Coalition Report

by Brad Walker
Big Rivers & Sustainability Director,
Coalition For The Environment

Should Our Trade Policy Ensure Greed Trumps Good?

A new trade agreement that has been negotiated in secret for seven years called the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP began to emerge out of the shadows last month. The few, leaked portions of the TPP have enraged citizens across the planet because of the power it removes from citizens and their governments and gives to private corporations.

Trade negotiators representing more than 600 corporations have also pushed for “fast track” authority which would gut Congress’ ability to read the provisions of the agreement – and force them to vote on it without knowing its contents.

In order to offer a proper explanation and context of the TPP, we need to review our U.S. history which is marked by tension over the role and power of corporations. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were among the Founding Fathers who believed that corporations (especially monopolies) and concentrated wealth were a danger to democracy. Notably, the U.S. Constitution makes no mention of corporations.

U.S. Corporations are “Humanized” and “Super-Sized”

For decades, states regulated corporations and retained the rights to ensure corporations served the public good. Then the tide turned. Before the Civil War Abraham Lincoln worked for railroads claiming they were “persons” in an 1850 lawsuit. During the war President Lincoln signed laws that granted corporations near monopolistic power and land grants that led to a massive geographic expansion of railroads and their political power. By late 1864 Lincoln offered the following sobering thoughts in a letter to a friend:

“I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. As a result of the war, corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed. I feel at this moment more anxiety than ever before, even in the midst of the war. God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Corporations then filed numerous lawsuits pursing what has become known as “corporate personhood”, the formal and legal establishment of corporations being equal in the law to human beings. Corporations have since gained First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights in the courts, rendering corporations in some people’s opinion, “super humans” because they can live indefinitely, can merge or split, cannot be jailed, and have immense financial power.

After World War II, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and later the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) were established. GATT, which would become the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1995, is the foundation and precursor for TPP.
By 1999 a growing movement opposing the WTO and globalization had spawned protests at many of the WTO and trade-related meetings. Protests in Seattle in 1999 caused the meeting held there to collapse.

On the ten-year anniversary of the Seattle protests the Guardian newspaper published Protesters in Seattle warned us what was coming, but we didn’t listen, which reminded us that the protests had been about: “a highly volatile financial system built on unsustainable levels of debt,” globalization, which “benefited only a small proportion of the global population,”corporate power that was “corrupting political systems that were unable to fight back or were co-opted by corporations,” the “economic system of global capitalism, which was destructive of the environment (while) burning through finite resources at ever faster speed”.

These warnings can be traced to a key provision of the 2000-page document creating the WTO which elevates the trade agreements above a nation’s laws. The agreements allow a WTO member to challenge any law of another country that is believed to deprive a corporation of expected benefits from trade. It directly attacks sovereignty regarding labor, financial, environmental, health and safety standards that exceed the WTO accepted standards. Challenges have included standards on toxic chemicals, hydraulic fracturing, timber, mining, and green jobs. They have challenged the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and renewable energy programs.

What has become apparent is that free trade is really code for monopolistic protectionism that enriches corporations, undermines sovereign laws, and shifts jobs to lower wage countries. If you have not already done so, you might want to call your Congressional Representative and Senators asking them to oppose the TPP.

For the complete article, please see our River Roils blog at www.moenviron.org.

Note: This article used information from books written by Thom Hartmann, David C. Korten and Ted Nance.