and the EU-US trade agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), would give multinational companies the power to sue countries over laws that might cut into expected future profits. This could allow corporations to unravel any policy designed to protect users against violations of their right to privacy or free speech online. The paper’s endorsement notes that copyright enforcement could be expanded to suit legacy media companies, but provides no explanation of why a trade agreement is an acceptable venue for deciding such issues.

Does the New York Times also endorse an initiative to scrap democratic oversight of TPP by elected lawmakers? After all, Senate Finance committee leaders, Sen. Max Baucus and Sen. Orrin Hatch have renewed their call to pass fast-track, which would hand over Congress’ constitutional mandate over US trade policy to the Obama administration. Fast-track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, would restrict lawmakers from having any proper hearings on its provisions, limiting them to an up-or-down vote on the entire 29 chapter treaty.

The paper’s statement emphasizes how the Obama administration strives to make TPP’s policies “an example for the rest of the world to follow.” But if that’s the case, then it’s all the more important that the agreement be published immediately. Such a significant body of international law regulating digital policy must not be negotiated without proper, informed public debate. The secrecy of the process itself ensures that only some private interests will be represented at the expense of others. In addition, the U.S. Trade Representative’s history of pushing forth extreme copyright enforcement policies through other trade agreements gives little assurance that users’ rights will be considered in the TPP.

Trade representatives are working to finalize TPP negotiations by the end of the year. Negotiators are scheduled to meet in Salt Lake City next week to negotiate outstanding issues in this agreement, including provisions on liability for Internet Service Providers and anti-circumvention measures over DRM. Following that, trade delegates are seeking to finalize and sign this agreement in December in a ministerial meeting in Singapore.

It’s unfortunate that news outlets are giving little coverage to TPP, when media attention could have a major impact on how the US and the other 11 nations draft digital policy. But public media coverage is precisely the sort of accountability that official secrecy thwarts. Instead of endorsing an agreement the public can’t read, a responsible paper would condemn the secrecy involved. And if the Times has seen the text and knows what’s contained in the TPP, then they have a responsibility to publish the text immediately and expose the US government’s back room dealings.

In either case, it is deeply disappointing that the New York Times would even support the TPP when the public remains in the dark. An endorsement of TPP at this stage is an endorsement of opaque, corporate-driven policymaking.

~

We need to demand that our lawmakers oppose fast track, ask them to call for a hearing, and exercise their authority to oversee the U.S. trade office’s secret copyright agenda.

November 8, 2013 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Economics, Mainstream Media, Warmongering | , , , | Comments Off on How Can the New York Times Endorse an Agreement the Public Can’t Read?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: We Won’t Be Fooled by Rigged Corporate Trade Agreements

By Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese | Truthout | October 2, 2013

This week, President Obama will attend the Asia-Pacific Economic Coordination (APEC) meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where he is expected to announce his goal of having the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed into law by the end of 2013. Obama will host a meeting of the leaders of the TPP nations during the APEC conference.

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP in secret for more than three years. Unlike past trade agreements, the text of the TPP is classified, and members of Congress have restricted access to it. If they do read the text, they are not allowed to copy it or discuss any specifics of it. However, more than 600 corporate advisers have direct access to the text on their computers.

The final formal round of negotiations was held in Brunei this August, and since then, there have been informal meetings to try and finalize sections of the agreement. As far as the president is concerned, the TPP is entering the home stretch. All he needs now is for Congress to vote to grant him fast track, also known as trade promotion authority, and it’s a done deal. The facts show that the president may be deluding himself or trying to fool everyone else.

This is because the TPP goes far beyond a trade deal. Only five of the 29 chapters contain provisions related to trade. The other chapters consist of provisions related to patent protections, investor state rights and finance deregulation, among others. The TPP is a backdoor corporate power grab to advance the stalled WTO agenda. Or as Sachie Mizohata writes in Asia Times, “The TPP is a Trojan horse, branded as a ‘free trade’ agreement, but having nothing to do with fair and equitable treatment. In reality, it is precisely ‘a wish list of the 1% – a worldwide corporate power’.”

