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Strategy Conversations: From Protest to Proposal

Since the beginning of the new millennium, Latin America has been at the forefront of resistance to the imposition of global and regional free trade policies. The most important victory was the defeat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). It was the most ambitious free trade project in the world to date and was abandoned following the mobilization of civil society throughout the continent. However, recent years have witnessed a new expansion strategy and a new global offensive for the liberalization of trade and investment. The two major initiatives currently underway are the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between the United States and Europe (TTIP) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves some Latin American countries.

In the current context, with the Americas clearly divided between countries promoting free trade and the deregulation of foreign investment on the one hand, and others attempting new forms of integration and increased controls on investments on the other, civil society once again finds itself in the midst of a debate in which it’s important not only to protest, but also to put forward alternative proposals. We feature here a major initiative launched recently by the ‘Working Group on Investment of the Americas’[1] that seeks to do just that. It’s entitled ‘A Call for the Building of an Alternative Legal Framework to the International Investment Treaties. Favoring the Public Interest while doing away with Transnational Corporate Impunity.’

As part of our series of strategy conversations on campaigns against the investment rules system and corporate power, the Democracy Center contacted two colleagues from ATTAC Argentina to discuss the objectives of this alternative proposal and how it will be used. We spoke to Luciana Ghiotto and Javier Echaide**- two members of the working group that published the proposal.

A Call for Regime Change, A Call for Alliance Building

We began the interview by asking about the origin and the objectives of the initiative. According to Luciana Ghiotto, the initial idea of ​​developing this proposal was part of a cumulative process of work going back over many years, while it evolved into its most recent form at the Global Week of Action against Transnational Corporations in Brussels in 2011.

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She said that “one of the main focuses of that event was to address how transnational corporations use the global investment rules system to protect their investments in other countries … and it was decided that there was a need to develop a document by all of the organizations present … “. Ghiotto also notes that “the document is part of a longer-term campaign underway in the Americas and elsewhere. Some of its precedents include the campaign by partner organizations in Mexico, the USA and Canada against NAFTA[1], the subsequent campaign against the FTAA, and the recent campaign against the ICSID and BITs launched in Asuncion, Paraguay in 2010 during the Social Forum of the Americas.”

logoThe document drafting process has drawn on a number of proposals developed over the years by civil society organizations, social movements, activists and academics. As Luciana Ghiotto says “we attempted to draft the proposal in the broadest and most democratic way possible … and it is not meant to be a closed, definitive document, but rather it will continue to be transformed, receiving contributions and new inputs, new perspectives and proposals. We are already receiving responses from organizations that are interested in being part of the process. We know that internationally there are other groups working in the area of investment, so what we want to do is to connect with these organizations and to develop alliances. ”

Objectives: campaign and advocacy material

As can be seen from the title of the document, the proposal is rooted in the need to dismantle the excessive power that corporations have in the global investment rules regime.

Luciana Ghiotto told us that what they wanted to do was “in the first place, present a detailed analysis…an updated assessment that would allow us to have a common position on how we see the current system. Secondly, the idea was to present an alternative to global investment agreements, a proposal for an alternative system”. She went on: “What we want to achieve with this is to extend the campaign by getting more organizations on board, but also to lobby, the proposal is also suitable for intervention work with governments, to try to intervene in decision-making spaces in which we can present this alternative view.” She continued: “I think it would be a success to achieve this dual effect: on the one hand … that the call is used as campaign material that gets picked up by Latin American and other organizations… but also to intervene at different levels of decision-making, we hope that the call will be used, for example, by some members of parliament and by some international negotiators in Foreign Affairs…”.

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Javier Echaide meanwhile told us that the idea is “…to work towards the construction of an alternative framework for the regulation of investment, where there is justice and fair treatment, so that the guarantees that a state gives to a foreign investor do not become privileges for investors at the expense of local communities … that is, so that ordinary people do not end up paying for the extra profits that investors take out of the country… what we need is regulation at international level in order to rebalance the scales…. ”

The document stresses the importance of recovering the regulatory capacity of governments as a key objective. It seeks to build an alternative international investment framework that is based on democratic principles and that prioritizes public interest over private profit. The document contains proposals in this regard that would put human rights and the natural environment before the rights of investors, as well as setting binding obligations for corporations so that they are held responsible for their actions.

