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Today's trade pacts not so much about tariffs as about empowering corporations

By Lori Wallach


APEC poses greater threats than traffic nightmares for Hawaii's people.

Behind closed doors a policy is being devised that could raise medicine prices, drive down our wages, ban job-creating "Buy America" policies, undermine financial regulations aimed at controlling the banks that wrecked our economy while exposing Hawaiian ceded lands and environmental policies to challenge.

It is called the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Negotiations include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore. But the deal is intended to be open for others to join, including Japan, Indonesia, Russia and more.

A dirty secret of today's trade pacts is that they are not mainly about traditional trade matters like tariffs. Rather, they require countries to conform domestic policies to hundreds of pages of one-size-fits-all international non-trade rules written in closed-door processes involving hundreds of corporations, with the rest of us locked out. Those on the inside include 600-plus official U.S. corporate trade advisers. Congress people, Hawaii's governor and state legislators, journalists and we people whose lives will be most affected cannot see what our negotiators are bargaining for -- and bargaining away -- until a deal is done and it is too late for changes.

Countries that fail to change their laws to meet these trade pact requirements are slammed with indefinite trade sanctions or cash damages.

Just in recent months, the U.S. was ordered to eliminate the dolphin-safe label on tuna cans and our anti-teenage smoking ban on flavored cigarettes. We also just allowed entry for trucks from Mexico that don't meet U.S. safety or environmental standards -- after having been subjected to trade sanctions on $2.3 billion of U.S. trade.

We will hear from the usual corporate sources that another trade agreement could expand exports. But the data is clear: Our export growth rate to the countries we have these deals with is half of that to those we do not. And we have lost lots of jobs, thanks to the major trade deficit we suffer with the bloc of 14 previous Free Trade Agreement countries.

Thus, whether and under what terms a Trans-Pacific trade deal is done will affect the types of jobs available in our communities; whether the rapacious global banks that have seized control of Hawaii's hotels can be made to pay their workers well; and whether Hawaii will be able to diversify its economy to provide jobs for more people. That's because the proposed agreement would impose constraints on national and Hawaii service sector, investment and financial policy.

Also at stake is whether Hawaii will be able to free itself from dependence on imported oil and instead develop its potential for solar, wind and other renewables, as well as strong consumer and food safety protections. The agreement will impose limits on energy policy and safety and inspection standards for fish, fruits, meat and more.

American's worst job-offshoring corporations, major global banks, agribusiness and pharmaceutical giants want this Trans-Pacific deal to be like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the first pact focused on undoing our basic public interest protections under the false brand of trade agreements. Labor, environmental, anti-poverty, family farm and other advocates have demanded a "Fair Deal or No Deal."

It is not looking good. U.S. negotiators are pushing the corporate line, insisting that the notorious NAFTA "investor-state" enforcement system be included. This empowers corporations to skirt our courts and go to World Bank and U.N. foreign tribunals to challenge our domestic policies and demand taxpayer compensation if they think our laws undermine their "expected future profits."

Hawaii's land-use policies would be at special risk. Under NAFTA, more than $350 million has been paid out to corporations over attacks on zoning, toxics bans and more.

U.S. negotiators are also pushing new privileges for pharmaceutical industry giants that would jack up medicine prices. This includes new rights for them to attack "drug formularies," the cost-saving programs used by the U.S. Medicaid, Medicare and Veterans Administration -- and Australia, New Zealand and other nations. If the U.S. proposal is adopted, Hawaii and other states would have to pay for expensive new drugs that Big Pharma develops, even if they provide no new benefits to patients.

And, that is what we know. Trans-Pacific talks have taken place behind closed doors, and no draft texts have been formally released. A recent text leak revealed that U.S. officials signed a special deal not only to keep all documents secret, but to do so for four years after talks end. Civil society groups in the involved countries have launched an international "release the text" campaign to extract the draft texts. Those requests have not been met.

This extreme secrecy only makes us all wonder: Just what is being agreed to behind closed doors at APEC that cannot withstand public scrutiny?

