How fighting back against one arcane, Nixon-era trade negotiating procedure could put a stop to a global corporate coup.
by Arthur Stamoulis
When global justice groups wanted to halt expansion of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1999, they organized massive demonstrations in Seattle, where the official ministerial conference was being held.
Tens of thousands of people filled the streets. Groups held rallies, marches, and teach-ins, conducted civil disobedience, and in many cases faced attacks by police. With delegates unable to even reach the convention hall, the opening ceremony was cancelled, and the talks eventually fell apart. The “Battle of Seattle” not only succeeded in derailing the Millennial Round of negotiations, it also turned opposition to corporate globalization into international headline news.
Fifteen years later, the “movement of movements” has another opportunity to strike a dramatic blow to neoliberalism — this time by stopping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a deal the United States is negotiating with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) allegedly to boost “free trade.”
However, the pact goes far beyond traditional trade issues, to affect banking regulations, environmental protections, access to medicines, use of the internet, and much more. Most notably, the deal would undermine countries’ ability to make sovereign decisions and instead offer protections to transnational corporate investors. And full information about the TPP is not even available — the level of transparency is so low that all public access to the text has come from leaks.
The TPP is a corporate power grab clearly worthy of Seattle-caliber mobilization. But the fight against this reprehensible deal requires different types of tactics. And the place to start is by derailing “Fast Track,” the mechanism that would allow TPP approval to rush through the U.S. Congress with little debate and no amendments.
An End Run Around Popular Influence
Social movements’ success in Seattle has been enduring. Despite unfortunate recent “progress” in arcane areas such as trade facilitation, the WTO stalemate that took root in Seattle has on the whole been a lasting one, frustrating neoliberal expansion for a decade and a half.
In many ways, the TPP is an end-run around that peoples’ movement victory by corporations and their allies. Rather than continue facing the WTO’s ostensibly consensus-based decision-making process, transnational corporations are today using their proxy — the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative — to cherry-pick those countries most willing to play ball with their agenda. They’re pushing those governments to approve an omnibus package of corporate dream policies on energy, finance, intellectual property, agriculture, and more, which they’ve disguised as a trade deal. And since the TPP is a “docking agreement” — meaning that other countries can join over time — they can then pressure other nations, from China on down, to sign on once the rules have already been set.
In negotiating the TPP, U.S. president Barack Obama has not only faced the challenge of getting 11 countries into line with the proposal. He’s also had to overcome significant domestic opposition, including from members of his own party.
At a Business Roundtable meeting of CEOs in December, President Obama said, “Part of the argument I am making to Democrats is: ‘don’t fight the last war.’” He went on to say that conditions for the practices critics object to — like outsourcing production to countries with poor labor and environmental standards — already exist. In contrast, he said, the TPP will be “forcing some countries to boost their labor standards, boost their environmental standards, boost transparency, reduce corruption, increase intellectual property protection. And so all that is good for us.”
Global Climate Change