Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

RP Siegel headshot

Trans-Pacific Partnership Threatens Environment and American Sovereignty

Words by RP Siegel

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 headshotRP 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, Grist, Strategy+Business, Mechanical Engineering,  Design News, PolicyInnovations, Social Earth, Environmental Science, 3BL Media, ThomasNet, Huffington Post, Eniday, and engineering.com 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 53 patents and President of Rain Mountain LLC a an independent product development group. RP was the winner of the 2015 Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week blogging competition. Contact: bobolink52@gmail.com


Read more stories by RP Siegel

More stories from Leadership & Transparency