Lori Wallach is director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. She is attending APEC 2011 in Hawaii.

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HoldEverything wrote:
Policies such as TPP rarely work out well. And as pointed out in this commentary, TPP is intended to benefit corporations, not people. And it isn't just Americans who will feel the cost of this pact, if adopted. In Japan, people are worried that it will affect their national health care, one of the best and most inclusive health care systems in the world, by forcing it to conform to the same standards that have made the U.S. system the world's most expensive.
on November 12,2011 | 07:14AM
Waimea_Cowboy wrote:
The author does not recognize that corporations are groups of people working toward a common goal. They are nothing more and nothing less. Since so many of our supposedly educated journalists now receive their education via the movies instead of responsible economics courses, you get these silly hate pieces that the authors actually believe to be true. This is a sad commentary on both the failure of education as well as the popularity of socialist theory. Hopefully your readers will have bird cages that can make use of this article. In the previous letter the author refers to "corporations, not people". This is as uneducated as it gets. Corporations are people and nothing more. Imua!
on November 12,2011 | 07:46AM
BarkingEagle wrote:
Corporations ARE people according the U.S. Supreme Court (Citizens United case). They have the vast majority of wealth in the U.S. and they can use it, without any limits, to buy politicians and ensure that legislation and government policies benefit them at the expense of the majority of U.S. citizens. The article did a good job of explaining how they hurt Americans, while helping themselves. Despite their tax breaks (GE and many other multi-billion dollar companies pay NO taxes), they hire fewer and fewer Americans. They are richer than ever in 2011, yet they continue to layoff many, many more workers than they hire. Keep fighting for the 1%, amigo, and hope you are one of the few that benefits from their greed.
on November 12,2011 | 09:53AM
bwaikiki wrote:
Thanks for your explanation behind all the hoopla - and secrecy.
on November 12,2011 | 07:49AM
cojef wrote:
Globalization means giving in to the universal interest of the union. As a member your internal interest is of little consequence, and so, as the article states: "Countries that fail to change their laws to meet the trade pact requirements are slammed with indefinite trade sanctions or cash damages." Where is free trade?? A World Order in the making, a noble ideal, doomed to failure.
on November 12,2011 | 10:38AM
tiki886 wrote:
Throwing the word around, 'greed' and 'greedy' is getting to be a worn out cliche. Can you be specific as to what it really means? It appears that the word greed only appears when it involves conservative interests. And yet, there are many, many rich and powerful millionaires and billionaires who are far left who wouldn't be wealthy except for Capitalism which made them super rich, such as Michael Moore, George Soros, Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, etc. The unspeakable evil that is capitalism has made Commnuists, Socialists, Marxists, Progressives, Liberals, Environmentalists and Democrats rich beyond their wildest dreams! And now they (Lori Wallach) says they have a better way? What is that way, Lori? Be specific.
on November 12,2011 | 05:57PM
Lanikaula wrote:
Right Wing, Left Wing, Conservative Wing...Capitalism, watevas! ALL this hype & build-up for the APEC and did anyone notice that in the protocols NOONE...NOONE!! Not even our governor, nor Congress person present at his landing or at ANY of the conferences did President Obama get LEI'd!!! Where's all the ALOHA and the braggers who are PREMIERING, SHOWCASING Hawaii to the world??!! "Planning, without culture & tradition yields only half-truths about the native people.!" Culture...peoples culture HAS TO play an important role. In past major conferences like these, Delegates usually wore a symbol from their HOST culture. Here in the land of ALOHA there was a major 'lock-down'! It's world famous icon, Waikiki has been turned into a WAR zone like atmosphere with the National Guard directing traffic at intersections!!!!! THIS IS HAWAII!!?? Or the ILLUSION of it! TSSAHH APEC, you did nothing to premier Hawaii as it should be portrayed!!!
on November 13,2011 | 06:58AM
oldsurfah wrote:
Finally. An article NOT cheerleading APEC, but telling it's real negative impacts upon the local people, and the true corporate interests that stand to benefit immensely.
on November 13,2011 | 12:14PM
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