How Multilateral Free Trade Agreements Are Bypassing Democratic Decision-Making Around The World

from the behind-closed-doors dept

One of the most worrying aspects of ACTA -- which began life as a "simple" treaty about combatting counterfeit goods -- was how it morphed into a new approach to global policy making. This had two key aspects. First, the treaty would be negotiated in secret, with minimal input from the public, but plenty from lobbyists, who were given access to key documents and to negotiators. Secondly, the results of those secret negotiations were designed to constrain the participating governments in important ways that nullified ordinary democratic decision-making. If at all, representative bodies were presented with a take-it-or-leave it choice; changing individual details was not an option.

That, in its turn, meant that public in those countries had very little chance to fight harmful provisions in a treaty, since the only way to do that was to persuade their government to reject it completely, which was extremely difficult after the years of negotiation. The European Parliament's dramatic refusal to agree to ACTA was largely because of the unusual division of power in the European Union.

TPP has adopted exactly the same process: negotiations behind closed doors, but this time, without even the occasional official release of drafts as happened with ACTA (luckily, there have been leaks.) And assuming the negotiations are concluded successfully, it is likely that national legislatures will be presented with the same take-it-or-leave-it offer, with huge pressure to accept.

More recently, the newly-announced transatlantic free trade agreement (TAFTA) between the US and the EU is gaining momentum, not least in terms of the countries that may ask to join. At the last count, these included Mexico, Canada and Turkey. The US has also started talking to West African states about a free trade agreement, and it's easy to see that being rolled into TAFTA at some point.

TPP is also expanding rapidly. Mexico and Canada have already joined, under pretty humiliating terms, while Japan has signalled that it wishes to do so. Recently we learned that South Korea and Taiwan are considering applying.

As we've noted before, putting together TPP and TAFTA, it's striking how they include all of the world's biggest economies outside the so-called BRICS group of emerging countries -- Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The natural response to being locked out of the two US-centric trade areas would be to form their own, and in fact India has begun talks with the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan about a free trade agreement. Significantly, enlarging that to including other nearby countries is already being mooted:

Kazakhstan's neighbour Kyrgyzstan is likely to be the fourth entrant and Tajikistan could over time be the fifth country to joint the Customs Union. Ukraine, Armenia and Moldovia would also be moving close to the Customs Union but for some time they are likely to be the first three countries outside the core.
Meanwhile, China is keen to form a major trade bloc with South Korea and Japan:
"China's intention is to first form a Northeast Asian economic cooperation that excludes the U.S. while Japan can't sit still as South Korea advances to the Chinese market with Korea-China free trade talks," said Heo Yoon, a professor at Sogang University Graduate School of International Studies.
It's easy to imagine other countries that are part of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Free Trade Area joining the group if and when formal negotiations get underway, not least because ASEAN already has free trade agreements with China, Japan and South Korea.

Although bilateral trade agreements are hardly new -- Wikipedia lists dozens of them, some going back to the 1980s -- there has definitely been a step-change recently. Increasingly, the emphasis is on joining multilateral free trade agreements like TPP and TAFTA, involving significant numbers of countries. On the part of smaller nations, their interest is probably driven by a fear of getting shut out of key markets. But for the bigger players -- notably the US and EU -- it's a convenient way of imposing unpalatable policies not just on the citizens of other countries, but on their own, too.

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Filed Under: acta, democracy, free trade agreements, policy making, tafta, tpp

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  • icon
    gorehound (profile), 10 Apr 2013 @ 2:59pm

    Corruption and Power

    What we are seeing is a bunch of Corrupted Politicians all running to their Corporate Masters..........selling out their Constituents for a little extra Cash.
    And when not doing that they are made up of clueless Computer Illiterate People who make up Laws they do not even fully understand themselves........more likely the Industry themselves write the Bill and the Politician just puts his name on it instead of Time Warner or ATT or Disney or (Insert Big Corporation here).
    I so wish the many Sheep would wake up and learn before it truly is to late for them.
    It is kind of Interesting to know a lot about History and just look around at the World now and look at bad times in the past.I like to Study various Time Frames in History and wonder if what I see now is just like what I saw in a good History Book.
    I got the feeling inside we are sailing into one of those really bad times.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 10 Apr 2013 @ 3:20pm

      Re: Corruption and Power

      I got the feeling inside we are sailing into one of those really bad times

      I think there's no question about it. In fact, the pattern of everything pretty much matches the pattern of the fall of most (all?) of the global empires in history.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ebilrawkscientist (profile), 10 Apr 2013 @ 4:44pm


    As a Canadian Citizen I utterly and irrevocably reject all Trans Pacific Partnership aggreements as unconstitutional because they have been negotiated behind closed doors away from public input.

    This is NOT a democratic proccess.
    We are not China You are not my overlords

    NO PROFIT for YOU RIAA & MPAA Goons!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    The Old Man in The Sea, 10 Apr 2013 @ 5:48pm

    Conspiracy Hat On

    One World Government

    Conspiracy Hat Off

    and bugger the plebs

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Uriel-238 (profile), 10 Apr 2013 @ 9:42pm

      Re: Conspiracy Hat On

      One-world government isn't a bad thing.

      It's the bugger-the-plebes part that is a problem.

      It seems that big money is getting more and more apathetic about us little people getting lean and hungry.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Kevin Carson, 10 Apr 2013 @ 9:32pm

    Patents and Copyright Have Nothing to Do With Free Trade

    Please stop calling them "Free Trade Agreements." IP is at least as protectionist as tariffs.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 11 Apr 2013 @ 4:36am

    isn't it strange how all of these 'trade agreements' are not only instigated by the USA but also massively benefit the USA more than any other country! when are these other countries gonna wake up and smell the coffee? do they not realise that if these 'agreements' weren't beneficial to the USA whilst being decidedly detrimental to the other countries and particularly their own citizens, there would be no 'trade agreements' in the first place?? how stupid can governments get?? how can these governments have such a lack of concern for their peoples and industries??

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 11 Apr 2013 @ 5:35am

    Maybe "we, the people" should get together and start negotiating treaties while leaving the Govt and the big companies out. Since the Govts would have to adapt with those treaties anyway we could put in some Human Rights protection, free speech and other important things altogether. Also, the seizure and redistribution of all huge fortunes would be included. Since the holders of such fortunes are a very small minority they would not have any say (because we arbitrarily say so).

    The Govt would not have any right for input and since it's accepted by the people they will be obliged to adapt the laws to those treaties.

    Yes, that's wishful thinking but it would be kind of interesting to see people starting to ignore their Government and follow their own crowdsourced rules. Those in power fear that. Icelandic Govt made it clear.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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