By Robert A. Vella
As President Obama continues to push the highly controversial and secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal in East Asia, a similar agreement is being negotiated on the other side of the planet between the U.S. and the European Union called the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). While the TPP has been getting a lot of scrutiny in Washington, D.C, and in some media outlets, the TTIP has largely gone unnoticed in America. That dynamic is likely to change for at least one critically important provision currently shared by both trade deals.
From The Guardian last March:
Last month, the Financial Times reported that the US is using these negotiations “to push for a fundamental change in the way business regulations are drafted in the EU to allow business groups greater input earlier in the process”. At first, De Gucht said that this was “impossible”. Then he said he is “ready to work in that direction”. So much for no give and take.
But this is not all that democracy must give so that corporations can take. The most dangerous aspect of the talks is the insistence on both sides on a mechanism called investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS allows corporations to sue governments at offshore arbitration panels of corporate lawyers, bypassing domestic courts. Inserted into other trade treaties, it has been used by big business to strike down laws that impinge on its profits: the plain packaging of cigarettes; tougher financial rules; stronger standards on water pollution and public health; attempts to leave fossil fuels in the ground.
If you see the ISDS mechanism as a means to subordinate national sovereignty (i.e. self-governance and the will of the people) to the arbitrary power of a select group of global corporations, congratulations… you are observantly correct. From The Guardian editorial:
Nothing threatens democracy as much as corporate power. Nowhere do corporations operate with greater freedom than between nations, for here there is no competition. With the exception of the European parliament, there is no transnational democracy, anywhere. All other supranational bodies – the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, the United Nations, trade organisations and the rest – work on the principle of photocopy democracy (presumed consent is transferred, copy by copy, to ever-greyer and more remote institutions) or no democracy at all.
When everything has been globalised except our consent, corporations fill the void. In a system that governments have shown no interest in reforming, global power is often scarcely distinguishable from corporate power. It is exercised through backroom deals between bureaucrats and lobbyists.
For political leaders like President Obama who pay lip-service to the populist notions of fair trade, economic opportunity, pay equity, worker safeguards, environmental protections, etc., such vigorous pursuit of these egregiously anti-egalitarian trade deals pose obvious contradictions in the eyes of the public. Furthermore, Obama’s reticence in addressing the mounting criticisms against the TPP and TTIP is causing great concern even amongst his supporters. Many are asking, “why is he doing this?”
The answer is quite simple, yet enormously profound. It can be summarized through the three “isms” of contemporary geopolitics: imperialism, globalism, and corporatism. A so-called “cabal” of global financiers and industrialists greatly influence, and sometimes dictate, the foreign and domestic policies for much of the western world (see: the Five Eyes). The history of American imperialism after World War II provides numerous illustrations for a coordinated plutocratic agenda to suppress populist and democratic uprisings across the globe. The U.S. presidency in this age has been – for all practical purposes – diminished to the role of a puppet or henchman. Its publicly perceived power is but a facade, for the authority which directs it remains hidden in the shadows. The assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963 may be a case when the U.S. president overstepped his bounds.
As imperialism is the military component to western plutocracy, globalism establishes its administrative structure and corporatism (i.e. the merger between state and corporate power) enables its logistical base. These three components work seamlessly together at the highest levels of the West’s socioeconomic establishment.
However, the hegemony of western capitalism is eroding in the 21st century. The rise of China as an economic powerhouse, and the reemergence of Russian nationalism, is now exerting tremendous pressure on the overextended West which has been seriously weakened after decades of self-imposed economic stratification. The TPP and TTIP trade deals are just the latest in a series of moves to counter these geopolitical threats. By forming stronger alliances with western pacific nations like Japan, and the non-Anglo countries of the E.U., President Obama hopes to reassert that hegemony for his nameless, faceless overseers.
Related video from The Ed Show: Trade deal could dangerously increase US oil production