By Robert A. Vella

Here’s an excerpt from the fourth installment of BuzzFeed‘s investigative series on free trade, titled A HOMEGROWN DISASTER:

The crisis was setting off alarms at the highest levels of Bill Clinton’s White House. If the administration got this wrong, it could lose hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars and spark a backlash against one of the president’s hard-won achievements, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The Justice Department even warned that failure “could severely undermine our system of justice.”

All of this over a small-time spat in Mississippi between funeral home companies.

It was not the sort of thing that ordinarily catches the attention of top officials in the federal government, let alone causes them to panic. But one of the companies was based in Canada, and it had taken a groundbreaking step: It had filed the very first case against the US under a little-known provision of NAFTA that empowers foreign businesses to sue entire nations before a panel of private arbitrators, usually elite corporate attorneys. Designed to protect international companies when rogue governments seized their assets or flagrantly discriminated against them, this worldwide private justice system has morphed into a tool companies can use to force nations to fork over hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars for enforcing ordinary laws or regulations.


Since the Mississippi funeral home case ended in 2004, the stakes have only grown. The US is staring at a new ISDS suit demanding more than $15 billion. If the US loses major cases — which ISDS lawyers told BuzzFeed News is only a matter of time — then it could find itself grappling with the same grim choice other nations hit with massive ISDS judgments have faced: pay out tens of billions of dollars to private companies or roll back democratically enacted laws.

“I think the US fooled itself into thinking that it wouldn’t be sued because its laws were so investor-friendly,” said José Alvarez, a former State Department lawyer. “The US didn’t anticipate just how creative investment lawyers can be.”


4 thoughts on “Part IV of BuzzFeed’s investigative Free Trade series

  1. I think these parts of the trade agreements need to be removed. I realize they are in the agreements to protect companies from unfair practices that give an unfair advantage to a home grown company. However governments shouldn’t be held responsible for a corporation. Corporations need to be careful in deciding if to invest in a country and take responsibility for their decision. Also a company from one nation shouldn’t be able to hold a government responsible for economic harm that local laws cause a company. I realize this could cause a company registered and headquartered in the USA to fail prey to a foreign government either playing dirty or simply taking a company’s assets. Again the companies / corporations need to take responsibility for their decisions to do business in a different country under different laws. No country should ever have its laws subject to a corporation’s wishes or decrees nor should the sovereignty of any country be jeopardised by a corporation. Well this is my opinion. I support free trade agreements however I do not support these parts of them. The idea of free trade between countries is a good one, however it is the corporation who must assume the risk for doing business anywhere, not the country. Hugs

    Liked by 1 person

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