GDAE’s Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo wrote the following op-ed for Al Jazeera, based on Wise’s work on the WTO’s conflict over food security (see articles hereherehere, and here) and Capaldo’s work on the exaggerated gains from trade facilitation (see articles here and here). See GDAE’s other work on the WTO.

Timothy A. Wise and Jeronim Capaldo

The General Council of the World Trade Organization begins a two-day meeting in Geneva today, with India and other developing countries threatening to block implementation of an agreement on trade facilitation. They would be justified in doing so.

The potential gains from that agreement, reached last December in Bali, Indonesia, are vastly overstated, and they flow primarily to rich countries and private sector traders. Meanwhile, the United States and other developed countries have made little effort to resolve the legitimate demands that developing country food security programs be exempted from archaic stipulations of the WTO’s Agreement on Agriculture (AoA).

India has threatened to withhold its support for trade facilitation, which would effectively scuttle the deal in the WTO’s consensus-based process. The Indian government charges that there has been no serious movement on a re-tabled proposal from the so-called G-33 group of developing countries (which now includes 46 nations) to renegotiate parts of the WTO’s agreement on agriculture so that government efforts to buy and distribute food to the poor are not treated as illegal agricultural subsidies.

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John Weeks, Guest Blogger

The gathering pressure for Congress to “fast track” the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) demonstrates yet again that trade liberalization is one of the few aspects of economic policy about which there is agreement across the mainstream of the political spectrum, in both the United States and Europe. Almost all conservative commentators endorse it with gusto, for centrists it is an article of faith, and even many progressives accept it implicitly by their criticism of industrial country protection.

The neoliberal ideologues sell it by bestowing the label “free trade,” which is allegedly reached by repeated measures of “trade liberalization.” No matter that the TPP has little to do with trade and everything to do with setting loose capital on a global scale. Well tested and demonstrably disastrous in the North American Free Trade Association, this liberating of capital includes 1) global extension of corporate patents under the moniker “intellectual property rights,” 2) shifting enforcement of those patents from national governments and courts to ad hoc international tribunals, and 3) prohibiting as “protectionist” measures protecting labor rights and the environment.

This is not “freer” trade, but re-regulation of trade to entrench corporate profit making. However, if you call it freer trade, you can sell it to the public. In order to discredit this corporate sales pitch, I have to drive a stake through the heart of the Free Trade dogma that is the ideological justification for neoliberal globalization.

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Roger Bybee, Guest Blogger

Those at the top have never done better,” President Obama ruefully acknowledged in his January 28 State of the Union speech. “But average wages have barely budged. Inequality has deepened.”

Yet, moments later, Obama heartily endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which as drafted directly reflects the demands of “those at the top” and would, if passed, severely intensify the very inequality spotlighted by the president. The TPP would provide transnational corporations with easier access to cheap labor in Pacific Rim nations and new power to trump public-interest protections—on labor, food safety, drug prices, financial regulation, domestic procurement laws, and a host of others—established over the last century by democratic governments. The nations currently negotiating the TPP—which together comprise nearly 40%of the world economy—include the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Among them, Malaysia, Brunei, Mexico, Singapore, and Vietnam, are all notorious violators of labor rights The TPP’s labor provisions are far too weak to begin uplifting wages, conditions, and rights for workers in these nations.

As with NAFTA, the TPP will benefit U.S. companies relocating jobs to low-wage, high-repression nations, argues economist Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). This would also exert strong downward pressures on the pay of U.S. workers, “Most U.S. workers are likely to lose out from the TPP,” Weisbrot says. “This may come as no surprise after 20 years of NAFTA and an even-longer period of trade policy designed to put lower- and middle-class workers in direct competition with low-paid workers in the developing world.”

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Kevin Gallagher

Despite President Barack Obama’s charm offensive in the region, Pacific nations are well-advised to remain wary of the U.S. government’s position on the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP).

If U.S. trade negotiators got their way, the Pacific Rim would reap surprisingly few gains — but take on big risk. Until the United States starts to see Asia as a true trading partner, rather than a region to patronize, it is right to hold out on the TPP.

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Martin Khor

Uniteed States President Barack Obama will be in Malaysia soon. Among the issues on his agenda will be the current status of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

It is an opportunity to clarify with the President himself what the chances are that the TPPA will be approved by Congress, once a deal is reached.

Of concern is that the Congress will only pass the TPPA if it has a clause disciplining countries that are “currency manipulators.”

This concern is especially serious since a recent influential report cited Malaysia as one of the two TPPA countries that qualified as “currency manipulators.”

