Ed Brayton’s excellent investigative piece today for TWI’s sister site, The Michigan Messenger, raises a larger issue about how trade agreements often undercut
Ed Brayton’s excellent investigative piece today for TWI’s sister site, The Michigan Messenger, raises a larger issue about how trade agreements often undercut domestic regulation of toxic industries, without the public ever really knowing about it.
It’s an issue that’s gotten lots of attention in other countries, such as Bolivia, where I was reporting on this a few years ago, but has remained largely under the radar here in the United States. Like the World Trade Organization rules that Ed wrote about, Bilateral Investment Treaties, which are negotiated between two countries, allow a foreign company to challenge the domestic laws of the country it’s investing in, and to claim they act as an unlawful restraint of trade by expropriating the value of the company’s investment.
In Bolivia, the fear was that multinational oil companies would use bilateral investment treaties to challenge President Evo Morales’s attempts to gain more control over the nation’s natural gas industry, which had long enriched foreign companies but did little to raise the living standards of Bolivians. (In fact, the companies did use those treaties to limit the president’s actions.)
When President George W. Bush was negotiating the Central American Free Trade Agreement, which contained similar protections for foreign companies, environmental groups worried that the treaty would make it impossible for the government to pass rules limiting the use of toxic chemicals — like cyanide — that could contaminate groundwater, a problem I wrote about at the time for The Washington Post.
In South Africa, bilateral trade treaties have been used by mining companies to challenge post-apartheid laws aimed at opening up the mining industry to black South Africans who’d for years been kept out of the nation’s most lucrative industry.
The point is that these complex trade agreements allow a foreign corporation to sue a national government for monetary damages if it believes that the actions of the federal, state or local government in a given country are discriminatory, violate international law or can be considered — directly or indirectly — an expropriation of the company’s investment. If complying with an environmental regulation makes a project no longer worth the cost, then, a company can claim that its investment has been expropriated by the state.
What makes matters worse is that whether the company is in the right won’t be decided by an independent judge. Instead, under a World Bank-governed system, it’s decided by a panel of three private international arbitrators chosen by the parties involved. These arbitrators are often corporate lawyers, who, in another case, could be representing the multinational corporation investor. Local residents of the countries affected by the project — whether in Michigan or Guatemala — are not parties to the case. The government’s right to protect the water supply in Guatemala or the residents living near an explosive natural gas facility in Michigan, then, could be decided by private British or American lawyers.
Although the WTO system is a little different, the principles are the same: they give foreign companies rights that domestic corporations don’t have, and an unelected, nonjudicial foreign body the right to decide whether and how domestic authorities can regulate corporations to protect the local people most affected by them.
It’s not just foreign countries that are affected: Canadian mining companies have similarly tried to assert these rights in California.
These are broad and dangerous rights ceded in poorly designed trade agreements that, as Ed points out in his groundbreaking and carefully reported story today, demand renewed scrutiny by Congress and the new administration.
Rep. Paul Ryan to deliver SOTU response
Chairman of the House Budget Committee Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) will deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union Tuesday, according to Mike Allen
Rep. Paulsen allies with medical device industry to relax FDA oversight
Source: Flickr; Republicanconference (www.flickr.com/photos/republicanconference) On the heels of the Minnesota Independent story last week about U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s cozy financial relationship with the medical device industry, the New York Times reported Tuesday that some health professionals are alarmed by Paulsen’s push to relax Food and Drug Administration (FDA) oversight
Rep. Paulsen touts balanced budget constitutional amendment
In a post for the conservative blog True North , U.S. Rep
Rep. Patrick McHenry: Please, Conservatives, Fill Out Your Census Forms!
The conservative congressman from North Carolina, a constant critic of the census -- one of the people who sounded the alarm about politicization when the
Rep. Paulsen, Karl Rove the latest to get ‘glittered’
Rep. Erik Paulsen and former Bush staffer Karl Rove were both showered with glitter at the Midwest Leadership Conference Friday
Rep. Perlmutter to hold constituent meet-up in grocery store
Colorado Congressman Ed Perlmutter will hold a Government in the Grocery constituent meet-up this evening from 5-7 at the Safeway at 38th and Wadsworth in Wheat Ridge. The address is 3900 Wadsworth. The meeting, where Perlmutter typically sits at a folding table and talks to whomever shows up, is free and open to the public
Rep. Perlmutter criticizes House measure that would eliminate 800K federal jobs
Congressman Ed Perlmutter today issued a scathing statement criticizing the House of Representatives for passing a spending bill that could put nearly a million federal employees out of work. The Colorado delegation voted strictly on party lines, with all four Republicans voting in favor of the bill and the three Democrats voting in opposition. Perlmutter’s statement: “My number one priority is to get people back to work because that’s the best thing we can do to pay our debt and move forward toward economic stability
Rep. Pete Stark Won’t Dignify Constituent by, er, Micturating Upon His Leg
In the tradition of Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), California Democratic Rep. Pete Stark revealed at a recent town hall gathering that there are limits to what
Rep. Peace, ACLU seek investigation of soldier’s allegations of racial discrimination in Afghanistan
Both Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) and the American Civil Liberties Union agree: There needs to be an investigation into Spc.
School of Hock
A growing number of college grads are defaulting on their student loans as the economy worsens.