In early September countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations resumed their 14th round of negotiations in Leesburg, Virginia. Though lip-service was given to transparency by the inclusion of stakeholder engagement, the meeting proceeded with the kind of secrecy that shrouds most trade negotiations. The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment participated in stakeholder meetings raising a number of concerns including those around the section of the agreement that deals with investor state provisions. The following article was published in the November-December 2012 NewsNotes.
Nestled in Virginia’s wine country, the Lansdowne resort, with its manicured 45 holes of golfing pleasure, is the perfect destination for the upper one percent to get away from the distractions of the 99 percent. It turns out it is also an ideal location for trade laws to be hammered out without the scrutiny of Congress, the public and the press. This negotiating round the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) reversed its longstanding practice of allowing members of Congress to observe trade deal negotiations; however over 600 mostly corporate advisors were consulted on the content of the classified TPP text.
At a Congressional hearing earlier this year, USTR Ron Kirk said that the TPP negotiation process is the most open and transparent ever. Without a doubt he was referring to the inclusion of stakeholder engagement activities on the agenda. But the format of the meeting made these less than constructive.
By USTR design, scores of stakeholder groups including religious, consumer, advocacy and business groups were granted 10 minutes each to speak on a particular aspect of the TPP. Civil society groups outnumbered corporate business groups in speaking slots because plenty of corporate representatives are already on the advisory committees and have direct access to U.S. negotiators.
All the stakeholders were crammed into small meeting rooms designed to seat about 20 people to deliver their critiques on various trade topics including access to medicines, keeping the internet free, investments, capital controls and many other topics. The rooms were so crowded with NGO and corporate representatives that the negotiators themselves left in frustration. Negotiators did not receive the agenda with the stakeholder topics until late in the process, and the presentation rooms were so full, that it was standing-room-only.
Later in the program, eight of the nine current TPP country negotiators held a question and answer session with some stakeholders. While stakeholders asked specific questions, and for the most part, raised concerns about the TPP, the responses given were evasive and vague.
The Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment (IWG) was represented at the stakeholder meeting. A major IWG concern surfaced after learning of a leaked TPP investment chapter. A chapter of the agreement leaked earlier this year revealed a radical redefinition of foreign investor rights which would allow multinational corporations to sue governments for millions of dollars in compensation for environmental or public health safeguards by claiming that such protections constitute an infringement of their newfound "rights." This would basically give foreign investors the power to target and undermine policies ranging from bans on toxins to natural resource protections; just as they have done under the similar investment provisions of the North American and Central American Free Trade agreements, NAFTA and CAFTA.
Nearly $365 million has already been awarded to foreign corporations under NAFTA and CAFTA, to be paid by taxpayers, while over $13 billion remains pending in such investor-state cases. Eleven member organizations of the IWG stated in a letter to the USTR: "[I]t is our common conviction that if we are to respect the integrity of God’s creation, then the natural world, with all its richness and diversity, must not be sacrificed to shortsighted profit motivations. Unfortunately, the investor-state provisions under negotiation in the Trans-Pacific Partnership undermine the very principles of human dignity and respect for the integrity of God’s creation..."
In mid-October a group of 11 senators led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) encouraged Kirk to ensure that negotiators remain firm on legally binding environment chapters in any agreement that arises out of Trans Pacific Partnership talks. The senators stated that "[a] binding and enforceable TPP environment chapter that stands up for American interests is critical to our support of the TPP." They also cautioned that other chapters in the proposed TPP agreement, such as the investment chapter, not undermine the goals of the environment.