Saturday, January 09, 2016

Saturday Morning Links

Assorted content for your weekend reading.

- Joseph Stiglitz comments on how the Trans-Pacific Partnership looks to make democracy subordinate to corporate interests:
The US concluded secret negotiations on what may turn out to be the worst trade agreement in decades, the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and now faces an uphill battle for ratification, as all the leading Democratic presidential candidates and many of the Republicans have weighed in against it. The problem is not so much with the agreement’s trade provisions, but with the “investment” chapter, which severely constrains environmental, health, and safety regulation, and even financial regulations with significant macroeconomic impacts. 

In particular, the chapter gives foreign investors the right to sue governments in private international tribunals when they believe government regulations contravene the TPP’s terms (inscribed on more than 6,000 pages). In the past, such tribunals have interpreted the requirement that foreign investors receive “fair and equitable treatment” as grounds for striking down new government regulations – even if they are non-discriminatory and are adopted simply to protect citizens from newly discovered egregious harms. 

While the language is complex – inviting costly lawsuits pitting powerful corporations against poorly financed governments – even regulations protecting the planet from greenhouse-gas emissions are vulnerable. The only regulations that appear safe are those involving cigarettes (lawsuits filed against Uruguay and Australia for requiring modest labeling about health hazards had drawn too much negative attention). But there remain a host of questions about the possibility of lawsuits in myriad other areas. 

Furthermore, a “most favored nation” provision ensures that corporations can claim the best treatment offered in any of a host country’s treaties. That sets up a race to the bottom – exactly the opposite of what US President Barack Obama promised.
Those seeking closer economic integration have a special responsibility to be strong advocates of global governance reforms: If authority over domestic policies is ceded to supranational bodies, then the drafting, implementation, and enforcement of the rules and regulations has to be particularly sensitive to democratic concerns. Unfortunately, that was not always the case in 2015. 

In 2016, we should hope for the TPP’s defeat and the beginning of a new era of trade agreements that don’t reward the powerful and punish the weak. The Paris climate agreement may be a harbinger of the spirit and mindset needed to sustain genuine global cooperation.
- Ben Norton writes about the potential effects of TransCanada's NAFTA litigation over the Keystone XL pipeline, while Ethan Cox and Erin Seatter summarize the Chapter 11 process which allows big business to attack decisions made in the public interest. PressProgress reminds us that Canada too has faced corporate attacks on its environmental policies. And for those wondering who Brad Wall really serves, Saskatchewan's premier is cheerleading for the claim even though its primary outcome would be a transfer of U.S. public money to a single corporation.

- Charles Mandel points out in the wake of a massive California methane leak that the same could easily happen in Canada as well. And Paul Hanley calls for Saskatchewan to join the rest of the world in phasing out coal power, rather than insisting on being a dirty-energy outlier. 

- Finally, Hugh MacKenzie offers some suggestions to rein in excessive executive pay. And Michael Massing provides a primer to the media on covering self-interested "philanthropy".

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