2013 is proving to be a frenzied year for corporate lobbyists and free trade advocates, as they flit, like busy bees pollinating succulent orchids, from one global free trade conference to another. Not since the heady pre-NAFTA, pre-GATT days of the earlier nineties have they been so busy.
But at long last, it seems that their hard work is finally paying dividends. In the last month alone world leaders from 12 countries, including the U.S., Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Mexico, pledged to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the end of the year.
On the other side of the globe, Europe has just signed a sweeping free trade agreement with Canada. And despite all the furore over allegations of NSA and GCHQ spying on their own national leaders, most EU member states are determined to ensure that the fallout from the scandal does not derail ongoing talks for a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a treaty that would effectively knit together countries with nearly half the world’s GDP into a massive free-trade zone.
Indeed, the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, has already suggested that it may be necessary to temporarily suspend negotiations — not out of concern for the dangers of forming a close partnership with a country whose recent actions are an affront to the very notion of mutual trust and cooperation, but rather out of fear that continued negotiations in the current climate could feed anti-free trade sentiment:
“If such events continue, and more news comes out, I fear that those who are against the free trade agreement in principle will become the majority,” said Schulz during last week’s EU summit. “My advice is to stop for a moment and discuss how we can avoid such a development.”
All of which begs the question: whence all the sudden newfound enthusiasm for more free trade — especially given the now obvious shortcomings of NAFTA and the EU itself? Even more important, why all the secrecy? Why are our leaders desperately reconfiguring the legal superstructures of global trade without either consulting their respective voting constituencies or even divulging what is actually up for grabs in the negotiations?
After all, even by official estimates (which, let’s face it, tend to have a strong upward bias) the economic benefits of the trade treaties will be negligible, at best. In the case of the TTIP, the EU and the U.S. can expect to eventually — perhaps after as long as ten years — see a 100 billion euro boost to their respective GDPs. It’s the sort of money that, once upon a time, may have sounded impressive or even actually meant something. But not any more, not since the Fed and the Bank of England led the world’s central banking community on the biggest money printing binge in recorded history.
Meanwhile, in the Asia-Pacific region the TPP is forecast to open up massive new opportunities for businesses both large and small, as new trade networks are forged between some of the world’s fastest growing economies.
However, while the potential benefits of the new trade agreement are supposed to be huge, they cannot as yet be divulged to the public. As former U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk (now replaced by Robert Rubin protegé and former Citigroup executive Michael Froman) told Reuters earlier this year, it’s too early in negotiations to release a draft text to allow more public input. But that’s not to say “there will [not] be a time, once we have agreed on the text, that we may – as we have with other agreements – be able to release that.”
The message could not be clearer: to paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks, go back to bed America, Europe, Asia and Australasia. Your governments are in control.
The Real Agenda
To the few insomiacs who remain fully awake, the real end game of this new age of global free trade (or otherwise put, global corporate protectionism) is becoming clearer and clearer. According to Andrew Gavin Marshall, these new agreements have little to do with actual “trade,” and everything to do with expanding the rights and powers of large corporations:
“Corporations have become powerful economic and political entities – competing in size and wealth with the world’s largest national economies – and thus have taken on a distinctly ‘cosmopolitical’ nature.”
According to a ranking published by Global Trends, 58 percent of the world’s biggest 150 economic entities in 2012 were corporations. They include oil, national gas and mining majors, banks and insurance firms, telecommunications giants, supermarket behemoths, car manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies.
The highest ranked company on the list, Royal Dutch Shell, recorded 2012 revenues that exceeded the GDPs of 171 countries, making it the 26th largest economic entity in the world. It ranks ahead of Argentina and Taiwan, despite employing only 90,000 people. Indeed, the combined revenues of the five biggest oil companies (Royal Dutch Shell, ExxonMobil, BP, Sinopec and China National Petroleum) were the equivalent of 2.9 percent of global GDP in 2012.
Should we be at all surprised that these massively bloated private corporations still want more for themselves and, by extension, less for us? After all, perpetual profit and revenues growth are their raison d’être; it’s what makes their sociopathic hearts tick.
