Chapel Hill: Opinion

Ellie Kinnaird: TPP is NAFTA on steroids

Could a Vietnamese company sue the United States over environmental regulations because they interfered with their business practice, thus reducing their profits? Or Malaysia sue over adhering to U.S. safety requirements in their garment factory?

That could happen under the Trans Pacific Trade Agreement if President Obama and Republicans in Congress who are pushing for it “fast track” this agreement.

If TPP is passed, corporations could sue the United States even for their loss of expected future profits. If the U.S. loses, the corporation would not be required to abide by our regulations. It could also demand cash payments for its loss from taxpayers.

In some cases, the TPP could even overturn our laws. The courts that hear such cases would not be U.S. courts of law, but the World Bank or other private tribunals made up of a pool of private attorneys who rotate between being judges and lawyers.

These TPP proceedings are secret. Our own representatives in Congress or public interest groups are not party to the negotiations. Only corporations and our trade representatives are participating.

If TPP passes, all disputes will be before an “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” tribunal putting corporations on the same status as our nation. Current examples from CAFTA that would be replicated in TPP: Phillip Morris challenging anti-smoking laws in Australia and Uruguay, a corporation demanding compensation from Canada for imposing a moratorium on fracking in Quebec, another suing Germany for “expected profits” it might lose if Germany phases out nuclear plants.

They call it a “technical barrier to trade.” Public Citizen calls it “a corporate coup d'état.”

U.S. programs such as sweat-shop-free, GMO, food safety, pesticide and toxic additives regulations could be endangered. If TPP passes, the U.S. can’t change so much as a comma in the thousands of pages of rules unless every country agrees. And if we decide to get out, there is a huge payment to corporations that may be affected. American laws protecting us in every area are threatened with repeal, without our input.

The TPP is NAFTA on steroids. It would govern over 40 percent of American imports and exports. The agreement is between the U.S. and 10 countries in the Asia-Pacific region. But not China. What does that mean?

Since the negotiations are secret, global health advocates, intellectual property interests, environmentalists, Internet activists, and trade unions can only find out what is in it through leaks. Even our elected representatives in Congress are not allowed to see what is in the TPP. When the agreement is finished – that is, it is acceptable to international corporations – it will be presented to a Congress that will never have seen the terms until then for a straight up or down vote.

This should be a concern to all of us. Why is Congress not at the table? What happened to our representative government? Why not declare a United States of International Corporations and hand it all over to them? Of course we have essentially done that with the outrageous flow of money into politics, especially the overwhelming number of lobbyists in Washington (12,719 in 2015) at a cost of $3.3 billion that now shape our public policy.

Everyone who is alarmed by the dangers to our citizens, should contact our congressional representatives and demand they are fully informed and become part of the negotiations going on right now. So we are the United States of, by, and for the people, not of, by, and for corporations.

Ellie Kinnaird is a former state senator and Carrboro mayor. She now lives in Chapel Hill.