We expect the president to return from Bali with increased enthusiasm to push for fast track. To accompany this push will be the usual misinformation campaign coming from supporters of the TPP. To prepare the public for the expected propaganda, we will look at what is being said and provide facts to counter their arguments.

As far as some members of Congress are concerned, as well as hundreds of civil society groups and a growing number of US residents, fast track and the TPP are not going to slide through Congress smoothly. Opposition to the TPP is growing as more people come to understand that the TPP is a rigged corporate trade deal and not fair trade that respects the needs of people and the planet.

What’s Wrong with Fast Track?

For most of the past 200 years, Congress negotiated trade policy and wrote the laws to oversee trade, as required in the Constitution’s Commerce Clause. This power was first transferred to the executive office when Nixon was granted fast track in 1974 as part of his consolidation of presidential power. Fast track expired in 2007. Only 16 trade agreements have been passed using fast track, and some of these were the most unpopular and controversial pacts such as the WTO and NAFTA, signed by President Clinton.

The previous fast track legislation required the president to submit both the trade agreement and implementing legislation to Congress for approval. According to a 2011 report by the Congressional Research Services, “The fast-track authority provides that Congress will consider trade agreement implementing bills within mandatory deadlines, with a limitation on debate and without amendment. . .” In other words, fast track permits the president to negotiate an entire trade agreement over many years and then present it to Congress for an up or down vote within a short time period (60 to 90 days), with debate limited to 20 hours and no amendments.

Fast  track severely undermines the transparent and democratic process required to ensure that the full implications of the agreement are understood and are acceptable. Trade agreements require that laws, even down to the local level, be changed to be in compliance with provisions in them. For example, when the WTO was passed, which was fast tracked despite having been negotiated for over 10 years and containing thousands of pages, most members of Congress did not read or understand it.

Great Recession Connection

One of the requirements of the WTO was that Glass-Steagall had to be repealed. This removed the wall that protected traditional banking from risky investments and is partially responsible for the current economic crisis, which started in 2008. Similarly, NAFTA was 1,700 pages, including annexes and footnotes. NAFTA involved only three countries, the TPP includes 12. Congress cannot digest all of this information and consider its implications in such a short time.

Passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its sister, the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (known as TAFTA), for which negotiations began in July, will require fast track to become law. Supporters of the TPP such as the US Chamber of Commerce and, of course, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) are promoting fast rack with flimsy and false arguments. Basically, they boil down to these points:

1.  The president should have fast track so he can negotiate job-creating agreements and boost trade and the economy.

2. It’s OK to give the president fast track because Congress is going to include negotiating objectives within the fast track law, and Congress must vote on the agreement.

3. The president should have fast track because other presidents have had it.

So, let’s examine the facts. First, despite promises of American jobs, past free trade agreements have actually been huge job losers. NAFTA is responsible for the loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. The recent Korea Free Trade Agreement was promised to bring 70,000 new jobs, but lost 40,000 jobs in the first year alone instead, and Public Citizen estimates that nearly 160,000 jobs will be lost over the first seven years. In total, US free trade agreements over the past two decades have netted a loss of nearly 5 million American jobs.

In addition to the loss of jobs, free trade agreements have contributed to the stagnation of wages in the United States. American workers cannot compete with extremely low wages in countries like China, Malaysia and Vietnam. A recent study predicts that the TPP will cause wages for 90 percent of American workers to decrease while wealth of the top 1% will soar. How can US workers compete with workers in Malaysia, where the minimum wage is $1.24; Peru, where it is $1.37; or Vietnam, where it is 30 cents? The TPP will increase the race to the bottom that will further impoverish US workers.

