Elizabeth Warren is clearly getting on the Administration’s nerves.
The Massachusetts senator has come out forcefully against the misleadingly named trade deals, the TransPacific Partnership and its ugly sister, the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Mind you, these treaties are not about trade. Trade is already substantially liberalized and in keeping, only five of the 29 chapters of the TransPacific Partnership deal with tariffs.
What these pacts are primarily intended to do is strengthen intellectual property laws to help US software and entertainment companies, along with Big Pharma, increase their hefty profits, and to aid multinational by permitting the greatly increased use of secret, conflict-ridden arbitration panels that allow foreign investors to sue governments over laws that they contend reduced potential future profits. I am not making that up.
Warren focused on the so-called investor-state dispute settlement process in a Washington Post op-ed last week. We’ve discussed these panels in gory detail in previous posts.
That article led the White House to issue a “lady doth protest too much” rebuttal that we’ll shred shortly. But let’s first review the state of play.
The Administration had no luck in the last Congress getting so-called “fast track” authorization for the TPP due to widespread opposition. It wasn’t just that Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to table it in the Senate. John Boehner made it clear that he couldn’t get the votes in Republican-controlled House to pass it either. Over 200 representatives, including some Republicans, signed letters or otherwise voiced reservations about the trade deals, and another 30 to 40 were believed to be against it. Although the Administration has tried to claim otherwise, the opposition goes well beyond the small cohort of “progressives”.
Part of the reason for the Congressional revolt is that the Administration has made it impossible for Congress to review the drafts properly. But another is that even some conservatives are willing to come out against these agreements as pork for big multinationals. For instance, the right wing think tank Cato supported the Warren op-ed:
An important pillar of trade agreements is the concept of “national treatment,” which says that imports and foreign companies will be afforded treatment no different from that afforded domestic products and companies. The principle is a commitment to nondiscrimination. But ISDS turns national treatment on its head, giving privileges to foreign companies that are not available to domestic companies. If a U.S. natural gas company believes that the value of its assets has suffered on account of a new subsidy for solar panel producers, judicial recourse is available in the U.S. court system only. But for foreign companies, ISDS provides an additional adjudicatory option.