You can win some impressive victories against corporate power on the local level. Boulder voters declared that corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech. Cities across Colorado (and other states) have passed fracking bans and moratoriums.
The fight is much tougher on a statewide and national level. But on the international level, the corporate elite is planning to dramatically stifle government regulation of their behavior.
Right now, secret negotiations are concluding over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a gigantic proposed “free-trade” zone spanning the Pacific Ocean and involving 12 nations (the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Mexico, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam and Brunei).
It would be the largest free-trade agreement by the United States. According to a report by the Congressional Research Service, the ministers negotiating the agreement “have expressed an intent to comprehensively reduce barriers in goods, services and agricultural trade as well as rules and disciplines on a wide range of topics” to extraordinary levels.
Leaks of TPP documents reveal that corporations could avoid government review when acquiring land, natural resources or factories. Corporations could be guaranteed compensation for the loss of “expected future profits from health, labor, [or] environmental” regulations. Corporate performance requirements could be banned. Corporations could directly challenge government laws and regulations in international trade tribunals.
Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said the leaks “sent shock waves through Congress because it showed that U.S. negotiators had totally abandoned Obama’s campaign pledges to replace the old NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement] trade model and in fact were doubling down and expanding the very Bush-style deal that Obama campaigned against in 2008 to win key swing states.”
The TPP will encourage U.S. corporations to offshore. This has happened with previous “free trade” agreements. The Economic Policy Institute has found that nearly 700,000 U.S. jobs were lost as a result of NAFTA. In Mexico, NAFTA has also destroyed many agricultural jobs by allowing imports of U.S. (government-subsidized) corn. As a result, many Mexicans have been forced to emigrate to the U.S. to find work.
In July, the Sierra Club expressed alarm when Japan formally joined the TPP, declaring:
“Japan is the world’s largest importer of liquefied natural gas, a dirty fossil fuel that is extracted from Americans’ backyards through the dangerous practice of fracking. The trade pact could strip the U.S. government’s power to manage its own gas exports, and put that power in the hands of foreign companies, opening the floodgates for dangerous fracking in our country and sacrificing our air and water quality.
“American families and communities cannot afford the unchecked exports of fracked gas to Japan.”
Thanks to fracking, the U.S. has become — in Obama’s words — “the Saudi Arabia of gas.” In 2012, this country produced 651 billion cubic meters of gas. We are the second top producer after Russia, which produced 653 billion cubic meters.
Reporter Steve Horn says that “a 21st-century ‘gas Cold War’ has arisen between the U.S. and Russia.” He notes the emergence of the Gas Exporting Countries Forum (GECF), which is “a bloc of countries whose mission is to fend off U.S. and Western power dominance of the global gas trade. The 13 member countries include Russia, Iran, Bolivia, Venezuela, Libya, Algeria and several others.”
Horn says the U.S. has a big disadvantage, since “Russia relies on easier-to-obtain conventional gas, as opposed to tough-to-obtain unconventional shale gas” which will likely last only 15 to 20 years.
A bipartisan group of 34 senators (including Colorado’s Mark Udall and Michael Bennet) is pressuring Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to speed up applications to export liquefied natural gas to nations that lack formal free trade deals with the U.S. Speed up? Why have this global battle over rapidly diminishing fossil fuels when the planet is heading toward ecological Armageddon? Why is Obama trying to shove the TPP through Congress via “fast track” (which allows him to negotiate deals that Congress can approve or disapprove but can’t change)? Why has the mainstream media ignored the anti- TPP protests by more than 400 civil society groups (labor, environmental, family farm, consumer, faith, public health, Native American and human rights constituencies)?
This corporate power grab must be stopped. Replace “fast track” with a more democratic process.
Respond: email@example.com This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.