“Acting through industry associations, lobby groups, think tanks and foundations, cosmopolitical corporations are engineering large projects aimed at transnational economic and political consolidation of power… into their hands,” writes Marshall. “With the construction of ‘a European-American free-trade zone’ as ‘an ambitious project,’ we are witnessing the advancement of a new and unprecedented global project of transatlantic corporate colonization.“
At the root of this model is the basic notion that corporate profits and investor returns must at all times supercede all concerns about public interest. As such, as Open Democracy has pointed out, investor-state dispute settlements under TTIP would empower EU and US-based corporations to engage in litigious wars of attrition to limit the power of governments on both sides of the Atlantic:
“Thousands of EU and US companies have affiliates across the Atlantic; under TTIP they could make investor-state claims via these affiliates in order to compel their own governments to refrain from regulations they dislike.”
In the sickest of ironies, as a growing number of countries are questioning and even abandoning global investor-state arbitration precisely because of negative impacts against the public interest, powerful corporate lobby groups in both the EU and the US — including the European employers’ federation BusinessEurope, the US Chamber of Commerce, AmCham EU, and the Transatlantic Business Council — are pressuring for the inclusion of investor-state arbitration in TTIP.
The Final Pusch
Just as with the signing of NAFTA and the creation of the Global Agreement on Trade and Tariffs, to later become the World Trade Organisation (WTO), there will be no public consultation whatsoever on the potential ramifications of the treaties.
And for good reason. For as the late Sir James Goldsmith warned about GATT, NAFTA and the merging of sovereign European nations into the EU in this eerily prophetic interview with Charlie Rose from 1994, their enforcement will lead to the destruction of millions of middle class jobs and the obliteration of traditional agriculture (as happened in Mexico) and local businesses. And who in their right mind — apart from, of course, our corporate masters and their political servants — would ever vote for such a thing?
However, the new generation of trade treaties go far beyond what was envisaged for NAFTA and GATT. What they ultimately seek is to transfer what little remains of our national sovereignty to the headquarters of the world’s largest multinational conglomerates. In short, it is the ultimate coup de grâce of the ultimate coup d’état. Not a single shot will be fired, yet almost all power will be seized and transferred into private hands — and all of it facilitated by our elected representatives who, by signing these treaties, will be permanently abdicating their responsibilities to represent and protect the interests of their voting constituencies.
As a recent leak of part of the TPP document has shown, the new rules would limit how governments regulate such public services as utilities, transportation, healthcare and education, including restricting policies meant to ensure broad or universal access to those essential needs.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. As Alternet reports, the new treaty would also:
- Grant copyright protection for corporate-created content for a stunning 120 years! It would also transform internet service providers into a private, Big Brother police force, empowered to monitor our “user activity,” arbitrarily take down our content, and cut off our access to the internet.
- Give Big Pharma more years of monopoly pricing on each of their patents empower them to block distribution of cheaper generic drugs.
- Strip governments of their authority to regulate exports of oil or natural gas to any TPP nation. This would create an explosion of the destructive fracking process across the globe, for energy giants could export fracked gas from and to any member nation without any governmental review of the environmental and economic impacts on local communities — or on our respective national interests.
- Prohibit transaction taxes (such as the proposed Robin Hood Tax) that would shut down speculators who have repeatedly triggered financial crises and economic crashes around the world. It would also restrict “firewall” reforms that separate consumer banking from risky investment banking, as well as providing provides an escape from national rules that would limit the size of “too-big-to-fail” behemoths.
It’s worth noting that these are merely the proposals that have made it into the public eye — thanks purely to the actions of a brave (or as the Obama administration would have it, criminal) whistle-blower. Who’s to say what else is being planned behind our backs and in the conference rooms of some of the world’s most expensive hotels?
What is clear is that the global corporatocracy is almost fully operational. The clock is ticking down and unless the people of nations across the East and the West, the North and the South, begin to wise up to the acts of their elected governments, it will soon be too late. The new regime will be enshrined into law and a new kind of dystopia, bearing an uncanny likeness to the inverted totalitarianism foreseen by Sheldon Wolin, will be all around us, in every direction as far as Big Brother’s all-invasive eye can see.