The Call specifically lays out a set of principles for the construction of an alternative framework for international investment, including: guidelines for the establishment of a different system for the resolution of disputes between investors and states; the elimination of the concept of “indirect expropriation”; the elimination of sunset clauses in investment agreements; allowing capital controls; lifting the ban on performance requirements; blocking illicit capital flows; prioritizing productive and environmentally friendly investment above speculative investments, among others.

While new frameworks for investment based on these principles are developed, the Call lays out a a common agenda of short- and medium-term action including the following: prevent the signing of new agreements of this nature; carry out audits of the impact of these agreements and of investor-state cases at national level; cancel or denounce BITs and investment chapters of FTAs ​that have been signed; denounce ICSID and restrict the use of other international tribunals; regulate foreign investment; and submit disputes that may arise to national and local courts.

Messaging And Audiences: Translating a Complex Issue & Connecting with other Struggles

We also spoke to our interviewees about the challenge of “translating” the legal jargon that is often used when speaking of the global investment rules system. It is important to refer to the subject in a language that helps people to understand the effects that international decisions relating to the system have on their lives – help people to ‘join the dots’ so to speak.

In that regard, Javier Echaide maintains that “the Call is intended not just for specialists, but mostly for communities, because they have to realize that things go beyond just their local issues, that transnational corporate power comes with a guarantee… then we can establish a link between acting locally and thinking globally.” The Call also underscores the importance of understanding how the current investment rules system works in order to be able to dismantle it, “if we do not understand how companies are able to come, plunder, pollute and leave, nothing is going to change. We need to understand that companies do what they do because they have guarantees, we need to understand that their rights are now above the rights of the affected communities. So that’s where this Call is aimed- at helping people to know that these rights are not natural, that they are not unchangeable, and showing that they can be disassembled and dismantled; this is precisely what the document is aiming to do: to generate an alternative … in that regard it not just a technical alternative proposal, but it is a fundamentally political call. ”

Echaide also noted that “the Call is specifically on investment for two reasons: first because it is a complex issue and is not sufficiently covered, despite having links with many other issues at regional and local levels … when you fight against a mining company, for example, or any other extractive project, those local groups involved in these struggles may not fully understand what they are facing. Even though they are there on the ground and see the impacts first-hand, they may not understand the effects of what happens in their territories and how it is connected to the bigger picture struggles at international level. And this not only with struggles related to extractive industries, this system provides a number of legally binding safeguards to the model of production and consumption,… these guarantees can be seen in FTAs ​​and BITs.”

Javier Echaide also told us that “what we want is to alert civil society in our hemisphere and beyond, that this excessive protection to foreign investment is a way of transferring public resources into private hands. This means that the cases brought by corporations against states in international courts, end up being paid for by our communities.”

Lessons and Opportunities

One of the first lessons we can draw from the process is on the importance of clear objectives. As outlined by Luciana Ghiotto, the Call has two: using the document as an information and education resource in campaigns, and as a tool to influence decision-making at local and national levels, which, at the end of the day, is where groups have most scope for concrete action. For Ghiotto “the idea is that each organization will now be responsible for promoting the Call in their countries and work areas, bringing it to the attention of different organizations and to the relevant government agencies working on this topic. That is the process. ”

Another lesson, as noted by Javier Echaide, is the importance of reducing the issue to a more popular language and Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 14.37.56linking it to other areas in order to reach new audiences and broaden the social base that is questioning the system. While these links are not visible, no changes can be achieved. For this it is important to understand that this is not a technical-legal issue, but essentially a political issue, and it affects the daily lives of people in several respects. So it’s important to develop messages in a way that people can identify with, this will help build a common agenda for action.

