This may be one of the most important stories ever ignored by the media. It's unlikely you're losing sleep over U.S. trade negotiations, but the unfolding agreement between the United States and eight Pacific nations the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) should cause every U.S. citizen, from the Sierra Club to the tea party to get their pitchforks and torches out of the closet and prepare to "storm the Bastille."
The TPP negotiations have been going on for two years under extreme secrecy, no information has been made available to either the press or Congress about the U.S. position. But on June 12 a document was leaked to the watchdog group, Public Citizen, revealing the current U.S. position and the reason for the secrecy. The contents are surreal and shocking.
The leaked document reveals that the trade agreement would give unprecedented political authority and legal protection to foreign corporations.
Specifically, TPP would (1) severely limit regulation of foreign corporations operating within U.S. boundaries, giving them greater rights than domestic firms, (2) extend incentives for U.S. firms to move investments and jobs to lower-wage countries, (3) establish an alternative legal system that gives foreign corporations and investors new rights to circumvent U.S. courts and laws, allowing them to sue the U.S. government before foreign tribunals and demand compensation for lost revenue due to U.S. laws they claim undermine their TPP privileges or their investment "expectations."
Despite NAFTA's failures, corporations are arm-twisting the federal government to pursue trade agreements as inevitable and necessary for economic progress. But 26 of the 28 chapters of this agreement have nothing to do with trade. TPP was drafted with the oversight of 600 representatives of multinational corporations, who essentially gave themselves whatever they wanted; the environment, public health, worker safety, further domestic job losses be damned.
Utahns should be particularly alarmed. TPP would allow plunder of our natural resources by foreign corporations allowed to bypass U.S. law. Disputes over Western land contracts for mining and timber, for example, would be settled by international tribunals.
Even if you are oblivious to environmental concerns, you should be outraged at the total circumvention of national sovereignty. Foreign investors could bypass our legal framework, take any dispute to an international tribunal and pursue compensation for being denied access to our resources.
It gets worse. Those tribunals would be staffed by private sector lawyers that rotate between acting as judges and as advocates for the corporations suing the governments. American and Utah taxpayers could be forced to pay those corporations virtually unlimited compensation if we tried to protect our air, land and water from much looser standards than current U.S. law allows.
Imagine that Rio Tinto chose to not be bothered by the Clean Air Act (Oh wait, that's already happening), or wishes to build an unsafe, collapsible tailings impoundment that could smother homes in Magna (Oh wait, they already did that). Rio Tinto would no longer be subject to our courts or the Clean Air Act.
Disputes about pollution would be settled by foreign judges who don't live in Utah, aren't U.S. citizens, and are attorneys for mining companies. Talk about putting the fox in charge of the chickens.
TPP is much worse than trade agreements like NAFTA, that eviscerated middle class jobs and wealth in the U.S. And this sellout to foreign corporations is not just a rogue brain cramp of President Obama.
Mitt Romney demanded this agreement be signed months ago, and the notorious "climate-change-denying" U.S. Chamber of Commerce can't get it signed fast enough. Romney has called Obama's the most hostile administration to business ever. If the TPP trade agreement is "hostile" to business, god help us if we have an administration, presumably Romney's, that is "friendly" to business.
If you thought that with Citizens United we had hit rock bottom in surrendering our democracy to the power of money, this TPP "trade agreement" would put our democracy in free fall. Foreign corporations would be allowed to feast upon America's natural resources, trash our environment and public health, violate our rights as American citizens and make us pay them if we try to protect ourselves.
Could this really happen? Go to http://www.citizen.org/tpp, learn more and get involved.
Brian Moench, a Salt Lake physician, is president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment and a member of Union of Concerned Scientists.