The same study predicts that the TPP will only boost US Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 0.1 percent. In fact, free trade agreements do not seem to work at all when it comes to expanding US exports. According to the data, overall the US trade deficit has increased by 440 percent with countries with which we have free trade agreements and has declined by 7 percent with countries with which we do not have agreements. If we look at the outcome of a “21st century trade agreement,” which is how the office of the USTR describes the TPP, like the Korea Free Trade Agreement, we find that “average monthly exports to Korea since the FTA have sunk 11 percent below the average monthly level before the FTA.” TAFTA is expected to increase US GDP by a mere 0.2 to 0.4 percent, which Public Citizen reports, is “a smaller contribution to GDP than was delivered by the latest version of the iPhone.”

Second, let’s look at Congressional oversight under fast track. Carol Guthrie from the office of the US Trade Representative recently wrote an email response to the producer of a video interview of Margaret Flowers in which she said:

“Checking in on your story on TPP – afraid there seems to be some misunderstanding about trade promotion authority, sometimes known as ‘fast track.’ Under such a law, which lays out just how the administration should consult with Congress on trade agreements, and in which Congress sets out negotiating objectives for the United States, there are indeed hearings and an up or down vote in Congress before the agreement can be implemented in law and enter into force. There are rules in TPA about whether or not the implementing legislation for an agreement can be amended, but it does not allow an agreement to become law or enter into force without Congressional approval. Glad to share more information as it’s helpful to you.”

Flowers wrote back immediately and asked if there was fast track legislation available for review; whether there would be full hearings on the content of the TPP and its implications; and whether amendments would be allowed. That was on September 20 and no response has been received.

In the past, fast track has limited hearings and debate and has not allowed amendments. There have also been negotiating objectives in the past, and these have often been ignored. For example, labor rights were required under the WTO, but still were not included. Even when provisions such as worker protections are included in trade agreements, they are not enforced, as is recently demonstrated in Colombia, where deaths of worker advocates have increased and there are massive strikes and protests since passage of the Colombian FTA.

In the case of the TPP, negotiating objectives enacted now, when the negotiation of the entire agreement is concluding, will have absolutely no effect. The negotiating objectives are merely window dressing designed to confuse labor unions, environmental groups and others into supporting the TPP, when in reality, protections will not be enforced.

Members of Congress are overruled by the agreements when they do try to change the provisions. Ray Rogers writes that trade agreements “have nullified the efforts of political leaders like Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), who introduced legislation in 1994 to ban the imports of products produced by brutal child labor. President Clinton’s US Trade Representative informed him that his bill would violate the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which the United States is obliged to obey.” Thus, trade agreements tie the hands of Congress and undermine US sovereignty.

What is Oversight?

The definition of Congressional oversight by the office of the US Trade Representative falls far short of the degree of oversight necessary if Congress and the public are to have the ability to fully understand what is in the secret TPP and what the economic impact will be on the United States and nations around the world, as well as how it will impact protection of workers, consumers and the environment. What we expect to see under the fast track process are limited hearings in which supporters of the TPP praise it and Congress members are not able to fully question or amend it. How could it be anything else when members of Congress will not even have time to read the agreements?

Lastly, the idea that other presidents had fast track, so President Obama should too, is embarrassing in its lack of logic. Most presidents have not had fast track. And the agreements passed by fast track have caused the loss of US jobs, lowered wages and created higher trade deficits. Congress must serve its Constitutional function as a check and balance to the power of the President and the branch of government responsible for regulating trade and passing legislation. Fast track undermines the constitutional power of Congress and creates an imperial presidency.

Fortunately, the process to grant fast track trade authority this time around has slowed significantly. In February, 2012, then US Trade Representative Ron Kirk, in his testimony before the House Ways and Means Committee, included a request for fast track by the end of 2012 to complete TPP negotiations. Senators Max Baucus and Orrin Hatch urged the White House to request fast track trade authority last April. They expected to have a fast track bill passed in Congress by last June.

