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  • Eyes on Trade is a blog by the staff of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch (GTW) division. GTW aims to promote democracy by challenging corporate globalization, arguing that the current globalization model is neither a random inevitability nor "free trade." Eyes on Trade is a space for interested parties to share information about globalization and trade issues, and in particular for us to share our watchdogging insights with you! GTW director Lori Wallach's initial post explains it all.

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June 21, 2012

Can you say "Déjà vu" in Spanish?

Dear Neighbor:

Congratulations on your inclusion in the elite group of states that are currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement! Your acceptance into this proposed “historic, 21st century trade agreement” means that much of the “burden” of making laws and regulations for your nation will be taken off of you. No worries; lobbyists for Hollywood and American pharmaceutical companies and more than 600 official “corporate trade advisers” to the Office of United States Trade Representative (USTR) will help take care of the details.

Sorry to mention it, but we’re afraid many of your laws pertaining to intellectual property (IP), affecting issuesACTA Rises from Internet privacy to access to affordable medications, might need a little “tweaking” to ensure they comply with the specifications of U.S. corporate “advisers.” The USTR’s demands at the TPP negotiations read like a wish list from the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), and YOU have the opportunity to grant all their wishes.

You see, the condition the U.S. imposed for Mexico to get a seat at this corporate banquet was that Mexico agree to accept everything that the other countries already have negotiated over the past three years. Sure, NAFTA required some nasty changes to your IP laws. Remember the millions your government wasted trying to lift the U.S. patent on common yellow beans that a bio-prospector filed after NAFTA? Well, wait until you get a look at the 21st century NAFTA on steroids!

As a part of the “historic” TPP negotiations, it is time for your laws to truly reflect your new “21st century” status. For instance, you need to expand pharmaceutical patent protection and create new pharmaceutical monopolies in Mexico. You also need to extend copyright protection to device memory buffers and criminalize circumvention of technological protection measures, limiting fair and educational uses of all kinds of literary and artistic content. Overall, you are expected to introduce new, draconian provisions into Mexican law to lengthen, strengthen and broaden IP monopolies in Mexico.

The strict IP enforcement in this scenario may seem very familiar to you. In fact, you fought off a very similar – although less extreme – attack on your privacy and rights on the Internet in 2011 in the form of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Some objections to ACTA expressed by Mexico Senator Carlos Sotelo Garcia in September 2010 included the opaque nature of the ACTA negotiations, stringent IP enforcement measures (championed by the U.S.), and the “erosion” of access to information technology for approximately thirty million Mexican citizens.

A look at any current media coverage of the TPP will reveal a scene that is eerily familiar and equally concerning. Sorry to break the news, but the opacity of the TPP negotiations makes the ACTA process look like a pinnacle of open government. The TPP has been negotiated entirely in secret, with the only glimpse of the text coming from leaks of the IP, investment and other chapters. Furthermore, each of the negotiating nations has agreed to keep all documents besides the finalized text a secret for four years following the conclusion of negotiations, whether it is ever finalized or not. So whereas the same report by Senator Garcia implemented a working group to review the provisions of ACTA, no such legislative oversight would be possible in the TPP. Apparently the only way to get a look at the “21st century agreement” – even for legislators of the countries in the negotiations – is to introduce a resolution demanding they be allowed to see how trade negotiators are rewriting a nation’s laws. In the U.S, the chairman of the Senate committee with official jurisdiction over TPP, U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), has done just that. Yup, the chairman of the Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness and his staff were explicitly refused access to even the U.S. negotiators’ proposal to the TPP negotiations.

The legislature of Mexico has already expressed its opinion of trade agreements that restrict privacy and rights on the Internet. On June 21, 2011, the Mexican Congress passed a resolution that urged that the Federal Executive not become a signatory of ACTA:

The Standing Committee of the H. Congress, respectfully urges the Federal Executive Power to, within the framework of its powers, instruct the ministries and agencies involved in negotiating the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), not to sign the Treaty.

Reading this sort of language coming from the national legislature of a sovereign nation, one might draw the conclusion that ACTA is doomed in that country. But foreign corporate interests have found another foothold in the laws of Mexico – in the form of the TPP. You may have believed that ACTA was dead in Mexico, but, like el chupacabras, it is rising again and this time it is even stronger.

Welcome to the 21st century, dear neighbor.

 

Follow Public Citizen's Global Access to Medicines on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/PCMedsAccess
Read more at our webpage: http://citizen.org/Page.aspx?pid=4955

November 01, 2011

NAFTA is the One Ring of our Democracy

Steven Pearlstein and Paul Krugman have nice pieces about the 25th anniversary of the Economic Policy Institute, arguably the leading labor market-focused center-left economics think-tank in D.C.

A prominent narrative is that EPI has grown to prominence for its analysis of the factors driving inequality, including trade policy. As Pearlstein writes:

While EPI and its labor allies have clearly lost the policy battle over free trade, economists have finally come around to its view that trade has had a significant role in widening the U.S. income gap. Even the Institute of International Economics acknowledges that some of the $1 trillion in benefits the U.S. economy gets every year from trade should be used to help the millions of workers who are hurt by trade.

