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Wikileaks Exposes Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of

50 countries are plotting in secret

In February, in “Corporations Press for Power Grab in Pacific Trade Pact”, we reported details of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the most wide-reaching trade pact in history, the terms of which have been decided in secret. We showed that only 5 of its 29 covenants are concerned with typical trade rules such as tariffs and quotas and that the rest are designed to hand multinational corporations powers greater than held by their own governments.

Small wonder that talks are held at a level of such secrecy. The 12 participating Pacific-bordering nations are pledged not to reveal their contents until four years after the final deal is struck or talks are abandoned. Here’s a trade pact that at the very least will cost jobs in this country — it’s referred to as “NAFTA on steroids” — yet we peasants are not supposed to know about it.

Wikileaks succeeded in unearthing a couple of chapters of that nascent agreement and now they’ve done it again, discovering a parallel pact called the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). The 18-page draft that they leak is as recent as May. It shows the intent to block member governments from devising rules that could impinge on the financial services industry and its accountability, as well as advancing privatization of public services in the 50 participating countries, according to unions protesting in Geneva in April, where the talks were being conducted.

But in this country, the shroud of secrecy is a total success. The talks are in their sixth round yet U.S. media have nothing to report. David Cay Johnston, a tax expert, book author and Pulitzer-winning investigative reporter, says in an Aljazeera America article “not one of the five big American newspapers — The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and USA Today wrote a word about the document. Ditto the major TV networks”.

Once again, right on its opening page, the draft says the agreement’s terms must remain secret, this time for five years after the conclusion of negotiations or after the rules are instituted.

Returning to the Pacific agreement, awareness that the scope of the TPP goes well beyond trade rules came slowly. But when President Obama, eager it seems to add to his legacy with yet another blockbuster (at the expense of his union support), asked for fast track approval by Congress — an up or down show of hands with no debate — it finally aroused enough suspicion for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to call a halt. “When Harry mugged Barry”, said The Economist.

There had been next to no awareness of some of the non-trade terms. The Pacific agreement would disallow restrictions on the very derivatives and credit default swaps that contributed so greatly to the 2008 crash, would open government contracts to bidding by all countries, would give pharmaceuticals companies the power to challenge government healthcare drug pricing and to block low cost generics, yet none of these special accommodations to multinationals has been reported in the media. (A fuller list of what is known so far is in “our earlier piece). Right now, talks have bogged down because ten of the would-be signatory nations object to the United States insisting on inspecting imported catfish. Only one produces catfish but they are afraid the U.S. might want to inspect all incoming fish in the interest of protecting the citizenry from serious illness. That should give you an indication of where the trade deal's priorities lie.

What little attention was paid to the TPP was focused on its trade components. The Wall Street Journal urged Obama to “spend the political capital to persuade a skeptical Congress”. In the same article as above, The Economist said Reid “threatens to impoverish the world by at least $600 billion a year”, parroting along with others a number that the media had accepted without reference to a source other than “studies”. When a New York Times editorial called the TPP “a trade agreement … that could help all of our economies and strengthen relations between the United States and several important Asian allies” without the only trace of knowledge about some of its odious provisions being something about tobacco, we sent a blustering “Are you guys crazy” e-mail to a Times editorial board member. Interestingly, a follow-up edit in April titled “This Time, Get Global Trade Right” took a much more reserved view. They had discovered secrecy: “only a few insiders know what is in these trade agreements, particularly the Pacific pact. The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership”.

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