Ken Fuller  writing in the Philippines Daily Tribune

On July 30 last year, this column warned against one of the consequences of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“Hello TTP, Goodbye Development”): governments will be at the mercy of corporations, which will be able to sue if they feel that their “rights” under the treaty have been breached by one nation or another. Here are two paragraphs from that piece:

“And it’s not only developing-country members of the TPP who will find themselves on the receiving end of cases brought by corporations, seeking compensation for profits lost due to regulations that breach the treaty. Regulations in the USA itself will be in the firing line. Dave Brodwin, writing in the US News & World Report on April 19 this year, points out that ‘government entities at all levels in the participating countries will have to change their policies to conform to the agreement. This means dismantling any regulations, safeguards or incentives they have enacted to support their economies and provide better lives for their citizens.’”

“Brodwin starts his piece with a question: ‘When is a Trade Pact not a Trade Pact?’ He then provides the answer: ‘When it protects legacy industries from competition and strips from governments the means to manage their own economies.’”

Sadly, while this kind of madness may increase for countries who sign up to the TPP, it’s not exactly new. Over the last few months, I’ve received a few examples from an environmentalist site called SumOfUs.org. It turns out that when it signs up to an international agreement, a government loses more than its ability to manage its economy. Sometimes, it is threatened if it tries to protect its environment.

Take the example of Costa Rica and the Canadian mining company Infinito Gold. According to SumOfUs, when the small Latin American country refused to allow the company to establish an “open pit, cyanide-leach goldmine in the middle of its most pristine forest,” Infinito Gold decided to sue. It was in 2010 when a court revoked Infinito’s mining concession due to environmental concerns and questions concerning the legality of the undertaking. Just weeks before this decision, Costa Rica’s Legislative Assembly had banned all open-pit mining.

The company claimed that the revocation breached the terms of the bilateral investment treaty between Costa Rica and Canada, but an appeal to Costa Rica’s Supreme Court in 2011 was denied, so Infinito then talked in terms of a suit for $1 billion to compensate it for loss of profits. This led to a storm of protest not just in Costa Rica but also in Canada, and so the company has since retreated from this position, and in February it filed a request for arbitration before a World Bank court. It is now seeking $94 million to compensate it for development costs between 1994 and 2010, along with legal costs and interest.

Across the Atlantic, pesticide giants Bayer, BASF and Sygenta are suing the European Commission for its attempts to save the bee population.

For some time now, there has been concern regarding the collapse of bee populations around the world. This is not a case of tree-hugging environmentalists placing the welfare of animals above those of humans, because bees pollinate 75 percent of all crops and thus are indispensible to the world’s food supply. Scientific evidence shows that, apart from factors such as loss of habitat, the bee decline is linked to the widespread use of neonicotinoid pesticides, which are designed to enter the roots of the crop it is supposed to protect and then spread throughout the plant. Bees feeding on the plant end up dead.

According to SumOfUs, Bayer poured “millions into lobbying and fake science” in a campaign to prevent the European Union imposing a ban on nicotinoids. But it wasn’t only pesticide manufacturers that lobbied against the ban, for the UK’s Observer newspaper revealed last year that the UK government had been playing a double game. While Prime Minister David Cameron was warning the public that the consequences of the loss of the bee population would be grave, one of his ministers, Owen Paterson, was writing to Sygenta to express his disappointment over the proposed ban and to assure the giant company that “our efforts will continue and intensify in the coming days.”

This was all done clandestinely, and so the Observer obtained the Paterson letter by invoking freedom of information legislation. And who, precisely, is Owen Paterson? Now I promise — cross my heart and hope to die — that I’m not making this up, but Mr. Paterson is the UK environment secretary. The government which, as exemplified by Foreign Secretary William Hague’s statement following the recent UN report on global warming, has assured us that is taking a lead on such matters, has for the past two years assigned the job of protecting the environment to a man who, rather than acting to save the pollinators of three-quarters of the world’s crops, sides with the companies that are killing them.

Oh, and on the subject of global warming, it turns out that Paterson is a skeptic! In this, he may be influenced by his brother-in-law, the self-described global-warming “heretic” (and former boss of the collapsed Northern Rock bank), Matt Ridley (see this column’s “Confirmation Bias and Class Interest,” November 29, 2011). Environment Secretary Paterson is also a supporter of genetically modified organisms — but you probably guessed that.

The EC eventually imposed a two-year ban on the use of three neonicotinoid pesticides. This followed a campaign in which petitions signed by millions called for a ban (rather than viewing the 80,000 emails he received on the subject an example of democracy in action, Paterson characterized them as a “cyber-attack”).

Following the ban, the three pesticide giants launched their legal challenges. Will corporate power be able to subvert the attempt of an entire continent to protect its environment? For all our sakes, let’s hope not.


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