I am pretty jazzed from a great weekend spent with the Citizens Trade Campaign, whose far-flung organizers from around the US came to town this past weekend for a national meet-up. These coalitions - from Oregon to Maine, from Texas to Minnesota and all parts in between - are truly the front-line for the campaign to overhaul our trade policies to align them with the public interest. There was a lot of fascinating presentations on the trade-linkage to immigration, climate change, labor, and higher education issues, which I think will be fueling a lot of interesting work in the year ahead. Indeed, the resolutions and other policies that this group will be pushing - especially at the state level - are part of those educational building blocks that will help us move towards our goals over the coming decades, which is what it will take to fundamentally change the way we approach global warming policy.
Incrementalism is also a feature of the other side's approach to the issue. As ITN documents in their latest issue, corporate interests have made some calculated gambles on a series of investment cases which - even if they don't produce an immediate win - chip away at the public interest by building very pro-corporate case history.
The first was a NAFTA case brought by a Canadian corporate cattlemen group against the U.S. border shut down following the episodes of mad cow disease in Canada. This coalition maintained that this US action - even though they had no observable investment in the US - violated their investor rights in the US. The NAFTA panel ruled against jurisdiction on the claim, even though they have done nearly the opposite in the SD Myers case where there was little or no overseas investment. And they also left the door open to challenge of the US food safety measure under other parts of the NAFTA agreement. So, lost the battle, but well positioned for the war. (Note that these precedents aren't binding on future panels, so unpredictability reigns!)
The second item of interest is the advice being given to Internet gambling companies that are dismayed that the Bush administration bowed to pressure and removed gambling services from WTO jurisdiction. The global "ambulance chasers" - out to help corporations claim victimization and bilk all sorts of payments out of the corporate handout that is our "trade" policy - are advocating that these companies use bilateral trade and investment agreements to get compensation for not being able to serve U.S. gambling addicts their online fix. This is precisely the kind of corporate checkmate that our "trade policy" allows - first we get you at the WTO, then under CAFTA, then we let investors privately get you under other treaties, etc. - all the while getting payments from taxpayers. When are we going to see some elected officials willing to face down these jerks and kick over the chess table?