President Obama waited until August of this year to formally request fast track and, as of the writing of this article, no fast track bill has been introduced in Congress. A recent report in Politico stated, “Efforts by leaders of Senate Finance and House Ways and Means to craft a bipartisan TPA [Trade Promotion Authority] bill have taken longer than expected, prompting speculation the two panels may not be able to produce a package.”

Bipartisan opposition to fast track has already appeared in Congress. Alan Grayson (D-Florida) voiced opposition and Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut) is gathering signatures from other members on a letter to the president opposing fast track. Michelle Bachman (R-Minnesota) and Walter Jones (R-North Carolina) have a similar letter to the president. Many groups are lobbying against fast track, including Public Citizen, environmental groups and labor. We are organizing Fair Trade Brigades to track congressional support for fast track through our Flush the TPP campaign. Everyone is encouraged to participate in that effort.

Don’t Fast Track this Train Wreck

As Mizohata wrote in Asia Times, the TPP is Trojan horse that is not about trade. We know this because only five of its 29 chapters are about trade. Ben Beachy reports that “of the 11 countries negotiating the TPP with the United States, six already have FTAs with the US.”

So, if we already have trade agreements with these countries, and we know that trade deals don’t reduce our trade deficit, what is the reason for the TPP? It looks like a backdoor to the neoliberal economic agenda that has been stalled under the WTO since the Battle of Seattle in 1999. The tremendous secrecy surrounding the TPP is because the policies that are being pushed through are both harmful to – and unpopular with – the American public. Fast track is necessary to protect this secrecy because the TPP would not survive the light of day.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) has been one of the most outspoken members of Congress on the need for transparency. She wrote a letter to the president requesting that the text be made available to the public. Even members of Congress have restricted access to the text. Zach Carter writes that “Some [members of Congress] have said they were insulted by the complex administrative procedures the office of the U. Trade Representative, or USTR, imposed to actually access the texts – barriers not imposed on unelected corporate advisers.”

And, it is not only texts, when Rep. Darrell Issa (R-California) sought to observe negotiations being held near his California Congressional District, the US Trade Representative would not allow it. While corporations have been allowed to participate throughout the process, a member of Congress who serves on committees dealing with energy, small businesses, foreign policy and government oversight – which would all be impacted by the TPP – was blocked from merely observing. As Rep. Issa wrote: “Congress has a constitutional duty to oversee trade negotiations and not simply act as a rubber stamp to deals about which they were kept in the dark. While I had hoped the TPP would permit me to observe this round of the negotiation process firsthand, our efforts to open TPP negotiations up to transparency will continue.”

Looking at the office of the USTR website, one would think that the process of negotiating the TPP has been open and broad, rather than closed and exclusive as it has been. Negotiators write that they are reaching out to a “broad cross-section of stakeholders” and they want to “set the stage for a deeper level of engagement with these and other stakeholders in the weeks and months ahead.” But these are empty promises and misleading statements as both members of Congress and stakeholders know.

The actions of the USTR are designed to give the illusion of engagement while the needs and interests of those affected by the TPP will be ignored. One of the authors of this piece, Kevin Zeese, participated in a stakeholder briefing last September. He found that questions from the stakeholders in attendance were not answered by the representatives and the entire event felt like a charade.

That is why last week, we decided to expose the secret TPP and make the public’s demands for democracy and transparency more visible through spectacle protests. On Monday, September 23, eight of us wore work coveralls and hard hats and climbed scaffolding next to the USTR building. We draped the outside of their building with four large banners calling for democracy and transparency and calling the TPP what it is in reality, a global corporate coup against people and the planet. Our effort to raise awareness was successful as the Washington Post reported on the protest, calling it “one of the best ever.” The next day we spread the news by conducting a march featuring a 32-foot fast track train, going back to the US Trade Rep. office, then to the World Bank, White House, Chamber of Commerce, business district, Pennsylvania Ave. and Congress.

