By Thomas Mc Donagh & Aldo Orellana for NJGI
This is an exclusive NJGI interview with Friends of the Earth-United States (FOE-US) trade policy analyst Bill Waren on the proposed Transpacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement. We discuss what´s at stake in the negotiations in general, the implications of the proposed investment chapter and the growing campaign to challenge the TPP including FOE-US´s recent campaign video.
Network for Justice in Global investment (NJGI): From point of view of Friends of the Earth-U.S. (FOE-US) what’s at stake in the debate over the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement?
Bill Waren (BW): The most basic issues of democratic governance and fair economic, social and human rights policies are at stake. In another context — Renato Ruggiero, the director of the WTO a number of years ago, said that the authors of the new global trading system were writing a constitution for the world economy. Now that the WTO negotiations have been frozen in place, what we see is the United States, through the TPP trade agreement and with the new Transatlantic Partnership Agreement, attempting to in effect write a constitution for the world economy that’s even more favorable to corporations and even less respectful of democratic institutions, economic fairness and human rights than the World Trade Organization.
I think the constitution analogy is appropriate because it’s the role of a constitution to limit government authority. The basic framework of the TPP is one in which the interests of international capital in limiting government authority trump other values including environmental values, which FOE champions in particular. The TPP focuses on so-called non-tariff barriers to trade such as economic regulations, taxes and economic development policies. The rules established by the TPP would restrain government action in all of these areas. It goes far beyond questions of discrimination or market access. This is really about deregulating the economy, expanding property rights and establishing in international law principles of what I’d call market fundamentalism in order to allow U.S. and other multinational corporations to have their way regardless of the views of the people and parliaments and regardless of international human rights standards.
NJGI: Looking at the campaign underway block the TPP, could you tell us about the strategy of the campaign and maybe touch on issues like what the campaign sets out to achieve -whether the aim is to change the proposed trade agreement or to stop it- and where you think the opportunities to realize those objectives lie?
BW: Our basic position and that of our domestic and international allies is to demand, quite reasonably, a fair TPP deal or no deal. In other words we reject the kind of corporate constitution for the Pacific economy that we talked about earlier. We reject investment chapters that provide private courts for capital and override democratic decision making and that require governments and tax payers to pay money damages than can run in to hundreds of millions, or even billions, of dollars in compensation for public interest regulation and environmental regulation. That’s not a fair deal, and unless a completely different approach is taken, then we would call for no deal at all. In terms of our strategy, we feel like it really has to focus on negotiating partners of the United States and their press and the public, both elite opinion but especially grassroots opinion.
NJGI: Where do you feel the strategy is at right now in terms of realizing its objectives?
BW: Well, we see very substantial opposition arising in Asia and Latin America to some of the most outrageous US proposals. I think in particular of the intellectual property proposals of the United States that would grant U.S. and other multinational pharmaceutical corporations monopoly rights that drive up the cost of life saving medicines. You’re really talking about the lives on millions of people who depend upon access to medicines, and there will be sharply limited access to medicines if these monopoly pricing schemes through the TPP intellectual property chapter are allowed. Just as an analogy, due to the mobilization on access to medicines that we saw in response to the AIDS crisis, the cost of basic AIDS medication in the developing world dropped by over 90% and literally millions of lives were saved. So that’s just one example of where there has been a successful campaign in the past based on sharp analysis that showed the real threat to millions of lives represented by the US proposals made on behalf of ‘Big Pharma’. A grassroots movement moved elite opinion, which then forced the U.S. hand in the case of AIDS medicines. We need to replicate that with the TPP campaign.
In the same way, we need to mobilize people in opposition to the TPP investment chapter. We have lots of horror stories to tell that you might be familiar with — stories that came out of previous U.S. investment agreements like the Chevron vs. Ecuador case. This case has its origins in the rainforest Chernobyl in the Ecuadorian Amazon, where Chevron-Texaco is refusing to clean up an oil spill that polluted an area the size of the state of Rhode Island. This has not only destroyed the ecosystem but poisoned the local population causing deaths, miscarriages, and rampant illness. Yet the oil giant is hiding behind the U.S.-Ecuador bilateral investment treaty to resist the Ecuadorian courts and the call of common decency to make amends for their wrongdoing.
