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Trans-Pacific Partnership threatens national sovereignty

Recently, Oregon Farm Bureau President Barry Bushue touted the “fast-track” Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) bill currently before Congress as “vital to Oregon,” implying that the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal benefits the operators of small and medium-sized farms he claims to represent.

At first glance, an expanded market may seem a golden opportunity; however, a holistic cost-benefit analysis suggests otherwise. Missing from Bushue’s opinion is the fact that he is an unabashed supporter of genetically engineered crops and that OFB, having received large contributions from Monsanto and Syngenta, spent over $150,000 in its support of Oregon’s passage of the "Monsanto Protection Act."

If you think taking on a giant like Monsanto has been a trial here in Jackson County, pity the folks in the village of San Sebastian in El Salvador. They suffer diseases linked to arsenic poisoning, the result of the yellow river of acid that flows into the San Sebastian River where it kills all aquatic life and pollutes their drinking water.

The acid is a waste product of a mine owned by the Australian company OceanaGold. San Sebastian is in a country that unfortunately bought into an ill-advised trade deal that overrides local control. Ironically, OceanGold is suing El Salvador for $301 million because the government did not grant it a mining permit.

El Salvador isn’t alone in buyer’s remorse. Another gold company, Infinito Gold, is suing the government of Costa Rica for environmental policies that are cutting into their corporate profits.

All that sues isn’t gold. Phillip Morris is suing Uruguay over that country’s anti-smoking policies, specifically Uruguay’s requirement for medical warnings on cigarette packages. Another example is Swedish nuclear-power utility Vattenfall’s suit against the German government for $4.7 billion, seeking compensation for Germany’s phase-out of nuclear plants. All of these investor-vs.-state cases are being decided before secretive, corporate, international tribunals sanctioned by international trade deals.

The TPA, endorsed by President Obama and passed successfully in the Senate, is currently before the House of Representatives. It paves the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which will put similar lawsuits in the hands of similar international tribunals, under the “Investor-State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) chapter. ISDS gives foreign firms (U.S. corporations can easily create foreign subsidiaries) special rights to apply to a tribunal of highly paid corporate lawyers for compensation whenever a government passes laws that negatively affect corporate profits, overriding the laws of local, state and national governments.

It’s possible under the TPP that successful local community actions against GMOs and their pesticides, for example, would be viewed as obstructions to free trade; corporations could simply sue the offending member country, defeat any local ordinance, and receive compensation. Any attempts to label GMOs, and previous laws allowing labeling, could be canceled.

Sugar-coating, “free trade” proponents argue that environmental protections are built into the agreement, but such agreements lack enforcement provisions, and their ISDS provisions, as in the aforementioned examples, have been exclusively used by multi-national corporations to sue governments for damages to their profits.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, who opposes the TPP, notes that, since adoption of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), over 50,000 American factories and 5 million good, middle-class U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost. TPP (sometimes called “NAFTA on steroids”) would replicate and expand the NAFTA model, offshoring even more U.S. jobs to low-wage countries.

Environmental and labor concerns notwithstanding, the greatest danger of the TPP is its threat to our national sovereignty. “Free Trade” is really about giving multinational corporations a free lunch to usurp the power of sovereign governments.

TPP has opponents from across the ideological spectrum. Some politicians on both sides of the aisle, in a rare demonstration of bipartisan zeal that should give all citizens pause to wonder, argue that this trade deal is needed to counter the economic/national security threat from China. This might be a cogent rationale if the economic health of our country were based solely on GNP, but one has to ask who the actual beneficiaries of such a trade deal are. I can tell you: Big Agriculture, Big Pharma and Wall Street, all sectors that reward the few at the expense of the many. It’s no surprise which legislators receive large campaign contributions from these economic sectors.

The TPP is the crown jewel in the attempt of multinational corporations, with allegiance only to profits, to establish global monopolies. Please contact your legislators, especially Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Ron Wyden, a main proponent of the TPP and chairman of the Subcommittee on International Trade, and tell them you will vote against anyone who does not oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Andy Seles is a retired teacher who lives in Ashland.