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Sen. Elizabeth Warren Kicks Off Assault Against Secret Trade Agreement

“Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.” -- Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Sen. Elizabeth Warren Kicks Off Assault Against Secret Trade Agreement
Image from: Public Citizen

Elizabeth Warren is going after the TPP (yay!) and the White House is saying, oh, you misunderstood. But we've already seen the kind of insane copyright protections this administration wants - the kind that makes it impossible for other countries to make generic copies of needed medication, for instance.

Anyway, if Warren pulls off yet another brushback pitch, she really will be the new sheriff in town:

“This deal would give protections to international corporations that are not available to United States environmental and labor groups,” Warren said in an interview with POLITICO. “Multinational corporations are increasingly realizing this is an opportunity to gut U.S. regulations they don’t like.”

Warren’s comments, following an op-ed in The Washington Post, focused on an obscure piece of the TPP agreement, the so-called Investor-State Dispute Settlement process, which allows multinational corporations to sue national governments in international forums and win cash judgments that cannot be appealed.

Ordinarily such a wonky provision might fly deeply under Washington’s radar. But Warren has proved highly adept at elevating relatively obscure issues and turning them into major causes with just a few choice words.

[...] Opponents of Obama’s trade agenda seized on Warren’s new comments and said they raised the profile of the opposition and made defeating the deals more likely. The administration is asking Congress for “fast-track” status for the TPP, meaning that lawmakers wouldn’t be able to amend the deal, only vote up or down on what the administration negotiates.

[...] Despite the private dismissals, the White House clearly felt compelled to quickly respond to Warren’s complaints, posting a piece on its blog by National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients.

“The purpose of investment provisions in our trade agreements is to provide American individuals and businesses who do business abroad with the same protections we provide to domestic and foreign investors alike in the United States,” Zients wrote. “ISDS does not undermine U.S. sovereignty, change U.S. law, nor grant any new substantive rights to multinational companies.”

Warren rejected all of those arguments in the interview with POLITICO, noting that just because the U.S. has not lost a case before an ISDS arbitration panel yet does not mean it will not lose one in the future. She also noted that the number of cases before ISDS panels has been rising rapidly. “I take no comfort in the fact that the U.S. has not lost a case yet,” she said. She added that a multinational company could sue the U.S. before an ISDS panel over U.S. wage or environmental rules they view as unfair and win a large settlement billed to the U.S. Treasury. Administration officials say the way they are drafting ISDS in the TPP agreement would make such outcomes impossible. Administration officials note that the number of U.S. ISDS cases is actually going down.


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But Warren also slammed what she called a lack of transparency in the TPP drafting process, saying it was very hard for members of Congress or anyone else to know what is in the latest draft of the agreement, making assurances from the White House difficult to trust.

Which is exactly what Alan Grayson has been saying:

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who has viewed the text of TPP, told HuffPost that he found the process beyond burdensome.

"They created ground rules that are farcical," he said, claiming that he couldn't have staff in the room, couldn't go home with the documents, couldn't take notes of the documents, couldn't discuss the contents with staff, constituents in the media or other members of Congress outside of a classified facility, and had to be watched while he was reading.

"I said after reading the documents, 'It's a punch in the face to the American middle class, but I can't tell you why,'" he added.

Most importantly, let's not forget that the administration is trying to use these trade deals to ram through the very same kind of draconian copyright regulations the public has loudly clamored against:

Leaked texts have confirmed again and again that the TPP contains Hollywood's wish list of anti-user policies—the result of years of lobbying and schmoozing with trade delegates. What they want is the most restrictive interpretation of U.S. policy to become the international "norm" by which all other TPP countries will be forced to conform their national laws. This does not mean that the TPP exactly mirrors the language of U.S. copyright rules, namely, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). It's that the policies are abstracted enough so that U.S. law could still be compliant with them, while the other nations could be pressured to enact harsher restrictions.

What the White House never seems to mention is how U.S. lawmakers are in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of its own innovation policies. Congress, led by Rep. Bob Goodlatte, has held hearings on various aspects of U.S. copyright rules for close to two years. This followed a speech by the Register of Copyrights, Maria Pallante, who recommended various reforms to U.S. copyright rules, including shortening the term of copyright by twenty years (unless the copyright is renewed). President Obama, meanwhile, is still proposing provisions in the TPP that would lock us into existing, broken rules.

Go read the details, and then contact your congress person.

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