Corporate media failed to cover the dangers of business-friendly trade deals in 2015, despite growing grassroots opposition to such pacts—and increasing public awareness about their contents.
Will 2016 be the year looming toxic trade policies catapult into the mainstream? Sierra Club trade representative Ilana Solomon hopes so.
"If we continue this work and build our movement we will build a new model of trade that puts the interests of communities and the environment before the interests of multinational corporations," Solomon wrote this month.
"Our short-term work is to stop harmful trade agreements," she said. "Our long-term work is to continue to build our movement so strong and fierce that it becomes unthinkable for governments to allow trade rules to undermine environmental and public interest policies because the backlash would be too severe."
Here are the deals you need to know to be part of the fight in the coming year:
Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries
It was a "great day for corporate America" when the U.S. Senate passed Fast Track, or Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), in June, effectively surrendering legislators' ability to fully debate or even amend trade agreements like the TPP that have been negotiated entirely in secret. And when the text of the deal was finally released this fall, it confirmed the worst fears of environmentalists, public health advocates, and digital rights activists: the TPP, they said, was "worse than anything we could've imagined."
Thanks to Fast Track, President Barack Obama will be able to unilaterally sign the TPP for the U.S. after February 4, 2016. But it's not a done deal yet.
As Electronic Frontier Foundation's Maira Sutton explained earlier this month:
Both congressional houses must ratify the agreement in the form of approving "implementing legislation" that the White House will submit to lawmakers. This submission will happen after the President's signature, likely sometime in April or May. Once that happens, the House has 60 days from the bill's introduction to hold a vote on it and the Senate gets another 30 days, so 90 days in total, to approve or reject it. Since this second timeline only begins when the White House decides that they're ready for it, it all rests on whether the executive branch believes that it has the votes to get it through both houses. That's why it's critical that we call on our lawmakers to come out against this agreement: because that's how we can stop it.
"If we want to ensure that laws don't just uphold powerful private interests, but are designed and implemented with the public's best interests in mind," Sutton wrote, "then we must stop the TPP—for the sake of the Internet, our rights, and our future."
And the 2016 elections could prove helpful to those who oppose the corporate-friendly pact. The Japan Times reported Thursday that the pact "looks increasingly unlikely to be implemented before U.S. President Barack Obama’s tenure ends due to opposition among leading presidential candidates and some industries."
October march in Brussels. (Photo: Campact/flickr/cc)
TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) — U.S. and European Union
October saw hundreds of thousands of Europeans pour into the streets of Brussels to voice their opposition to the TTIP, which would cover more than 40 percent of global GDP. And push back against the so-called trade deal, which would have negative implications for everything from human rights and global climate goals to democracy and food safety, goes much deeper than that. As of October, more than three million people had signed a petition demanding an end to the TTIP negotiations—showing, as Global Justice Now director Nick Dearden said, "that the EU does not have the public mandate to continue this deal."
Indeed, there appears to be brewing discontent across the continent, with the president of the German Bundestag, or parliament, in late-October threatening to vote against the TTIP due to its lack of transparency and democratic legitimacy. That statement came on the heels of remarks made by a French trade minister in September, who said "France is considering all options including an outright termination of negotiations" due to TTIP talks appearing to favor American interests.
As American Prospect co-founder and editor Robert Kuttner posited in an op-ed earlier this year, both the TTIP and TPP could be "on the verge of collapse from their own contradictory goals and incoherent logic."
Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) — 32 countries in Europe; 7 in Asia; 5 in North America (including U.S.); 3 in South America; 2 in Oceania; and 1 in Africa
TISA may be the least well-known of the so-called Big Three "strategic neoliberal trade deals being advanced by the Obama administration," as WikiLeaks puts it—but its dangers loom just as large.
Leaks in 2015 exposed how the pact "favors privatization over public services, limits governmental action on issues ranging from safety to the environment using trade as a smokescreen to limit citizen rights," Larry Cohen, president of Communications Workers of America, said in June. Our World is Not For Sale, a group that has been working against TISA since 2013, described the deal in July as "a developed countries' corporate wish lists for services which seeks to bypass resistance from the global South to this agenda inside the WTO, and to secure an agreement on services without confronting the continued inequities on agriculture, intellectual property, cotton subsidies, and many other issues."
In 2016, we can only hope that people power will pressure more countries to follow the lead of Uruguay, which in September decided to end its involvement in TISA negotiations. In doing so, Friends of the Earth activists Viviana Barreto and Sam Cossar-Gilbert wrote at Common Dreams, "Uruguay has created a blueprint of how to beat these corporate-driven agreements. A strong coalition of trade unions, environmentalists and farmers working together on an effective public campaign were able to take on the interests of the world's biggest companies and win."
Anti-CETA signs in Europe. (Photo: File)
Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) — Canada and Europe
"What's exciting about CETA," Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey wrote earlier this month, "is that Europeans actually have the power to defeat it."
As Common Dreams reported in October, the Canada-EU deal would create "a parallel legal system for corporations" that could make "regulations in sensitive public service sectors such as education, water, health, social welfare, and pensions prone to all kinds of investor attacks."
"What is at stake in trade agreements such as TTIP and CETA is our right to vital services, and more, it is about our ability to steer services of all kinds to the benefit of society at large," the Brussels-based Corporate Europe Observatory declared at the time. "If left to their own course, trade negotiations will eventually make it impossible to implement decisions for the common good."
According to Council of Canadians, it is expected that CETA will go before the European Parliament for ratification votes either in late 2016 or early 2017. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has already instructed trade minister Chrystia Freeland "to implement" CETA.