Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens Environment and American Sovereignty

A democracy cannot function without a well-informed citizenry. But as more and more of the dealings of the powers-that-be are conducted in secret, far outside the reach of the people, it’s getting harder to pretend there is much left here that can truly be called a democracy.

Fortunately, there are some brave souls out there, as there were in revolutionary times, who defy their masters, risking all, in the pursuit of truth, justice, and the American way.

One of these brave souls leaked a document, that was not supposed to see the light of day, which exposes a grand scheme to essentially sell off large portions of this country’s property, rights and resources for the express purpose of increasing the profits of the corporations who appear to have a heavy hand in writing the agreement.

I am speaking of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a “trade agreement,” that basically hands over the keys to our country to a number of foreign and multinational corporations entitling them to basically do whatever they want.

In essence, after two years of closed-door sessions, this is what the agreement aims to achieve:

  1. severely limit the regulation of foreign corporations operating within U.S. boundaries, enough to give them greater rights than domestic firms,
  2. extend incentives for U.S. firms to move  investments and jobs to lower-wage countries,
  3. establish an alternative legal system that gives foreign corporations and investors new rights that can circumvent U.S. courts and laws, and
  4. allow these foreign companies to sue U.S. taxpayers before foreign tribunals to demand compensation for lost revenue due to US laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges or their investment “expectations.”

Why in the world would we do this, you ask? I can’t tell you the answer but I bet if you asked the 600 corporate representatives who wrote the agreement, they could probably tell you it had something to do with their bonus plan (not that they would be that candid). As for the “business friendly” government officials involved, its not that hard to imagine their motives, considering the billions of dollars involved.

Under this agreement, foreign interests could purchase mineral rights in this country, and if there is a dispute, say, for example, someone else already owned those rights, the dispute will be settled by a foreign tribunal, whose judges rotate into and out of their roles from the very corporations who are pressing the claims. In other words, it will be the equivalent of Clarence Thomas ruling on Monsanto (a company he used to work for) over and over again.

As an example, in Utah there is presently a case where Rio Tinto, a British and Australian-owned mining company is being sued by a number of environmental groups, citing public health and environmental concerns, enforceable under the Clean Air Act. Under the new TPP agreement, this dispute would be settled instead by foreign judges sitting thousands of miles away, who don’t have to live here, but who might have a financial interest in the deal.

Make no mistake about this folks, as it stands right now, this is the children stealing the cookie jar and whisking it up to the bedroom where they plan to stuff their little faces, at everyone else’s expense. Only it’s a lot more serious than that.

Participants in this agreement include: Brunei, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, United States, Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada (shown in the order that they joined). The first four have already signed on.

Although, the U.S. has not yet signed it, President Obama, in his first trip to Asia, in November 2009, reaffirmed the United States’ commitment to the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Several weeks later, the new U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk notified Congress that the President planned to enter TPP negotiations “with the objective of shaping a high-standard, broad-based regional pact.”

Besides the environmental, public health and sovereignty issues, the agreement also contains some onerous language in the area of intellectual property, such as perpetual copyright terms, which heavily favor existing property owners, while locking out innovators attempting to enter the market. Besides fattening the wallets of existing IP owners, this will have dire consequences for innovation in the US, one of the great hopes for our struggling economy’s future.

The agreement can also be expected to exert downward pressure on the already deflated US jobs market. While there might be a small temporary uptick in jobs, as foreign countries open their borders to our goods, (that supporters will undoubtedly focus on) over time, the fact that “foreign” corporations have important strategic advantages over domestic ones, will provide a major incentive for more U.S. companies to relocate their operations offshore.

This is the kind of short term thinking I like to call, “burning the furniture to save money on firewood.” It tends to lead to a “now what do we do?” moment down the road, perhaps a little bit like the one we’re still having with NAFTA.

If this is President Obama’s attempt at becoming more business friendly, I think it’s fair to say that he has clearly overshot the mark. If he attempts to raise the standards of the pact, he will certainly have his work cut out for him.

It’s an interesting coincidence that Bill Scher’s opinion piece, How Liberals Win, also came out this week in the Times in response to the recent Supreme Court ruling on health care. His piece, in the name of pragmatism, upholds the idea that corporations are too powerful to control, and the best the President of the United States (presumably the most powerful man in the world) can hope for is to negotiate with them and hope that by giving a little he might get a little in return.

I’m not saying that Scher is wrong in describing today’s reality, but I have to wonder, is this really the state of affairs we want?