It is up to the public and their representatives in Congress to demand that the full text of the TPP be released and that there be a democratic process of review. We must fully understand the effects of the TPP on employment, wages, the environment, Internet freedom, public health and safety, and more. Jim Hightower outlines some of the major concerns in his newsletter, The Lowdown.

We cannot blindly accept the information coming from the USTR, President Obama and Big Business supporters of the TPP. They have misled the public before, and they are doing it again to advance an agenda that puts profits before the needs of people and protection of the planet. The TPP will force smaller countries like Vietnam to change their entire economy by eliminating their publicly supported enterprises and services and opening them up to the private sector and foreign investors. This will increase poverty and suffering while lining the pockets of the wealthy.

Countries negotiating with the United States need to realize that if the TPP becomes law, they will be under the thumb of Monsanto, JPMorgan, Bank of America, Wal-Mart and other US-based transnational corporations. Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead TPP negotiator recently quit to warn people of the dangers of the TPP – highlighting how big financial institutions will dominate their governments and how the TPP “will become a threat for our countries: It will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries.” The TPP will destroy the sovereignty of the nations who agree to its terms.

The destruction of sovereignty includes the United States. One of the most egregious outcomes of the TPP, if it passes, is the way it will undermine our national sovereignty as well as the ability of state and local governments to pass laws. All laws will have to be brought into compliance with the TPP. This means that public institutions like schools and hospitals can no longer give preference to buying local products, and consumers may be barred from knowing whether foods contain GMOs. It means the “Buy America” laws will be illegal, so Americans will be forced to spend their money on foreign products that create a massive trade deficit.

And if we pass laws that interfere with expected corporate profits, those laws can be challenged in a special court, an international trade tribunal that operates outside of our legal system and that is staffed largely by corporate lawyers on leave from their corporate jobs. There will be no appeal to traditional courts from these rigged trade tribunals.

The TPP Unites Us and We can Stop It

The TPP will affect everything we care about. It is a cause that unites us, and if we work together to stop it, we will have won against the behemoth of transnational corporate power. A broad range of groups across the political spectrum are involved in stopping the TPP from becoming law. This includes Internet freedom, anti-GMO, health care, labor, faith, immigrant rights and environmental groups, among others.

We can stop the TPP. Indeed, 14 trade agreements have been prevented in the last dozen years. As more people know about it, the less popular it will become among politicians who will be held accountable for the TPP’s failures. It is up to the public to demand that our representatives put the interests of their constituents before the profits of their corporate campaign financiers. They must know that they will be held accountable for the detrimental consequences that are being predicted.

Public awareness and pressure are already having an effect. The media is starting to cover the TPP more, and the process of granting fast track has been slowed. We can expect more propaganda to appear as the TPP falters and so we must prepare ourselves to repel it with the truth. And we must remember that no matter what we are told about it, no matter what protections we are told are included in it, we must have access to the text before it is signed and we must review and fully understand what its impacts will be.

Other countries are taking steps to demand transparency and democracy. Recently, the Parliament of Peru passed a resolution “requesting that the government open a ‘public, political, and technical debate’ on the binding rules being negotiated in the TPP.” Protests in Japan have been widespread. The more we are visible in our concerns about the TPP, the more people in other nations will be emboldened to stand up to US imperialism and domination.

It is time to end the era of rigged corporate trade and begin fair trade that respects all people and the planet, and that is developed in an open and transparent manner. Join the Fair Trade Brigade either in Congress or where you live. Tell your member of Congress to vote “no” on fast track and pass a resolution locally that declares your community to be a TPP-free zone. Visit FlushtheTPP.org for more information on what you can do.

For more on the TPP visit here and here.

