Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Global Fight Against Corporate Rule

Robin Broad and John Cavanagh
The Nation
 
A protester holds a sign that reads in Spanish “No to mining” at a protest against Canada’s gold and silver mining operations in northern El Salvador, outside Canada’s Consulate office in San Salvador. (AP Photo/Luis Romero)Over the past several decades, multinational corporate Goliaths have helped to write and rewrite hundreds of rules skewing tax, trade, investment and other policies in their favor. The extraordinary damage these policies have caused has become increasingly apparent to the communities and governments most directly affected by them. This, in turn, has strengthened the potential of a movement that’s emerging to try to reverse the momentum. But just like David with his slingshot, the local, environmental and government leaders seeking to revise rules to favor communities and the planet must pick their battles carefully.

One of the most promising of these battles takes aim at an egregious set of agreements that allow corporations to sue national governments. Until three decades ago, governments could pass laws to protect consumers, workers, health, the environment and domestic firms with little threat of outside legal challenge from corporations. All that changed when corporations started acquiring the “right” to sue governments over actions—including public interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments. These rights first appeared in little-known bilateral investment treaties. Twenty years ago, corporate lawyers embedded them in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, more than 3,000 trade and investment agreements and even some national investment laws grant foreign investors these powers.

The Obama administration is attempting to insert similar anti-democratic investor protections in new trade and investment agreements with countries that border the Pacific and with the European Union. Hoping to expedite the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), congressional leaders introduced fast- track trade promotion legislation on January 9 that would severely limit Congress’s ability to amend such agreements. The widely anticipated move set off a storm of protest from unions, environmentalists, liberal members of Congress and others, and will likely remain a high-profile fight in the coming weeks.

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