A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To Renegotiating NAFTA

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Originally published on Red Green & Blue.

A funny thing happened on the way to renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Trade Agreement that Trump said is so terrible for American workers. “The Swamp” is back, and it seems to be in charge, and looking to make NAFTA more friendly for corporations (which, needless to say, is NOT better for workers).

“At first glance, it’s a very mixed bag,” David Dayen writes at The Nation. “The negotiating objectives for NAFTA are mostly vague, and in parts revisit the well-worn tactic of using trade rules to guarantee corporate profits. In fact, several provisions are ripped directly from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the corporate-friendly deal Trump loudly rejected in January.”

This is all part of Trump’s (or really, the Koch Brothers and the Mercers’) desire to “harmonize” regulations – which is to say, eliminate protections for people and the environment in a race to the bottom that will maximize corporate profits by raping human and environmental health. Canadian regulations that go above and beyond American rules would be leveled down, and then US rules would be melted down to whatever is left in Mexico in a pell-mell race for the bottom.

The biggest issue: The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, which Dayen describes as:

“…a secret extra-judicial court that gives corporations monetary awards for lost profits due to changes in law that run counter to trade agreements …corporations could still functionally overturn sovereign laws outside of the court system, and win billions of damages when governments try to write rules in the public interest.”

And while Corporations could jump over the head of US courts to go directly to an ISDS panel (often composed of just 3 corporate-friendly lawyers) over trade disputes, unions and environmental groups don’t get the same right. Only the US, Canadian or Mexican governments could take each other to ISDS court to enforce labor or environmental offences, and what are the odds that the Trump regime would ever do that?

Fran Teplitz, director of Green America’s Green Business Network, and Richard Eidlin, vice president and cofounder of the American Sustainable Business Council, appeal to fellow small-business owners in an op-ed for The Hill to break with the US Chamber of Commerce in opposing the ISDS.

“Many of these lawyers rotate between serving [as ISDS judeges] on tribunals that decide cases, and attacking governments on behalf of corporations. Such conflicts of interest are forbidden as highly unethical in most legal systems.

It’s hard to believe this Orwellian power grab is real, but it is. Multinational corporations already have pocketed $392 million from North American taxpayers under NAFTA ISDS attacks on toxic bans, environmental and public health policies and more. Tens of billions of dollars are pending in ongoing NAFTA cases. 

Elizabeth Warren sums it up (in a Washington Post op-ed):

“Imagine that the United States bans a toxic chemical that is often added to gasoline because of its health and environmental consequences.

If a foreign company that makes the toxic chemical opposes the law, it would normally have to challenge it in a U.S. court. But with ISDS, the company could skip the U.S. courts and go before an international panel of arbitrators.

If the company won, the ruling couldn’t be challenged in U.S. courts, and the arbitration panel could require American taxpayers to cough up millions — and even billions — of dollars in damages.”

As Jay Henderson, Digital Strategy Manager for Democracy for America, puts it, “Fixing NAFTA is a good idea. But that’s not what Donald Trump has in mind. Trump plans to do the bidding of big corporations by taking parts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and inserting them into NAFTA.”

And the biggest problem is: We really don’t know much of anything about what’s happening. All we’ve got is vague platitudes and closed-door discussions.

“The biggest thing needed to truly assess whether the administration actually wants to fix NAFTA’s problems or further entrench corporate control is transparency,” says Dayen. “The European Union posts its formal proposals on the Internet for all to see before entering negotiations. Trump needs to do the same; otherwise we can assume he has something to hide from the working-class supporters who were promised a revitalization of US manufacturing.”

“Big corporations have already used NAFTA to destroy millions of jobs and communities across the U.S., Canada, and Mexico,” says DFA’s Henderson. “If Trump gets his way, the big corporations will have new powers under NAFTA to destroy much more. The good news: Investor-State Dispute Settlement is incredibly unpopular with the American people. It’s the kind of rip-off that helped to defeat the TPP.” He adds that The DFA has a petition “to tell your representative to vote no on Trump’s NAFTA corporate power grab!” (that he urges you to sign).”

Reprinted with permission.

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Jeremy Bloom

Jeremy Bloom is the Editor of RedGreenAndBlue.

Jeremy Bloom has 40 posts and counting. See all posts by Jeremy Bloom