In terms of target audiences, this simple diagram, based on this and other conversations with activists, illustrates the sectors that we need to engage. At level A are the organizations and individuals who are directly involved in working to change the investments rules system. Level B includes organizations and people who have learned about the effects of the system after they faced specific cases, such as with the case of Pacific Rim v El Salvador, or Philip Morris vs. Uruguay. This includes not only organizations working to change the system itself, but also local communities and activists working on issues like water, the environment or public health who are coming up against the system in their local struggles. Level C includes all Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 14.39.45organizations that work in areas that may not be involved with the system itself, but that should be aware that this system represents a barrier to the realisation of their goals. Just like the system has come to the attention of groups fighting for an environment free of mining pollution in El Salvador and those struggling against tobacco consumption Uruguay, it is important that groups involved in struggles against Fracking, nuclear energy, climate change etc. realise that the system is a cross-cutting issue that is relevant to their struggles, and that it will not easily allow them to achieve their objectives . Finally, at level D, we have the general public, journalists, academics, etc. Tailoring our messaging strategies to each of these audiences will be crucial for building power.

Making the most of favorable political winds

While facing down this latest offensive by the system in agreements such as the TPP, TTIP, CETA etc. and continuing to insist that our countries denounce ICSID and withdraw their consent from other such tribunals, we should also be aware of changing political winds. As we discussed with Luciana Ghiotto, these can sometimes throw up some unexpected opportunities. According to her “there is a more favorable context at international level to at least discuss the global investment rules regime. Several countries have begun to question the treaties they have signed, including countries that have withdrawn from ICSID, such as Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela … and other countries that are beginning to question their existing investment agreements… countries like South Africa, India even Australia, all of which gives a more favorable context for the Call to have a stronger impact.”

These favorable political winds are largely due to the work that has been carried out by civil society organizations worldwide. From the Americas to Europe, Asia and Africa, in cities and in local communities, people are struggling to build proposals to change this global investment system and reverse the enormous power that it gives to corporations. The objective of this proposal is to contribute to the achievement of this change. It’s not an easy task, but as Luciana Ghiotto says, “… the investment regime will not end soon, but the Call is a contribution in that direction …”.

[1] NAFTA:North American Free Trade Agreement; ICSID:International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes; BIT:Bilateral Investment Treay

[2] The Working Group on Investment of the Americas is a collective that has been working for several years in different organizations and networks promoting a global trade and investment regime that is based on democracy, social justice and respect for the environment.

TPP – power to the corporations at the expense of the planet

On January 15th last, Wikileaks revealed the proposed environmental chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

This massive trade deal, despite its implications for sensitive policy areas such as access to medicines and food safety across North America, Peru, Chile, Australia, Japan and beyond had, until recently, been kept far away from the public spotlight.

Negotiations take place behind closed doors and not even public representatives from the countries involved have access to the negotiating text.

Lip service to green concerns

Thanks to a series of leaks, however, the veil of secrecy surrounding the deal is slowly being lifted and what is at stake is coming much more clearly into focus. Last month’s leaked environmental chapter confirmed the worst suspicions of many green groups.

As reported by Chris Lang in The Ecologist recently, on issues from forest protection, to fisheries, to trade in endangered species, the deal falls way short of what they had proposed to negotiators.

And the lack of enforceability mechanisms makes the whole environmental chapter seem less like an attempt to implement robust international legislation and more like lip service to environmental concerns.

Investor rights are paramount

There is another chapter of the proposed TPP deal, however, that does have real teeth and that comes with strong enforceability provisions.

The investment chapter of the deal seeks to give corporations a wide range of investor rights and provide them with access to a system of international arbitration tribunals where they can have those rights enforced.

The presence of strong protections for corporations and weak protections for the environment is no coincidence either.

Unfortunately, these proposals for a parallel legal system for corporations embedded in the TPP are not just ideas floating on the horizon.

