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Congress should protect democracy, drop fast track

Corporate Accountability International echoes the call made by bipartisan  Members of Congress to oppose any effort to bypass Congressional and public scrutiny of free trade agreements. 

Today, Senator Max Baucus introduced a bill that would do just that--usurp Congress’ authority to scrutinize the contents of free trade agreements that would impact millions of people around the world. 

The introduction of the bill, known as “fast-track” has been delayed by heightened criticism from both sides of the aisle that “fast tracking” trade agreements is undemocratic and non-transparent. Corporate Accountability International and the bill’s many other critics have called for transparency and common-sense proposals for Congress to be given the opportunity to review free trade agreements before they’re railroaded through.

While Congress has approved fast-track authority before, the heightened concern comes as the U.S. is nearing the final rounds of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, often referred to as “NAFTA on steroids,” the largest, perhaps most secretive free trade agreement ever negotiated.

It is unthinkable that Congress would give up this oversight authority given the unprecedented secrecy of the TPP negotiations. Around 600 “advisers” comprised largely of global corporations like Kraft, Chevron, and trade associations like the US Chamber of Commerce have unfettered access to the negotiations while the public is left in the dark. Even Members of Congress have limited access to the text. 

It may come as no surprise then that the agreement appears to be a wish list for big corporations to give them unprecedented power to strip, weaken, and undermine life-saving health, environmental, consumer, and labor protections for all countries involved. 

The recent releases by Wikileaks of the intellectual property chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and country negotiating positions confirm the pressing need for Congressional oversight and approval of the TPP and all free trade agreements. 

Wikileaks also confirmed that the United States, backed by big corporations and their front groups, are pushing for one of the scariest aspects of the TPP – Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions. These provisions would literally grant corporations the right to sue governments over environmental, health, or labor protections. In other words, it would open the floodgates for corporations to sue sovereign nations over regulations that prioritize the public interest.

We know, for example, that Philip Morris International is pushing for these provisions so it can continue its aggressive campaign to sue entire nations for passing health measures that protect people from tobacco’s deadly and highly addictive effects. This compelled Members of the House and the Senate, the Editorial Boards of both the  New York Times and the Washington Post, as well as the government of Malaysia to call for change. 

Privileging the interests of an industry whose products kill more people globally than HIV/AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis combined is a clear indicator of the perils of giving abusive corporations a seat at the policymaking table. But we also know that Big Polluters, Big Pharma and others are lobbying aggressively to ensure this agreement benefits them at the cost of the environment, internet freedoms, labor protections and access to medicines.  

Allowing such a massive and controversial agreement to be reached with little oversight but that of big business would be, simply put, a breakdown of democracy.

Corporate Accountability International and its allies are calling for 21st century trade negotiations that put power back in the hands of people and democratic institutions, not executives. 20 years after NAFTA, it’s time to learn from its failures, which have resulted in a staggering trade deficit with Mexico and Canada, one million net U.S. jobs lost and more than $360 million paid out to corporations after investor-state attacks on sound public policies. Corporate Accountability International is also calling for a negotiating process that privileges the public interest, not the special interests of industries like Big Tobacco that continue to use trade to block and delay the passage of public health measures across the globe.

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