A lethal se­crecy

Why gov­ern­ments hide trade ne­go­ti­a­tions that have dire con­se­quences for pub­lic ser­vices?


Tthe age of leaks. And thank good­ness for HIS IS that. Not just by Wiki-Leaks, the bête noire of se­cre­tive gov­ern­ments, but by bands of public­spir­ited in­di­vid­u­als and or­gan­i­sa­tions who have been in­stru­men­tal in lay­ing bare the machi­na­tions of cor­po­rate lob­bies in shap­ing ma­jor trade agree­ments.

If not for the leaks, few of us would have known how gov­ern­ments are con­ced­ing pol­icy space to pow­er­ful for­eign gov­ern­ments and even more pow­er­ful multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions. In the case of the EU-In­dia Free Trade Agree­ment (fta), protests against the ne­go­ti­a­tions over sus­pected tight­en­ing of reg­u­la­tions on in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty rights (iprs) were con­firmed in March last year when non-profit Knowl­edge Ecol­ogy In­ter­na­tional (kei) pub­lished the draft text of the IP chap­ter un­der ne­go­ti­a­tion. kei is an or­gan­i­sa­tion that seeks to pro­vide new ways of man­ag­ing knowl­edge re­sources in more fair and ef­fi­cient ways. The most wor­ry­ing as­pect of th­ese pro­posed pacts is the pro­vi­sion that al­lows for­eign in­vestors to sue host gov­ern­ments.

So all that we have are leaks, some bits of in­for­ma­tion that are ac­cessed from “in­formed sources”, but for the over­whelm­ing part most of the mega trade agree­ments— Trans Pa­cific Part­ner­ship and Trans-At­lantic Trade and In­vest­ment Part­ner­ship are among the most lethal—are highly se­cret and aimed at sidestep­ping the global sys­tem of the World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion.Not even the law­mak­ers in the US are privy to what goes on in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions. But then, thank good­ness again for US mem­bers of Congress who, deeply con­cerned about the eco­nomic im­pact of such deals across the world, are fight­ing for trans­parency in trade ne­go­ti­a­tions.

On Septem­ber 10, Rep­re­sen­ta­tives Rosa DeLauro and George Miller or­gan­ised a Capi­tol Hill fo­rum where lead­ing econ­o­mists and ex­perts from a range of fields ad­dressed the is­sue of se­crecy. The star turn was Jef­frey Sachs, Columbia Univer­sity pro­fes­sor of sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment who also di­rects the Earth In­sti­tute.

The main points that emerged from Sachs’s talk are that th­ese treaties are pri­mar­ily aimed at pro­tect­ing in­vestors and giv­ing them un­re­stricted pow­ers vis-à-vis the state.He points out, “what is for­got­ten in the rah-rah of free trade rhetoric is that sim­ply open trade or open in­vest­ment by it­self has no guar­an­tee of meet­ing the cri­te­rion of rais­ing well­be­ing broadly, much less across the board.”

The hun­grier wolf wait­ing in the wings is the Trade in Ser­vices Agree­ment, a com­pletely opaque agree­ment that is be­ing ne­go­ti­ated in se­cret by mostly mem­bers of the club of the rich or the Or­gan­i­sa­tion for Eco­nomic Co-op­er­a­tion and De­vel­op­ment .A small num­ber of de­vel­op­ing na­tions such as Costa Rica, Pak­istan, Panama and Paraguay, the usual mem­bers of the co-opted, are also tak­ing part in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions.

So where is democ­racy in all th­ese agree­ments that are be­ing pushed by the so-called lib­eral democ­ra­cies of the West? The di­chotomy is stark be­tween their pro­fessed aims and the poli­cies they pur­sue in the area of global trade and economies. But it is sheer naivete to be sur­prised by the lack of democ­racy in the US and Europe. Any­one fa­mil­iar with re­cent his­tory knows that US and Euro­pean gov­ern­ments were com­fort­able with the mil­i­tary dic­ta­tor Au­gusto Pinochet rather than the demo­crat­i­cally elected so­cial­ist Sal­vador Al­lende of Chile.

The best pointer comes from Slove­nian thinker Slavoj Žižek who says the an­swer can be found in the 1998 state­ment of Hans Tiet meyer, then gov­er­nor of the Bun­des­bank, who held “the per­ma­nent plebiscite of global mar­kets” as su­pe­rior to the “plebiscite of the bal­lot box”. The bomb inside th­ese trade pacts is tick­ing.


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