The newest Snowden-facilitated leak – that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been spying on European governments – is the latest hurdle to appear in the steeplechase-resembling race to launch negotiations for the Trans-Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (TAFTA).
The revelation has sparked ire from European officials, unleashing a torrent of warnings today that TAFTA negotiations, slated to start next week, may be doomed before they begin.
Amid reports that the NSA bugged the offices and infiltrated the hard drives of EU government officials, EU officials have made clear that they are not in the mood to trust U.S. trade negotiators. Yesterday the EU Commissioner of Justice stated, “We cannot negotiate over a big trans-Atlantic market if there is the slightest doubt that our partners are carrying out spying activities on the offices of our negotiators.” At this point, that doubt seems more than slight.
But EU nations aren’t the only ones in the crosshairs of the NSA’s Cold-War-style espionage ambitions. The Guardian revealed yesterday that Mexico and Japan, members of the similarly-sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” pact, appear on a list of 38 foreign embassies and missions that the NSA lists as spying “targets.” (It kind of belies the moniker of “partnership” when you spy on your “partners.”) The revelation could bring the sort of rift with TPP countries that we are now seeing with TAFTA countries.
For TAFTA, that rift didn’t begin with the most recent NSA spying scandal. U.S. and European corporations have explicitly called for the deal to be used as a way to water down critical safeguards, prompting waves of criticism from consumer, environmental, health, farmer, labor, and tech groups on both sides of the Atlantic.
The National Corn Growers Association, which recently went to bat for Monsanto in a Supreme Court case pitting the genetically-modified-organism (GMO) giant against an Indiana farmer, asked that TAFTA be used to “end the moratorium” on GMOs in Europe. That already contentious proposition became all the more so when non-approved strains of GMO wheat were found in Oregon one month ago.
Meanwhile, corporations the likes of Verizon have called for such deals to be used to ensure that privacy policies do not limit the “seamless” flow of personal data across borders – a particularly taboo request in the wake of revelations that Verizon has been handing to the NSA the private phone data of anyone carrying a Verizon phone.
Even more incredible, corporations the likes of Chevron have asked that TAFTA grant foreign corporations the power to directly challenge sovereign governments over environmental and health policies in tribunals that operate completely outside any domestic legal system. The EU negotiating mandate for TAFTA has granted this request, incorporating the extreme “investor-state” enforcement mechanism. That incredible provision alone generated over 10,000 ire-filled comments from U.S. citizens within 32 hours in response to a single email from Rep. Grayson in May.
Such controversial components of the deal have generated a crescendo of controversy surrounding TAFTA. Ironically, the NSA has now added to the cacophony of opposition. Corporate America cannot be pleased. The NSA’s overreaching national security agenda has jeopardized their overreaching corporate agenda to use TAFTA to roll back financial, climate and food safety standards that make doing business less convenient. If the two agendas would cancel each other out, perhaps we could get on with an agenda that’s actually supported by the public – from environmental stability to public health to personal privacy.