Other articles on the TPP by Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese:

TransPacific Partnership Will Undermine Democracy, Empower Transnational Corporations Protesters Take Over US Trade Rep Building, Expose Secret NegotiationsWhy It’s Time to Revolt Against the Worst “Trade Agreement” in History

October 3, 2013 Posted by | Deception, Economics, Progressive Hypocrite | , , , | Comments Off on The Trans-Pacific Partnership: We Won’t Be Fooled by Rigged Corporate Trade Agreements

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Free Trade vs. Democracy

By Cliff DuRand  | Americas Program | April 12, 2013

As closed-door negotiations concluded in Singapore on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, opposition begins to build in many countries. At the urging of the United States, Canada and Mexico have joined the nine countries in the talks and now Japan has announced it too wants to be part of this new free trade pact of Pacific rim countries, described by its critics as “NAFTA on steroids”.

Going into its 17th round of negotiations, the Obama administration aims to wrap up an agreement by October, hoping to push ratification through the Senate on a fast- track basis. Called Trade Promotion Authority, fast track would mean an up or down vote without amendments or even hearings on the agreement presented to it. It is a profoundly anti-democratic procedure because it shuts down debate.

But from start to end, TPP has been thoroughly anti-democratic. On the first day of the Singapore talks a broad range of civil society organizations issued an open letter to Congress calling for greater transparency in the proceedings. The agreement is being hammered out in secret discussions among trade ministers. Even Senators have been denied a look at its draft provisions.

However, some 600 transnational corporations are in the inner circle. They are writing the rules for trade in their own interests without any democratic input from the people whose lives will be profoundly affected. If adopted, TPP will deny citizens their democratic rights to shape public policies on a host of domestic issues, conceding those decisions to the large corporations.

Some sections have been leaked. They reveal “an agreement that actually formalizes the priority of corporate power over government,” according to Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Only 5 of the 29 chapters have to do with trade. Wallach says the rest of the draft “include[s] new rights for the big pharmaceutical companies to expand, to raise medical prices, expand monopoly patents, limits on Internet freedom, penalties for inadvertent noncommercial copying, sending something to a friend. There are the same rules that promote off-shoring of jobs that were in NAFTA that are more robust that literally give privileges and protections if you leave. There is a ban on ‘buy American’ and ‘buy local’ or ‘green’ or sweat-free procurement. There are limits on domestic financial stability regulations. There are limits on imported food safety standards and product standards. There are limits on how we can regulate energy towards a more green future – all of these things are what they call ‘Behind the Borders’ agenda. And the operating clause of TPP is: ‘Each country shall ensure the conformity of its domestic laws, regulations and administrative procedures with these agreements.’”

Global Class War

Free trade is about more than trade. It is about favoring corporations over the democratic rights of citizens and the sovereignty of nations. As the former Director-General of the WTO, Renato Ruggiero, said in 1995, “We are no longer writing the rules of interaction among separate national economies. We are writing the constitution of a single global economy.”# What is being created is a global governance order in which corporations are the citizens, not flesh and blood humans like you and me. With free trade, corporations are making an end run around democracy.

TPP is the latest offensive in a global class war. For nearly 40 years now, since the mid 1970s, corporations have been rolling back the popular gains of the New Deal era and the 1960s. Democracy has been the target of a class war to restore the class power of capital. And there has been weak resistance, at best, by the popular classes. But the stakes have become increasingly clear to more and more. Indeed, on the issue of free trade, there is now a broad public sentiment against this aspect of the corporate offensive.

The US has become the world advocate of “free trade,” promoting it through trade agreements like NAFTA and other bi-lateral agreements as well as through global governance institutions it has sponsored such as IMF, World Bank and WTO. The US has promoted free trade for much the same reason Great Britain promoted it in the 19th century, viz. the economically strongest country in the world benefits from free trade. It is the weaker countries that seek tariff protection for their infant industries, protection from competition with cheaper and higher quality imports. That protection is what enabled the US to industrialize in the last half of the 19th century. But then when the US became economically strong enough to compete regionally and eventually globally, it became an advocate of free trade and demanded that others abandon protectionism.

The justification for free trade rests on the theory of comparative advantage. This is the view that if countries trade free of government impediments, the market will tend to direct each to export that which they can produce most efficiently and import what can be produced more efficiently and thus more cheaply elsewhere. The invisible hand of the market will guide each to specialize in producing what they have a comparative advantage in. Thus a rational production and trading system will emerge that maximizes efficiency.