They are rather the extension of a system of corporate protections that has already been wreaking havoc for over 20 years – even though most members of the public have never heard of it.

An affront to democracy

Through the methodical construction of a web of bilateral and multilateral trade and investment agreements – now numbering several thousand – corporations have won concessions that would have been near impossible to win through an open democratic process.

These include the right of foreign investors to sue governments in international arbitration tribunals when public policies – like those designed to protect public health or the environment – or court decisions affect their investments.

Who has been the target of this system? Latin America, having spent two decades throwing off the yoke of the Washington Consensus and beginning to reclaim its economic sovereignty and control over its natural resources, has faced one attack after another.

Governments in the dock

In Bolivia, when the privatization of the water system in one of the major cities was rejected in the now-famous Cochabamba Water Revolt, San Francisco-based engineering conglomerate Bechtel sued the people of Bolivia for $50 million, having invested just $1 million in the country.

In El Salvador the people engaged in a democratic process to prevent a proposed gold mining project which threatened to contaminate their drinking water with toxic chemicals.

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Canadian mining firm Pacific Rim, recently taken over by Oceana Gold, has hit back with a $300m arbitration case. This is equivalent to one third of El Salvador’s national education budget.

And in neighbouring Costa Rica, mining firm Infinito Gold is suing the government for over $1bn following the rejection of an open-pit mining project that threatened areas of virgin forest and fresh water sources.

Liable for potential future earnings

The current web of trade and investment agreements includes vaguely worded investor protections such as the right to “fair and equitable treatment” and the right to avoid “indirect expropriation”.

But the effect is that corporations can now sue governments for millions, sometimes billions, of dollars. And they can sue not just for what they invest in a country, but for what they had expected to earn into the future.

And it’s not only poor countries in Latin America that are in the system’s sights.

Even rich countries have cause to fear

In Germany, the decision to phase out nuclear power following the Fukushima disaster, despite being supported by the majority of the population and approved by the German Parliament, has resulted in an investment arbitration case by the Vattenfall Corporation that could be as high as $3.7bn.

In Canada, the decision of the regional government of Quebec to introduce a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’) pending further investigations has resulted in a legal action for $250m by US oil and gas company Lone Pine resources.

The TPP would take this system and extend it even farther, giving corporations increased access to international arbitration tribunals to challenge environmental laws.

A poisoned well

Allowing the expansion of the arbitration system would be like continuing to draw water from a well we already know to be poisoned.

We’ve seen this before with the Free Trade Area of the Americas, a similar initiative by the George W. Bush government to create a free trade area from the southern tip of Argentina to the northern provinces of Canada.

That deal was defeated following a coordinated campaign by civil society groups and progressive governments across the region. A similar effort is now required in the face of the TPP.

The good news is that until two years ago, the number of people aware of the investment rules system and the investor-state dispute settlement tribunals was limited to a room full of lawyers and policy wonks.

Since then, however, it has begun to surface as a public issue – and not just among environmentalists and fair trade advocates, even some governments and legal experts are waking up to the threat it represents.

Opposition is growing

When the deal’s proposed investment chapter was leaked in 2012 legal experts from the countries involved wrote this open letter to negotiators. It includes this passage:

” ... foreign investor protections included in some recent Free Trade Agreements (FTA) and Bilateral Investment Treaties (BIT) and their enforcement through Investor-State arbitration should not be replicated in the TPP.

“We base this conclusion on concerns about how the expansion of this regime threatens to undermine the justice systems in our various countries … “

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In Latin America the governments of Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela have now withdrawn from the World Bank’s International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), the most commonly used investment arbitration tribunal.

The Ecuadorian government has also begun a citizen’s audit of its trade and investment agreements with a view to reducing its exposure to the system.

Further changes are under way

Meanwhile policy changes and reviews are underway in a number of other countries. In South Africa, following an audit of its investment agreements, the government has begun to cancel its treaties with several European countries.

