Public Health Advocates Must Derail the TranPacific Partnership
OPINION -- The mainstream media should be ashamed of its minimal attempts at informing the American people about the TranPacific Partnership (TPP). Negotiated in secret, the TPP is NAFTA on steroids. It’s urgent we demand that Congress oppose a “fast track” of this treaty.
You may be muttering, “Why pay attention to this irrelevant issue?” After all, we’re too busy working long hours to buy cheap Nike shoes, iPads and apparel from retailers like Walmart to celebrate the Christmas® holidays.
Indeed, we are so busy buying stuff destined for landfills that we don’t realize we are disposable too. The wizards behind the curtain of the TPP are 600 corporate “advisors” for rich multi-national corporations that don’t care about public health, the environment and human rights. They care about profits—period.
Over the weekend, the New York Times published a front-page story, “Tobacco Firms’ Strategy Limits Poorer Nations’ Smoking Laws.” While the Times pointed out that the U.S. is among twelve Pacific Rim Countries completing talks on a major new trade treaty that will be a “model for the rules of international commerce,” they made no mention of the TPP. “Fast tracking” the TPP requires a complicit mainstream media—one that eliminates enough dots so citizens can’t connect them.
The Oregonian is no different. As a scribe for Nike, the Oregonian reports that the TPP would eliminate tariffs on sneakers (outsourced to manufacturers who pay low wages overseas) and magically, we'll have more high-paying jobs here! Money needs to circulate for a society to thrive. Since the 2008 recession, we’ve learned that money is heading in just one direction: upwards. Global trade agreements will further concentrate money and power when corporate boardrooms reward their executives—including Nike CEO Mark Parker.
A Nixon innovation, fast track limits Congress to a no-amendments, no-filibuster, simple majority vote on complex trade agreements—even though the rare Congressman or Senator has read the TPP. Fast track expired in 2007. A midterm election compels the most do-nothing Congress to make amends to their corporate donors. Passing fast track in early 2014 is a bipartisan agenda.
The TPP is much more than tariffs. There are twenty-nine chapters and only five chapters deal with traditional trade issues. In mid-November, Wikileaks released draft text of the TPP Intelligential Property Rights chapter. This text includes an investor-state protection clause that gives multi-national corporations the right to sue communities, states and nations enacting laws that might compromise future profits.
The TPP singles out tobacco as a health concern, but the Chamber of Commerce says this “would leave the door open for other products, like soda or sugar, to be heavily regulated in other countries.” The Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, opposing the “last-minute inclusion of a product-specific reference to tobacco or any other product.” They claimed “the TPP nor any prior U.S. trade agreement prevents American officials from regulating in the public interest—period. Trade agreements only require that such measures be based in sound science…”
Like the “sound science” performed by Monsanto that “proves” GMOs are safe and labeling is a costly regulatory burden? One of the lobbyists that co-signed the letter is the Grocery Manufacturers Association. The Grocery Manufacturers Association amassed $7.2 million (of over $22 million in the opposition coffers) to successfully oppose GMO labeling in Washington State. PepsiCo, Nestle USA and Coca-Cola each donated over $1 million to that Grocery Manufacturers Association slush fund.
Corporations are tribal when they collectively fight public health campaigns because it’s costly for corporations to also fight “sin taxes.” In 2010, these same corporations helped to raise over $16 million to pass Initiative 1107 which repealed a tax on candy and soda in Washington. This discouraged Upstream Health, a nonprofit in Oregon, to mount a similar campaign to tax sugary sodas in 2013, especially since they couldn’t get a hearing for the same bill in 2011. Yet there is no question that sugar-sweetened beverages promote obesity.
Since the mainstream media protects corporate interests, WikiLeaks came to the rescue in publishing the Intellectual Property chapter of the TPP. If you can't stomach Julian Assange, turn to Joseph Stiglitz, (Columbia professor and winner of the Nobel Prize for Economic Science in 2001), who wrote an open letter to the TPP negotiators. Sadly, we must look to blogs for this publication. Stiglitz concludes, "The investor state dispute resolution mechanisms should not be shrouded in mystery to the general public, while the same provisions are routinely discussed with advisors to big corporations.
The invisible hand of “free” market forces is what Milton Friedman calls “the possibility of cooperation without coercion.” In the current era of mass communication and micro-targeted advertising, corporations have the upper hand when they defend their ability to obfuscate harms, laying blame on people that should take “personal responsibility” for their consumer choices.
More than three-quarters of the world’s smokers now live in the developing world, too poor to fight corporate lawsuits that might arise if they try to place limits on advertising, packaging and sale of tobacco products. With deep pockets, corporations squelch the voice of public health advocates while they belittle consumer protections as the “nanny state.”
The TPP subordinates public health, the environment and human rights to corporate profits. As global citizens, we must take time to learn more about the TPP. Call Congress and demand NO FAST TRACK.