The Obama administration is proving to be a stanch a champion of free trade agreements as its predecessor, pushing the same tired line about the pacts bringing peace, prosperity, and joy to citizens of nations singing onto the FTAs.
Economist Dean Baker, writing at Beat the Press [a blog of the Center for Economic and Policy Research], deftly debunks the claims floated by that most famous of FTAs, the North American Free Trade Association:
NAFTA was not about free trade. First and foremost if was about reducing barriers that made U.S, companies reluctant to invest in Mexico. This meant prohibiting Mexico from expropriating factories and outlawing any restrictions on the repatriation of profits to the United States.
The agreement did little to loosen the obstacles facing highly-educated professionals in Mexico, like doctors and lawyers, from working in the United States. If the agreement had freed up trade in this area, it could have led to gains to consumers in the tens of billions of dollars a year.
In other areas, like patents and copyrights, NAFTA increased protection by extending the length and scope of these government granted monopolies. Mexico was forced to develop a U.S. type patent system for prescription drugs which led to considerably higher drug prices.
Now consider the words of NAFTA’s biggest booster, Bill Clinton, when he signed the agreement into law on 14 September 1993:
There are some issues that transcend ideology. That is, the view is so uniform that it unites people in both parties. This means our country can pursue a bipartisan policy with continuity over the decades. That’s how we won the Cold War. That’s how we have promoted peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. And that’s how the United States of America has promoted freer trade and bigger markets for our products and those of other nations throughout the world. NAFTA is such an issue.
And so it unfolds.
As Baker notes, NAFTA isn’t about “free trade.” It’s about destroying national autonomy and subjecting populations to the unfettered ravages of corporateers and banksters.
And the agenda has been bipartisan and decades-long, as Clinton observed 19 years ago, and continues today.
The Obama “free trade” agenda
Here’s what the Obama White House announced back on 23 October, when Obama signed free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia:
“These trade agreements will significantly boost American exports, support tens of thousands of American jobs and protect labor rights, the environment and intellectual property.”
Note those last two words: Intellectual property. That’s the door to corporate control over just about everything.
Now consider this statement made earlier this month by the administration’s Office of the United States Trade Representative:
The historic passage by Congress of three new free trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in October 2011, and the recent entry into force of the free trade agreement with South Korea will significantly increase liberalization of trade in goods and services. The agreements will also strengthen our ability to ensure that the standards-related measures adopted by those trading partners are transparent and serve legitimate objectives.
Further, with the establishment of the new Interagency Trade Enforcement Center, which President Obama announced in his State of the Union address earlier this year, we will have more resources available to investigate, and if necessary pursue, any country’s failure to abide by international trade rules and commitments.
But here’s another take of what the agreements mean from the Washington Free Trade Coalition:
Our most recent trade deal with Colombia was touted as a way to solve the problem of displaced farmers and loss of livelihood, by reducing tariffs and opening up Colombia’s agricultural markets. However, we, the US tax payers gave some $25million to Monsanto to use their Round-Up Ultra to fumigate coca fields. This led to the destruction of all crops (not just coca) as well as poisoning water sources and protected areas. This Plan Colombia, anti-drug fumigation, actually increased coca cultivation as desperate farmers turned to the drug trade as a means of economic survival. So Monsanto is the cause of the problem and through the trade deal will again benefit from the solution.
The US does not require labeling of GMO products, it is voluntary. That is not the case in Australia or New Zealand, two countries currently in the TP FT [Trans Pacific Free Trade — esnl] negotiations. GMO labeling is also mandatory in Japan-another country that wants in. By controlling TP FT negotiations, the US is driving down standards worldwide on food safety and consumer transparency.
How is this happening exactly? Meet, Islam Siddiqui, the US Chief Agricultural Negotiator on trade, and ‘former’ Monsanto lobbyist. He is at the trade negotiating table with Philip Morris, PhRMA, Chevron and others. Not farmers or workers or environmentalists. The Gates Foundation’s work of poverty alleviation, global health and sustainable development is at odds with their investment in Monsanto, which is causing unprecedented harm to the food and water of communities and undermining their health. The same is true of US trade policies. With Monsanto at the table our communities will not be safe.
The Obama administration’s push for a regional Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement is the latest move to increase the sovereignty of corporations over peoples and governments.
Here’s how John Kinsman, president of Family Farm Defenders, parses the administration hype:
Those in the 1% who are now pushing the TPP hope to take advantage of the huge supply of cheap labor and natural resources to be found in the Pacific Rim. The recent expose of the Chinese sweatshops behind Apple’s iPhones, where workers regularly commit suicide by jumping off factory rooftops, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the horrific conditions that are spawned by these free trade deals.
Who else will lose under the TPP? U.S. dairy farmers fear they will go bankrupt as cheap foreign powder imports like milk protein concentrate (MPC) flood the domestic market. U.S. consumers will likely face more contaminated products – whether it is pet food laced with melamine or children’s toys coated with lead paint. U.S. pharmaceutical giants are poised to undermine access to generic drugs by imposing their expensive patents on Australia and New Zealand where people currently enjoy better and more affordable healthcare than is found here. Japanese farmers and consumers will be forced to accept genetically engineered crops and hormone tainted meat exported by U.S. agribusiness that they do not even want. So much for freedom under free trade.
You get the idea.
That long-standing bipartisan agenda Clinton praised is the agenda pushed by the giant corporations and banks that back both political parties.
When you want to know who’s benefiting from an action, just look for its sponsors.