And in Australia, the previous Labor government had refused to accept the inclusion of the investor-state dispute settlement provisions in the TPP after tobacco giant Philip Morris attacked its public health laws on tobacco control using the system – though the position of the new right-wing government has been less clear on the issue however.

Reviews of policy are also now being undertaken in India and Argentina.

The dangers are very real

The powers granted to corporations in these trade and investment agreements constitute a straitjacket on some of our most important environmental regulations and responsibilities.

As previous campaigns have shown us, working together we have a good chance of not only preventing that straitjacket being applied more widely, but of actually loosening its current constraints.

In order to do that, environmental activists worldwide need to understand that behind the technical jargon of ‘arbitration tribunals’ and ‘investor-state dispute settlement’ lies a very real danger.

A wake up call

The leaked environmental chapter has provided a wake-up call to environmentalists regarding the dangers of the TPP.

Combine this with the ways in which corporations will be able to undermine existing environmental laws using the investment chapter, and we should be left in no doubt as to what’s at risk in the deal.

For more information take a look at the Democracy Center’s recent report ‘Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar: How Corporations use Global Investment Rules to Undermine A Sustainable Future’


Getting Action: Strangling Democracy

How the TPP Extends the Tentacles of Corporate Power

by Thomas Mc Donagh

Last week the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement leapt from behind the closed doors of negotiations to the front pages of major newspapers, thanks to information from Wikileaks revealing previously unpublished details of the proposed intellectual property chapter of the deal.

TPPIf you hadn´t yet heard about the TPP, there is a reason for that. Not even members of the US Congress have been allowed to see the negotiating text. Thanks to a set of leaks however, we´re beginning to get glimpses of exactly how dangerous the agreement is. The Wikileaks revelations have shone an urgent public light on the agreement’s onerous implications regarding intellectual property.

In 2012, however, another leak uncovered what may be an even more dangerous aspect of the TPP. The proposed investment chapter of the deal revealed plans to expand the system of international investment tribunals that deal with what is called ‘investor-state dispute settlement’. These are closed-door courts that take direct aim at the ability of governments across the world to enact environmental, public health and other protections for their citizens.

We don’t need much help to imagine what a world under these provisions of the TPP would look like. We need look no further than some of the current investor-state dispute cases in which powerful international corporations are demanding millions – sometimes billions – of dollars in claims, against countries both poor and wealthy, for the sin of protecting their citizens.

This is the very same system that the Bechtel Corporation used to attempt to drain $50 million from the Bolivian public treasury after the corporation had been thrown out during the Cochabamba Water War.

This is the same system that Canadian mining firm Pacific Rim, recently taken over by Oceana Gold, is using to try to extract over $300 million from the people of El Salvador for having rejected mining operations that threaten to contaminate their drinking water.

And it’s the same system that Philip Morris, the tobacco giant, is using against Uruguay and Australia to try to eliminate important public health regulations designed to reduce tobacco consumption.

The number of these investment cases has exploded in recent years, with 2012 breaking all records. Cases such as these, with serious implications for government ability to regulate for public health, environmental protection and access to water, are now being heard far away from domestic legal systems in international investor-state arbitration courts. Decisions in these closed door tribunals are made by three investment lawyers working on a for-profit basis with no obligation to balance the public interest with the profit-making interest of corporations. Governments, meanwhile, have no corresponding right to bring legal action against corporations in these arbitration tribunals when they breach national environmental regulations or human rights laws. It’s all one-way traffic.

The evidence is there to show how the investment rules system is poisoning our democracies; its huge expansion under the guise of the TPP threatens to serve up this toxic dish to millions more citizens. The proposed investment rules chapter will grant more rights to corporations, expand their access to this system of international investment tribunals and open the door for many more of these cases.

The conflict of interest between corporations hard wired to maximize profit – even if it comes at the cost of our fresh water sources, our public health laws and our basic services – and policy making designed to serve the public interest is nowhere more apparent than in these arbitration cases. The means of mediating this conflict of interest and blocking unbridled profit-making is the democratic process.

