Regional Development

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Mary Alice Shemo (left) and Rachelle Armstrong sing songs to raise awareness about the Trans-Pacific Partnership during a rally on Broad Street in Plattsburgh.

Concerns raised about trade agreement

By: ROBIN CAUDELL

PLATTSBURGH — Scope the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership by sifting through the Intellectual Property Chapter released last December by Wiki leaks — or cut to the chaff with Mary Alice Shemo.

“What you don’t know will hurt you, in this case drastically,” said Shemo, a Plattsburgh community activist who led a recent rally protesting TPP, which is viewed in some quarters as North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) on steroids.

TPP is a colossal trade deal between the United States, Canada, Japan, Vietnam, Brunei, Singapore, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru and Mexico. And more can join the treaty party.

SECRETIVE DISCUSSIONS

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, has been negotiated in the strictest secrecy since 2008,” Shemo said. “That, in itself, is worrisome. There’s no need for so much secrecy if a trade deal is on the up and up.

“In fact, former United States trade representative Ron Kirk defended the secrecy, saying that if people knew what is in it, they’d object so much that it would never be signed.

“The trade office is negotiating on behalf of the corporations, not the American people,” Shemo said. “It is narrowly focused on maximization of profits for mega-corporations, whose representatives are the only ones that have had input into the text.”

‘TOXIC CONCEPT’

Shemo said TPP masquerades as a free-trade agreement but only five of the treaty’s 29 chapters focus on trade.

“The only thing free about it is the freedom for multi-national corporations to operate just as they please, without restraint, oversight or accountability,” she said.

“The rest is based on the toxic concept of ‘non-tariff barriers to trade,’ meaning anything that corporations even think might interfere with ‘expected future profits,’” Shemo said.

“Food and product-safety laws, clean-air and -water regulations, worker protection and more all come under that rubric.

“Free trade only works if there’s vigorous competition, yet for 50 years corporations have been deliberately destroying competition. The invisible hand which supposedly corrects imbalances has been amputated.”

SENATOR PRESSES ACCESS

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has called for transparency in TPP’s trade negotiations. In a June 2013 floor speech, she opposed the nomination of Michael Froman for U.S. trade representative.

“For months, the trade representative who negotiates on our behalf has been unwilling to provide any public access to the composite bracketed text relating to the negotiations,”  Warren said. “The composite bracketed text includes proposed language from the United States and also other countries, and it serves as the focal point for negotiations.

“The trade representative has allowed members of Congress to access the text, and I appreciate that. But that is no substitute for public transparency.”

TRADE TRIBUNALS

The protections that the last three generations struggled for could be overturned at the stroke of a pen, in Shemo’s estimation.

“A system of trade tribunals already created by the WTO (Word Trade Organization) and NAFTA would be strengthened,” Shemo said. “It’s called investor-state dispute resolution, which sounds harmless, even friendly … Uh-uh. Cases are heard by three judges who rotate from their regular jobs as corporate lawyers. As you might imagine, judgments don’t tend to come down against corporations.

“Already countries have had to pay corporations some half-billion dollars in judgments. Another $14 billion are waiting to be heard.

“Yes, corporations get to sue countries over those ‘barriers to trade’ already mentioned. The effect is to discourage governments at all levels, down to local, from doing anything to protect their people against corporate rapacity.

“Allowing TPP to become a reality would be like putting a crocodile in the town swimming pool. Very discouraging.”

SMALL-BUSINESS WORRIES

Shemo cites the American Small Business Institute, which stated small and new businesses would be greatly impacted.

“Only big, well-established corporations would benefit,” she said. “For example, fossil fuels are big and well-established while alternative energy has barely gained a foothold. Yet coping with climate change requires using more alternatives and less fossil fuels.”

PRESCRIPTION COSTS

TPP’s Pacific-rimmed fingers would reach inside the bottles of your antibiotic, Shemo says.

“Medicine would become more expensive because Big Pharma would be able to extend the patents on their brand-name drugs almost indefinitely, for a variety of reasons.

“Generics would be long delayed in appearing. Internet use and freedom would be severely curtailed.”

TALKS RESTARTING

TPP talks are slated to resume this month. If NAFTA was a wash, TTP is a super tsunami in Shemo’s eyes.

“Maximization of profit is already giving us resource depletion and climate change,” she said. “It gave us the economic crash of 2008. It already claims to be the most important thing, but TPP would make it the only important thing. We cannot allow it to be foisted upon us.”

Shemo encourages people to check out online TPP resources to get informed and get active.

“Other bad-trade agreements have been defeated,” Shemo said. “Once people began to see how harmful these so-called ‘free trade’ agreements were, they began to fight back.

“It won’t be easy,” she said. “It won’t be quick. It will take a lot of determination, a lot of persistence, a lot of hard work and most of all, a lot of us, but it can be done.”

Email Robin Caudell:rcaudell@pressrepublican.com

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ON THE WEB

www.ustr.gov/tpp www.wikikleaks/tpp/ www.flushthetpp.org www.citizenstrade.org/cwww www.Exposethetpp.org www.sierraclub.org/trade www.EyesOnTrade.org

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