Letter: TPP’s Investor-State Dispute Tribunal Courts

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Part Two of Two

The worst part of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is the “Investor-State Dispute Resolution” Court set up to settle arguments between corporations and countries. Although this sounds like something good, the reality is otherwise. Foreign corporations have the right to sue countries whose laws are determined to interfere with their “right to make a profit,” either in the present or future. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has a similar system under the World Trade Organization (WTO) and lawsuits have proliferated. Philip-Morris is suing Australia over cigarette warnings on their packages; Eli Lilly sued Canada on its drug-patent policy.

This court is a supra-national tribunal and no appeal is possible. Three corporate lawyers rotate in from a pool of lawyers to preside as judges. These tribunals are not accountable to any electorate, nor are they bound by precedent. The TPP further expands these powers so that foreign corporations can sue countries for the loss of future profits due to changes in policy. The citizens of the countries that are sued are responsible for paying these lawsuits, which can be in the billions of dollars!

As a result, under TPP, any laws that have been passed to protect our environment, workplace safety or food safety can be challenged if a foreign corporation thinks these laws interfere with their profit. Laws that pertain to workers’ hours and wages can also be attacked.

It is widely believed that the TPP agreement will sharply limit the government’s ability to regulate banks, hedge funds and insurance companies. Another probable provision would prohibit a tax on Wall Street speculation. If these provisions are included, the average American citizen has a lot to lose. They have already lost a great deal in the recent recession. While Wall Street, banking and corporate profits have soared in recent years, the poor and the middle class still have not recovered sufficiently.

In spite of all these negatives, President Obama wants the TPP to go through. He believes, despite all past experience, that the U.S. will benefit from this agreement. Senate hearings are going on right now with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman about giving the President “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) so that the President can sign this agreement with the other nations before our Congress has a chance to see it. Supporters assert that other countries must be assured that the U.S. will not change the agreement once certain stipulations have been agreed to. The counter-argument is that Congress should not be giving up their authority over trade to the President, especially if they are unable to change or amend the terms in any way after the President signs it.

Fast-track authority has been used for only 16 trade agreements since 1974; more than 500 trade agreements have been passed without it. The secrecy of the TPP Agreement, such that even our Congressional representatives cannot see the whole agreement before it is signed, is unprecedented and un-American. I agree with NY Senators Schumer and Gillibrand that unless “fast tracking” the TPP ensures that the poor, the middle class and American workers will benefit, Congress should not approve this agreement. Rep. Steve Israel has signed a letter stating that he will oppose fast track trade promotion authority. Rep. Kathleen Rice has signed a freshman letter opposing Fast Track. Rep. King has made conflicting statements about TPP and has not answered any letters or emails asking him to clarify his position on TPP and Fast Track. So far, there is no indication of how Rep. Lee Zeldin would vote.  

This is not a partisan issue. There are opponents and supporters on both sides of the aisle. Representatives on the right do not want to give the President (and probably his successor) any more unilateral power over trade. Representatives on the left fear that millions more American jobs will go to low-wage countries overseas and that our trade deficits will increase even more, plunging the U.S. back into a recession. There are some corporatists on both sides who think the agreement is wonderful. There are representatives on both sides who want more transparency with this agreement and the ability to make changes to objectionable terms before it is signed. With TPA, Congress cannot change one word once the President signs it on behalf of the United States.

—Lisa Oldendorp

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