The TPP leaks make it ever clearer, however, that these trade agreements are the mechanisms that corporations are now using to thwart democracy and to undermine the ability for us to pressure our governments to take action on a range of urgent public issues.

The recent Wikileaks disclosures have served as a wake-up call regarding the potential impact of the TPP on issues related to intellectual property. However, the investment chapter leaked in 2012 – and with potentially even more pernicious implications for our democracies – didn’t get anything like as much attention. This is largely due to a complete lack of awareness of the international investment rules regime beyond a small collection of lawyers and advocates.

Published in May 2013 the Democracy Center’s latest report Unfair, Unsustainable and Under the Radar:  How Corporations Use Global Investment Rules to Undermine a Sustainable Future explains for a non-technical audience what seems to many like a highly technical issue, and in so doing aims to help put a much wider public spotlight on this corporate power grab while there is still time to fight it.

George Monbiot, writing in the UK Guardian recently, described the expansion of the current international investment rules regime in the negotiations of the EU-US trade agreement as a “full-frontal assault on democracy”.  It’s time for the investment rules regime to be put much more clearly on to the public radar.


Thomas Mc Donagh is project coordinator and researcher with the Democracy Center in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Thomas works on the Network for Justice in Global Investment project, which has been raising awareness of the investor state arbitration issue for many years.

Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar

This paper from the Democracy Center sheds an urgent public light on the system of international investment rules and arbitration tribunals that is being used by corporations to undermine citizen and government action on a range of urgent social and environmental issues.

Groups all across the world are grappling with the challenge of the 21st century: how to meet the demand for the social and economic development that will allow people to meet their needs and fulfil their potential while avoiding dangerous and irreversible environmental changes.  While we do this we need to be aware that there are powerful pressures pushing in exactly the opposite direction. In ‘Unfair, Unsustainable, and Under the Radar’, the Democracy Center sheds an urgent light on the system of international investment rules that is giving corporations the power to compromise countries’ sovereign right to regulate in the public good through a democratic process.

We look at how the international investment rules system is being used to punish El Salvador for blocking poisonous gold mining, against Germany for stopping nuclear power, and to attack public health regulations for the tobacco industry in Uruguay. And we flag the next target for the system: government ability to regulate ‘fracking’.

Unfortunately, wide knowledge of this system and how it works doesn’t really exist beyond a small collection of lawyers and advocates. Published in May 2013 this report explains what seems to many a highly technical issue for a non-technical audience, and in so doing aims to help put a much wider public spotlight on this corporate power grab while there is still time to fight it.

The Democracy Center is well-versed in this system. We helped fight and beat Bechtel when it used the World Bank’s investment dispute tribunal to sue Bolivia for $50 million (off a $1 million investment) after the Cochabamba Water Revolt. Supporting citizen action against corporate power has been a cornerstone of our work for many years and together with IPS Washington we now coordinate the Network for Justice in Global Investment to analyse and challenge this latest weapon being deployed by corporations against communities and the planet.

“This new report by the Democracy Center is a must read for those who want to understand how investment protection treaties are the ultimate weapon for corporations. With a fresh analysis, the report exposes the potential of these agreements in undermining the objectives of sustainable development as expressed by most governments during the Rio+20 Summit. It is a must read for social and environmental justice campaigners.”

– Cecilia Olivet, Project Coordinator, the Transnational Institute


“Essential reading for anyone interested in the incentive structure for sustainable development. This report unpacks the complexity of trade and green economics by zooming in on a specific blockage for governments interested in moving forward on a more sustainable path.”

– Gina Lucarelli, UNDP

Getting Action: Dragging the TPP Out of the Shadows

Introducing the TPP

After failing to gain approval for the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005 following mass public mobilization, the focus of corporate-driven US trade policy shifted to bilateral and sub regional trade agreements. Dubbed ‘NAFTA on steroids’ by campaigners, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the largest regional trade and investment agreements to date.

