For anyone who keeps pace with the often controversial and heated world of American politics, it is no secret that a great deal of disagreement surrounds the proposed TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, trade agreement. Those who support it argue that it lays the groundwork for the development of new economies and the exporting of goods to consumer economies in the West more cheaply. Those opposed to it on a more protectionist basis are quick to point out that it would allow the migration of low-skilled production jobs overseas, much as the opening of trade with China did. There are very few points on which these two opposed groups would agree. However, there is at least one criticism that has been leveled at the trade negotiations from all sides: the fact that the terms of the eventual TPP agreement are not available to the general public.
Map showing countries participating in the TPP negotiations, as well as those interested in participating.
Recently, a video appeared on YouTube detailing some of the aspects of the TPP, as well as the related TTIP and TISA agreements. The video, released by WikiLeaks, the investigative journalistic organization responsible for the disclosure of thousands of US State Department documents in 2010, paints a picture of an agreement that would, for all intents and purposes, give major corporations the ability to sue sovereign nations for any and all restrictions that affected their profits in those countries. The video, though highly editorial and opinion-based in nature, revealed some important information about the TPP. In particular, it focuses on the extension of the ISDS, or Investor State Dispute Settlement procedure, a provision already in place under NAFTA and other free trade agreements. As a doctrine of international law, ISDS allows individual corporations to take legal action against countries for loss of profits or earnings. According to the WikiLeaks video, the TPP would usher in an enormous expansion of this doctrine, extending it to all of the 12 countries involved.
Consider briefly the meaning of such an expansion. Nations which passed new regulations on business, fully within their rights as sovereign states to do so, would be subject to legal action via an international body. By extension, voters in those nations lose the right and the power to use their legal voice to dictate the economic direction of the nation in which they reside. Corporations based in other countries involved in the TPP, under its ISDS section, would be given full legal rights to challenge nation states on everything from public health regulations to tax practices. In his evaluation of the TPP in its relation to the rights of states and individuals, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said, “The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states. This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty.”. That statement, laudable though it is, could and should be taken one step further. This system is also a challenge to the right of the individual participant in a democratic state to exercise influence over the political and economic goings-on in that state.
Any student of free market economics will tell you that those nations which regulate sparingly and allow the market to take its course as much as is practical will be more prosperous and more productive than those which exert undue influence over the means of production. However, there is no virtue in the surrender of national sovereignty or of the rights of the individuals who participate in that sovereignty to these principles. Most of all, there is no virtue in the establishment of the mechanisms necessary to remove that sovereignty behind closed doors, where those people are not even invited to participate. Corporations, for better or for worse, are a reality of the century in which we live, and the manner in which they relate to nation states is a matter which is worthy of debate from many angles and points of view. That debate, though, must include the people that it will most affect. Secret trade negotiations are not the path to a world of free trade, nor the way to a truly free market. Most importantly, they are not the way of a free society.
By Antichik (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
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