from the horse-trading dept
Another popular use of corporate sovereignty claims is the tobacco industry, going after countries that pass "plain packaging" laws (which say that all cigarette packaging needs to be without logos and trademarks and such). Whether or not you agree with such laws, the idea that big tobacco companies can take entire countries to these tribunals, demanding many millions of dollars based on laws those countries decided to pass, seems troubling. It's especially been concerning to health officials who have long favored plain packaging regulations.
Apparently, the latest move to salvage corporate sovereignty provisions in the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement has the USTR attempting to throw Big Tobacco under the bus by removing tobacco from the ISDS provisions. This is an incredibly cynical and political move, designed to try to quiet some of the health activists' talking points about the plain packaging fights -- while leaving the overall basis of these corporate sovereignty provisions wholly in place.
While I don't always (or often) agree with the AFL-CIO, its response to this cynical attempt to carve Big Tobacco out of the deal is dead on:
In fact, the cheap attempt by the USTR to toss Big Tobacco under the bus to get a deal done really does more to underline the problems of corporate sovereignty positions, rather than to help smooth things over. If ISDS isn't appropriate for Big Tobacco, why is it appropriate for Big Pharma? Or big mining companies?
The proposed carve-out will not stop multinationals like Veolia from suing the government of Egypt for raising the minimum wage. It won’t stop the pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly from suing Canada over patent requirements or stop extractive company Pacific Rim Mining (a Canadian company that has since been bought by the Australian multinational OceanaGold) from demanding compensation when El Salvador refuses to let it pollute the local water supply by operating a gold mine.
Any industry-specific carve-out will not address the serious structural problems inherent in the system itself. Issues of broad public interest should not be viewed through the narrow lens of trade and investment at all, let alone decided by unaccountable private panels. Systems of justice should be transparent and accessible on an equal basis. ISDS is anything but: Only foreign investors can use it and there are no requirements that affected communities be allowed to participate or even have their view considered. In many cases, there often are not even requirements that hearings or decisions be made available to the public at all! Even in the case of clear legal error, it is almost impossible to reverse a decision.
The USTR has continued to push out-of-date regulatory concepts into modern trade agreements. These are clearly designed not with the public interest in mind, but with a focus on what's best for the representatives of a few giant companies who are close to the USTR. Helping a few giant multinationals undermine regulations around the globe may be good for future job prospects in the industry, but it's hardly the incentives we should want for public servants.