Free trade agreements like NAFTA were sold to the US public by appealing to consumer’s interest in having access to cheaper goods imported from Mexico. What was deliberately soft-pedaled was their interest as workers in having jobs. Organized labor opposed NAFTA, fearing it would pit US workers in competition with low wage Mexican workers. Independent presidential candidate Ross Perot warned of “a giant sucking sound” as jobs would be off-shored to Mexico.

But the Clinton administration said US exports to Mexico would create new jobs. And so, ignoring opposition from its traditional base in the unions, new Democrat Clinton pushed ratification of NAFTA through the Senate as his first priority. Perot proved to be correct as US companies shifted production to low wage Mexico – until even lower wage Chinese workers were brought into play when China joined WTO. But Clinton was also right as cheaper consumer goods from abroad filled the shelves of Wal-Mart with bargains welcomed by US workers who found their wages reduced. Free trade proved to be a mixed blessing.

Capital Becomes Global

One important point about free trade that is often overlooked is that it is not only about the free, frictionless movement of goods and services across borders, unrestricted by tariffs, quotas and regulations. It assures the free movement of capital, as corporations are freed to invest abroad. The mobility of investment capital is of utmost importance, with profound economic consequences and consequences for democracy.

Unable to find sufficiently profitable venues for investment in the overdeveloped US economy, large corporations have increasingly moved abroad. They sought not just new outlets to sell their commodities, but low wage workforces that would decrease their production costs and thus boost their profits. Frequently that would involve locating different stages of the productive process in different countries so as to take optimal advantage of local conditions. The assembly lines of US industry were disaggregated and disbursed across the globe.

Global assembly lines emerged. These global production chains have become a signature feature of contemporary capitalism. Components may be manufactured in Singapore, transported to China for subassembly and then shipped to Mexico for final assembly before sale in the United States. Although global assembly lines are geographically dispersed, they overcome the limitations of the fixed assembly lines of the Fordist era in that they no longer have to rely on a fixed labor force that can organize itself to effectively claim a share of the surplus they create.

Instead, the global assembly line gives capital the flexibility to seek out the lowest wage workforce and friendliest business environment available anywhere in the world. This has been made possible by the development of a global computerized network of instant communications via satellite. That and the computerization of banking have made money transfers and the movement of capital both easy and instantaneous. The communications network also allows the decentralization of technological development and design. Technicians can work at points distant from the processes of production to which they address themselves. And the entire process can be coordinated by management located anywhere on the globe. The limitations of space and time have been overcome by digital communications and cheap energy for transporting goods to their ultimate consumers.

For such globalized production to be possible, capital must be able to flow freely across national borders and products have to be able to move with minimum friction across those borders, unhampered by tariffs or quotas or non-uniform standards. In other words, there must be free trade for transnational capital to optimize accumulation.#

But transnational corporations also need legal protection of their investments. They need protection from expropriation of their assets, laws and governments that can ensure their property is secure. A crucial part of free trade agreements is protection of what are called investor rights. This involves more than just protection from expropriation, as happens with revolutions. It also involves protection from governmental actions that might reduce the value of their property or potential profits by environmental and health regulations, labor laws or other such measures even though they might be for the public good. What in US law is called “regulatory takings” are seen as tantamount to expropriation.

When such governmental actions do occur, free trade treaties give the foreign corporation the recourse to sue. The suit is not adjudicated in a national court, but by a transnational body of experts operating in secret. States are expected to enforce its decisions on their own nation’s taxpayers and consumers. This favors investor rights (i.e. the interests of transnational corporations) over the democratic rights of a nation.