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Robin Broad and John Cavanagh

As the Obama administration negotiates new trade agreements with European and Pacific nations, a battle has emerged over the agreements’ egregious rules that grant giant corporations unreasonable powers to subvert democracy. These rules, dubbed “investor rights” by the corporations, allow firms to sue governments over actions—including public interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments.

Oxfam, the Institute for Policy Studies, and four other non-profits are releasing a new study that explains why these rules are so dangerous to democracy and the environment. We are among the co-authors of this study, titled “Debunking Eight Falsehoods by Pacific Rim Mining/OceanaGold in El Salvador.” The report offers a powerful case study of everything that is wrong with this corporate assault on democracy.

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Martin Khor

Originally published in The Star (Malaysia).

If you or some family members or friends suffer from cancer, hepatitis, AIDS, asthma or other serious ailments, it’s worth your while to follow the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations, now going on in Singapore.

It’s really a matter of life and death. For the TPPA can cut off the potential supply of cheaper generic life-saving medicines, especially when the branded products are priced so sky-high that very few can afford them.

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Robin Broad

This post is drawn from a new article regular TCB contributor Robin Broad wrote with John Cavanagh, “A Strategic Fight Against Corporate Rule,” The Nation, February 3, 2014.

Over the past several decades, multinational corporate Goliaths have helped to write and rewrite hundreds of rules skewing tax, trade, investment and other policies in their favor. The extraordinary damage these policies have caused has become increasingly apparent to the communities and governments most directly affected by them. This, in turn, has strengthened the potential of a movement that’s emerging to try to reverse the momentum. But just like David with his slingshot, the local, environmental and government leaders seeking to revise rules to favor communities and the planet must pick their battles carefully.

We have come to believe strongly that one of the most promising of these battles takes aim at an egregious set of agreements that allow corporations to sue national governments. Until three decades ago, governments could pass laws to protect consumers, workers, health, the environment and domestic firms with little threat of outside legal challenge from corporations. All that changed when corporations started acquiring the “right” to sue governments over actions—including public-interest regulations—that reduce the value of their investments. These rights first appeared in little-known bilateral investment treaties. Twenty years ago, corporate lawyers embedded them in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Today, more than 3,000 trade and investment agreements and even some national investment laws grant foreign investors these powers.

The Obama administration is attempting to insert similar anti-democratic investor protections in new trade and investment agreements with countries that border the Pacific and with the European Union. Hoping to expedite the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), in early 2014, U.S. congressional leaders introduced fast-track trade promotion legislation that would severely limit Congress’s ability to amend such agreements. The widely anticipated move set off a storm of protest from unions, environmentalists, liberal members of Congress and others, and will likely remain a high-profile fight in the United States in the coming months.

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Timothy A. Wise

Cross-posted from Global Post.

Mexico’s largest agribusiness associated invited me to Aguascalientes to participate in its annual forum in October. The theme for this year’s gathering was “New Perspectives on the Challenge of Feeding the World.”

But it was unclear why Mexico, which now imports 42 percent of its food, would be worried about feeding the world. It wasn’t doing so well feeding its own people.

In part, you can thank the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for that. Twenty years ago, on January 1, 1994, NAFTA took effect, and Mexico was the poster child for the wonders of free trade. The promises seemed endless.

Mexico would enter the “First World” of developed countries on the crest of rising trade and foreign investment. Its dynamic manufacturing sector would create so many jobs it would not only end the U.S.  immigration problem but absorb millions of peasant farmers freed from their unproductive toil in the fields. Mexico could import cheap corn and export electronics.

So much for promises.

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Timothy A. Wise

Re-published from the Global Post.

BALI, Indonesia — A tense and acrimonious four-day standoff ended Saturday morning at the World Trade Organization meeting in Bali.

A last-minute objection by Cuba and three Latin American allies held up the agreement Friday night, with Cuba objecting to the hypocrisy of a “trade facilitation” agreement – one part of the so-called Bali package – that ignored the United States’ discriminatory treatment of the island nation under the US trade embargo.

Overnight, text was added to reflect Cuba’s concern even if it did nothing to resolve the issue. Call it the story of the WTO.

Leading up to this week’s meeting, the US and other rich countries had attempted to declare India’s food security program in violation of the WTO’s archaic and biased rules and sought to discipline the program as “trade distorting.”

India and other developing countries fended off the challenge to these programs, which support small farmers and help feed the hungry. But the final agreement is no green light.

Countries considering such programs would not be protected by the “peace clause” that will shield India and some others for the next four years. And onerous reporting requirements put the onus on the developing country to prove that its stock-holding program is not “trade distorting.”

In return for the modest protections for food security programs, and a vague package of reforms for the least developed countries, developing countries also agreed here to a trade facilitation package that could benefit some of them but might demand more than they can give.

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