Krugman chimes in on this point:

Since Pearlstein makes a point of mentioning some ancient disputes I had with EPI, I guess I should say something about where all that stands. The main thing, I think, is that trade policy — where I still have some differences with EPI — is much more peripheral an issue than it seemed to be in the early 1990s. I once had a conversation with Bob Kuttner in which we agreed that while we were arguing about NAFTA, Sauron was gathering his forces in Mordor.

If the point is that NAFTA and similar deals are not the only cause of rising inequality, I couldn't agree more. But that's actually the wrong question to be asking. The main raison d'etre of NAFTA-style deals is to set in place a body of rules that become the "new normal" in domestic regulation and international law. As Lori Wallach and I write in a piece published in the American Prospect yesterday:

Since NAFTA, trade agreements have grown to encompass thousands of pages of text, and only a minority of the provisions deal with tariffs—trade policy’s historic remit. Today’s so-called “trade” deals set constraints on how governments can regulate inside their own borders. For instance, the recent pacts ban "Buy America" policies that ensure tax dollars are used to purchase American-made goods and allow corporations to challenge environmental policies for cash compensation. They include such severe limits on financial regulation that the financial services industry celebrated the Korea deal in particular as “the best financial services chapter negotiated in a free trade agreement to date,” according to Citigroup.

These constraints on domestic regulation have a corrosive effect on democracy, and begin to shift the center of political gravity away from elected officials and towards unelected global bodies and corporations. Over time (and we see this every day on Capitol Hill), policy proposals are watered down in order to avoid conflicts with our trade agreements. 

Krugman and Kuttner are right that NAFTA is not to the labor market as Sauron is to Mordor. Rather, NAFTA and the WTO are to our democracy what the One Ring is to Mordor. Sauron, in this analogy, represents corporations.

As Tolkein fans know, the One Ring was designed by Sauron, and draws whoever bears it back to his Oneringdarkness. Its inscription reads: "One ring to rule them all, one ring to find them, One ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them." The ring represents a set of dark rules that are difficult if not impossible to wield for good, and were designed with Sauron's narrow interests in mind (not all of Mordor's).

Our trade agreements provide the legal and ideological underpinning of neoliberalism. Our government (like Frodo) put these shackles on voluntarily, but now it finds its trajectory negatively influenced by the force. It is of course difficult to hypothesize whether neoliberalism would be destroyed if we got rid of NAFTA-style deals or the WTO. But the system's proponents would have to justify their corporate goals on some basis other than "it's the law."

March 21, 2011

Tariffdega Nights: The Latest Ballad of Ricky Bobby

Adam McKay, the writer and director of such Will Ferrell classics as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Talladega Nights The Ballad of Ricky Bobby
Bobby, has always had a political streak. His Funny or Die website featured the hilarious video with all the "SNL presidents" calling for Wall Street reform, and his movie "The Other Guys" tackled corporate corruption in its closing credits.

His engagement with policy runs deep. He maintains a blog over at the Huffington Post, where he recently questioned offshoring of jobs. And on comedian Marc Maron's excellent podcast, McKay recently said the following:

McKay: You have to raise trade tariffs. We only pay 2%... India has a 40% tariff, China has 22%, we only have a 2% tariff. That's crazy! You notice no one talks about that. You could almost say that one issue alone could change our whole nation if we went to a 10% trade tariff.

Maron: Because it would encourage manufacturing?

McKay: All the manufacturing would come back here. Wal-Mart couldn't be making that money anymore. You'd see factories spring up all over this country. And you could get rid of all those subsidies, the 48 billion, you could get rid of the Bush tax cuts...

By the way, we could literally balance the budget and fix the economy right now in 10 minutes. That's how easy it is. The problem is the wall of white noise and misinformation and anger that gets in the way of it where they justify everything...

How about Mitch McConnell in Kentucky voted against the Made in America provision for the stimulus package, and he's in the poorest state in the country? Against the Made in America provision, but no one talks about that. Instead it's about liberals, it's about gay marriage...

It would be pretty unusual to hear this policy advocated in Washington policy circles. But then again, as a long running Pew poll shows, there is a wide gap between the general public and elite respondents (defined as Council on Foreign Relations members) when it comes to trade policy.

November 13, 2009

Bringing home the Battle in Seattle

Recently, we told you about our WTO Turnaround campaign – an effort urging President Obama to turn around the WTO’s failed policies. Starting this week as part of that campaign, in retirement communities and universities, at birthday parties and union halls, activists across the country will be holding special WTO Turnaround House Parties to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Seattle protests where 50,000 activists took to the streets of Seattle and shut down the WTO. Battle_in_seattle_movie


The House Parties include showing a bonus special edition DVD of the feature film Battle in Seattle with exciting Seattle protest footage and a short new documentary we helped the Steelworkers produce about the protests and ongoing efforts to turnaround the WTO.


If you think you can pull together 10 or more of your friends and family, coworkers, church group, or classmates for a house party or screening, let us know and we’ll send you the DVD. We’ll also get you an activist tool kit with postcards to the president so that your friends and neighbors can remind President Obama about his trade reform commitments and the incredible citizen victory that happened in Seattle 10 years ago. We think that anyone, from the students, family farmers, unionists, and tree-sitters who rallied in Seattle in ’99 to all of those who wished they were there, won’t want to miss this DVD.  Click here for more info.

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