Super NAFTA

As corporations have globalized, morphing into transnational corporations, they have promoted free trade agreements to get national governments to assist them. But when “investor rights” trump the democratic rights of citizens, the transnational corporations become the real citizens of the emerging global order. TPP is a further step in this direction, making an end run around a number of important issues –banking regulation, extension of patent protection, food inspection, environmental protection, food sovereignty, internet freedom, health care, job creation policies, and more, denying voters the opportunity to decide such matters when they impinge on corporate profit making.

Here are a few of the issues around which opposition to TPP is beginning to emerge.

* Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres, MSF) is concerned that TPP would “enhance patent and data protections for pharmaceutical companies, dismantle public health safeguards enshrined in international law and obstruct price-lowering generic competition for medicines.” The intellectual property provisions would give pharmaceutical companies prolonged monopoly protection for medicines and delay access to cheaper generic versions. This would have disastrous consequences in poorer countries.

* Internet freedom is also in danger. The Council of Canadians and OpenMedia have warned that the TPP would “criminalize some everyday uses of the Internet,” including music downloads, making no distinction between commercial and non-commercial copyright infringement. The TPP imposes a “three strikes” system for copyright infringement, where three violations would result in the termination of a household’s Internet access.

* Japanese farmers are concerned that TPP will force removal of protections from Japan’s agriculture needed to maintain food sovereignty for the country. They are protesting Japan’s decision to enter into TPP negotiations at all.

* Guaranteed compensation for loss of “expected future profits” from health, labor or environmental regulations.

* Corporate performance requirements are banned.

* Capital mobility is to be guaranteed, preventing capital controls in event of a financial crisis. TPP will require countries to let capital flow in and out without restriction, not allow the banning or regulation of risky investments like derivatives and credit-default swaps and will prevent the formation of much-needed public banks

Democratic sovereignty

Most fundamentally what is at stake with TPP and existing free trade treaties is the sovereignty of nations and the ability of their peoples to make democratic decisions. This is a concern on both the Left and the Right, suggesting the possibility of a broad coalition opposing TPP, bridging our otherwise polarized politics.

A major NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll from September of 2010 revealed that “the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues on which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree,” with 86% saying that outsourcing jobs by U.S. companies to poor countries was “a top cause of our economic woes,” with 69% thinking that “free trade agreements between the United States and other countries cost the U.S. jobs.” Only 17% of Americans in 2010 felt that “free trade agreements” benefit the U.S., compared to 28% in 2007.

Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizen Trade Campaign  said: “If they were to negotiate an agreement that put human rights ahead of corporate profit, creating more just and sustainable social policy, the TPP could be a tool for incredible good. But if you look at who has a seat at the table, with the public shut out and more than 600 corporate lobbyists included, there is nothing to indicate that’s the deal we’re going to get.”

The developing opposition to the corporate coup that the TPP represents has the potential to win. It’s about time for the people to win one victory in the corporate class war. Our first chance in this campaign will be over granting fast track Trade Promotion Authority. And that battle will be followed by the fight over Senate approval of TPP itself. This is one that we can win. The stakes are high. The alternatives are democracy or plutocracy.

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Cliff DuRand is a Research Associate at the Center for Global Justice and a contributor to the CIP Americas Program http://www.cipamericas.org. He is co-author and co-editor of Recreating Democracy in a Globalized State (Clarity Press, 2012). Contact him at global.justice.cliff@gmail.com

For More Information:

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch  http://www.citizen.org/trade

on TPP http://www.citizen.org/TPP

Citizens Trade Campaign www.citizenstrade.org

A coalition of labor, environmental, religious, family farm, and consumer organizations united in the pursuit of socially and environmentally just trade policies.

It’s Our Economy www.itsoureconomy.us

It’s Our Economy seeks to educate, organize and mobilize Americans to shift the power from concentrated capital to the people.  http://itsoureconomy.us/occupy-the-tpp-stop-the-global-corporate-coup/

April 13, 2013 Posted by | Civil Liberties, Economics, Full Spectrum Dominance | , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trans-Pacific Partnership: Free Trade vs. Democracy