When we tell the story of the Chevron case, we can also tell the story of Renco vs. Peru where a rogue investor in a metals smelter high in the Peruvian Andes is demanding $800million for the cost of cleaning up one of the ten most polluted places on earth, and the list goes on. I think we have compelling stories to tell, and we’re hoping that through face to face communications, through social media, and through a film of the kind that we’ve just produced to tell these stories and to empower other people to tell these stories in a way that poses the basic moral questions that need to be asked about the U.S. approach to the TPP investment chapter.
NJGI: You mentioned the recently produced campaign video. We have posted the video on to the Network for Justice in Global Investment’s website, and we were quite impressed by it. Could you tell us a little bit about the video and how it’s being used in the context of the campaign?
BW: We’ve just completed the video, so our campaign is now getting underway. Of course, we’ll be distributing it on the internet and through social media, but we really hope that it can be used most effectively in grassroots campaigning. We have allies including faith groups, fair trade groups, labor groups, anti-mining activists and human rights groups that can mobilize people to act. In other words, we think that the video will be most useful when it’s paired with old-fashioned ‘shoe to the pavement’ community organizing. We hope the video will be useful to folks in the United States and especially internationally who are very well organized at the local level, and who have access to the parliamentarians, negotiators and people in power in their own countries.
NJGI: We will be promoting the video through our media, social media and email newsletter. We also have lots of other resources relating to investment rules issues, so we would be very happy to make those resources available to the campaign.
BW: We really appreciate that because you and others like you are in a position to move opinion where it counts most and that’s outside the borders of the United States.
NJGI: This leads on to one of our last questions. In relation to the campaign overall, what type of support does the campaign need and how can people give support?
BW: I would urge people to talk to their friends and neighbors, their union brothers and sisters, their fellow environmentalists and try to hold community meetings. Show the film if it’s an English language venue, but if not, please view the film and use the information to organize. And, this isn’t exclusively in the developing world, we’re getting substantial traction in developed countries like Australia and New Zealand on the investment chapter for example, Australia in particular. I guess what we want is for this to be a tool, a reason to call people together. If it can be a way of telling a story in a way that’s visually vivid as well as being a compelling narrative, that may move people to take the political action that their community deems most appropriate. That would be our hope.
NJGI: And one last question, from the point of view of what is primarily en environmental campaigning organization, why do you feel that it’s important for groups like FOE-US or groups working on environmental issues in particular to be working on the TPP or similar trade and investment agreements?
BW: Well, almost everything that we’re worked for in every other arena is potentially at risk as a result of the TPP and similar agreements. I mean, it really does act as a constitution for the Pacific economy and potentially checkmates many of our past environmental victories domestically. It’s going to affect issues such as anti-mining campaigns and the problems that have been posed by oil companies, resource extraction companies, and agri-business in their land grabbing activities. These things must be addressed through TPP campaigns that develop from the bottom up and reflect local values and priorities regarding environmental policy.
NJGI: That’s great Bill. The Democracy Center and the Network for Justice in Global Investment will be publishing a paper in mid to late March on investment rules as a barrier to sustainable development and progress on environmental issues, so we will certainly send you on the material whenever it gets published.
BW: That’s great. The investment chapters are the most outrageous provisions on their face in the TPP and similar agreements. The whole idea that there is a separate “court” for international capital, that three inherently-biased trade lawyers, usually from Wall Street or the City of London, get to make public policy, and that damage awards in the hundreds of millions of dollars can be applied against developing countries which are simply trying to protect the public health and environment is so outrageous.
NJGI: Thank you for making yourself available for the interview Bill.
BW: You’re welcome.
Also you can read:
A recent post on the Democracy Center´s blog – Getting Action – by Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizens Trade Campaign