The talks, which began in 2007, now involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. The areas covered in negotiations include intellectual property, procurement, financial sector regulation and investor-state dispute mechanisms. Despite the wide-ranging implications for the countries involved the negotiations are closed to the public but remain open to 600 corporate lobbyists who can comment on the draft texts in real time.

This latest corporate power grab has not gone unnoticed. When a leaked chapter of the text revealed the extent of proposed investor rights, 100 eminent jurists from the countries involved wrote an open letter expressing concern that the rights would override the jurisdiction of domestic legal systems. These investor rights allow corporations to bring lawsuits against democratically elected governments for implementing social or environmental policies that affect their investments. Meanwhile labor, environmental and social justice organizations have been mobilizing grassroots resistance. In our latest Getting Action blog post Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizen’s Trade campaign against the TPP asks why so little public discussion of the TPP is taking place – and points out where grassroots action is happening to confront it. 

Thomas McDonagh
Project Coordinator, the Democracy Center

For more on the injustices of the current system of global investment rules, visit The Network for Justice in Global Investment, a Democracy Center project.

Dragging the TPP Out of the Shadows

by Arthur Stamoulis

When argues that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could be “the most significant foreign and domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration,” they’re not exaggerating.

Labor unions have warned that the TPP would offshore jobs and “undercut worker power in the United States, China and throughout the world.” The Sierra Club believes the TPP could “increase dirty fracking and carbon emissions; put sensitive ecological areas at risk; and increase natural gas and electricity prices.” Consumer groups say it would “impose limits on domestic financial regulation.” Doctors Without Borders asserts it is likely to “roll back public health safeguards…making it harder to gain access to affordable generic medication.” The ACLU calls the TPP “the biggest threat to free speech… you’ve never heard of.”

If the TPP is such a big deal, why the hell have you heard so little about it?

One major reason has to do with the secretive process in which the TPP is being negotiated. Despite having completed 14 major rounds of talks over a period of several years, U.S. negotiators still refuse to tell the American public what they’ve been proposing in our names. (Meanwhile, they’ve granted approximately 600 corporate lobbyists special “cleared advisor” status that allows them to review and comment on draft texts in real time). Even Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing trade policy, has complained:

“The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.”

Another reason you’ve heard so little about the TPP is the sorry state of journalism in the United States. In Japan, a country that’s not even part of the TPP yet, there are reportedly books on the bestseller list about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s “books,” plural. Back stateside, the TPP has failed to pique most corporate media outlets’ interest.  Even most of the independent “left media” has failed to give the issue sustained coverage.

With government and the media failing to keep the public informed, it’s up to all of us to drag the TPP out of the shadows — grassroots-style. There’s a reason why the TPP’s architects want to keep it secret. It’s because they know that, other than with a stake through the heart, there is no better way to kill a bloodsucking vampire like the TPP than by exposing it to the light of day.

Over the past year or so, TPP demonstrations in ChicagoLos AngelesDallasSan DiegoVirginia and elsewhere have helped raise initial murmurs about the TPP in progressive circles, putting the first cracks in the wall of silence. Building off that initial interest, national grassroots organizing calls are now taking place monthly to update activists on the status of the TPP negotiations and share information about timely organizing opportunities, such as sign-on letters, Congressional “dear colleagues,” bird-dogging campaigns and more. 

On December 1st activists from Canada, the United States and Mexico will gather in the Pacific Northwest for a cross-border organizing summit and rally at Peace Arch Park, launching a new tri-national campaign to defeat the TPP. Organizers’ hope is to convince over 1,000 organizations across the continent to adopt a position on the TPP within just a few months’ time, and then to start educating their bases and mobilize on it.

It’s worth noting that each of the recent and forthcoming events has brought people together across issue areas and across national borders, helping to re-invigorate the “movement of movements” that educated people about the threats posed by past corporate power grabs like the World Trade Organization’s “Millennial Round” and the Free Trade Area of the Americas — both of which completely and utterly burst into flames and died once people started shining a light on them.

Arthur Stamoulis is Executive Director of Citizens Trade Campaign