I thought twice about posting this piece on the 4th of July, a day that we celebrate our Declaration of Independence from the British Crown. Some might consider it unpatriotic to criticize the actions of the government, on this day of all days. But I believe that the signers of that Declaration would disapprove of this action even more strongly than I do.

When our forefathers saw how the British government was in collusion with the British East India Company, whose tea got dumped into Boston harbor, they decided that this cozy relationship was wrong. And so they rebelled, vowing to be different, to be better, and to walk a higher road. So they fought successfully to win our independence. Ours was to be a government of the people, by the people and for the people, not the corporations.

So what happened?

And please, don’t try and tell me that corporations are people, too.

Yes, I know what the law says, but my question stands.

What happened?


[Image credit: degahk: Flickr Creative Commons]

RP Siegel, PE, is the President of Rain Mountain LLC. He is also the co-author of the eco-thriller Vapor Trails, the first in a series covering the human side of various sustainability issues including energy, food, and water in an exciting and entertaining format. Now available on Kindle.

Follow RP Siegel on Twitter.

RP Siegel

RP Siegel, author and inventor, shines a powerful light on numerous environmental and technological topics. His work has appeared in Triple Pundit, GreenBiz, Justmeans, CSRWire, Sustainable Brands, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering, and among others . He is the co-author, with Roger Saillant, of Vapor Trails, an adventure novel that shows climate change from a human perspective. RP is a professional engineer - a prolific inventor with 52 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP recently returned from Abu Dhabi where he traveled as the winner of the 2015 Sustainability Week blogging competition.Contact:

15 responses

  1. “So what happened?”

    In a revealing TriplePundit article, Developing a Sustainable Endgame for the Global Economy, SLDI has identified why this should all have been expected (but wasn’t), and how shifting investments from Wall St. and banking-based assets to the only investments which mitigate the increasing risk of systemic failure of the economy brought on by excessive debt – sustainable global infrastructure – is the best course of action from here. Only by investing in nature-based assets with lasting inherent value such as land, shelter, food, water quality, and other ecosystem restoration services will we mitigate the increasing systemic economic risk and achieve the short- and long-term wealth gains we all strive to achieve…

  2. I loved this article and was in the midst of writing a similar article for my local community newsletter.
    If America is as bad as every other country. Why stay is the question many will ask themselves.
    As it becomes legal for local governments to steal pensions that where supposed to be in trusts and no one is charged.

  3.  Thanks Stuwalk,
    I wonder about that, too.
    I suppose one reason to stay is that if all the concerned and aware people leave, the place will surely go to ruin.

  4. Moyers & Company
    The Top Secret Trade Deal You Need to Know About
    November 1, 2013

    A cornerstone of President Obama’s plan to create more American jobs is a new agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), referred to by some as “NAFTA on steroids.” While negotiations are being carried out in secret and very little about the terms has been leaked, enough is known to worry about its possible effect on trade unions and our copyright and patent laws, not to mention environmental, health and safety regulations….

  5. As TPP Opposition Soars, Corporate Media Blackout Deafening

    Opposition to the Trans-Pacific
    Partnership—dubbed ‘NAFTA on steroids’—is receiving unprecedented
    popular opposition and nearly no news coverage by major outlets

    – Jon Queally, staff writer-
    ​ ​


    Republic Report
    Obama Admin’s TPP Trade Officials Received Hefty Bonuses From Big Banks
    February 17, 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 contractthat 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.

  7. Observations on Credit and Surveillance
    by @matthewstoller

    NAFTA Origins, Part Two: The Architects of Free Trade Really Did Want a World Government of Corporations

    It’s amazing what you find in the Congressional Record. For example, you find American political officials (liberal ones, actually) engaged in an actual campaign to get rid of countries with their pesky parochial interests, and have the whole world managed by global corporations. Yup, this actually was explicit in the 1960s, as opposed to today’s
    passive aggressive arguments which amount to the same thing.

    Here’s the backstory….

    Germany Bucking Toxic, Nation-State Eroding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership
    Posted on July 17, 2014 by Yves Smith

    We’ve inveighed against the dangers of two Orwellianlly-branded “trade”
    deals, the TransPacific Partnership and its ugly twin, the Transatlantic
    Trade and Investment Partnership. Both negotiations have been shrouded
    in a deeply troubling level of secrecy, with their draft terms being
    given classified status and Congressmen kept largely in the dark as to
    their content.

    The business press in the US has tended to amplify Administration
    messaging, that both deals are moving forward. In fact, as we’ve covered
    in some detail, the TransPacific Partnership is in quite a lot of

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