Food, Water, Health, Life: UN Experts Warn of Threats Posed by Secret ‘Trade’ Deals

The human rights stakes are too high to keep so-called “free trade” deals secret, say UN experts. (Photo: Syd Stevens, Overhead Light Brigade San Diego)

‘All draft treaty texts should be published so that Parliamentarians and civil society have sufficient time to review them and to weigh the pros and cons in a democratic manner,’ say officials

By Sarah Lazare

Echoing the protests of civil society organizations and social movements around the world, a panel of United Nations experts on Tuesday issued a stark warning about the threats that secret international “trade” agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) pose to the most fundamental human rights.

“Our concerns relate to the rights to life, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, science and culture, improved labor standards, an independent judiciary, a clean environment and the right not to be subjected to forced resettlement,” reads the statement, whose ten signatories include Ms. Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Special Rapporteur on the rights of person with disabilities and Ms. Victoria Lucia Tauli-Corpuz, Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples.

In particular, the officials raise the alarm about the “investor-state dispute settlement” systems that have become the bedrock of so-called “free trade deals,” included in 3,000 agreements world-wide, according to the count of The New York Times. Popularly known as corporate tribunals, ISDS frameworks constitute a parallel legal system in which corporations can sue state governments for allegedly impeding profits and thereby supersede democratic laws and protections.

The UN experts warn that “ISDS chapters are anomalous in that they provide protection for investors but not for States or for the population. They allow investors to sue States but not vice-versa.” Under this framework, states have faced penalties for “for adopting regulations, for example to protect the environment, food security, access to generic and essential medicines, and reduction of smoking, as required under the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, or raising the minimum wage,” resulting in a “chilling effect,” the officials warn.

Notably, the experts declare that “All draft treaty texts should be published so that Parliamentarians and civil society have sufficient time to review them and to weigh the pros and cons in a democratic manner.”

The recommendation comes amid heightened controversy over the administration of President Barack Obama’s refusal to publicly disclose basic information about three mammoth pacts currently under negotiation: the TPP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trade in Services Agreement.

Furthermore, the call was issued the same day that WikiLeaks took the unusual step of announcing a bounty of $100,000 for the full text of the TPP, declaring “the transparency clock has run out.”

Ultimately, the officials conclude, the human rights stakes are too high to keep these deals secret: “There is a legitimate concern that both bilateral and multilateral investment treaties might aggravate the problem of extreme poverty, jeopardize fair and efficient foreign debt renegotiation, and affect the rights of indigenous peoples, minorities, persons with disabilities, older persons, and other persons leaving in vulnerable situations.”


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  1. June 2, 2015 at 8:35 pm

    FDL alum, Ian Welsh, penned a chilling post on Friday… Fourteen Points on the World Economy as the US GDP Drops .7 Percent

    …Let me put this another way: The developed world is in depression. It
    has been in depression since 2007. It never left depression. Within
    that depression, there is still a business cycle: There are expansions,
    and recessions, and so on. Better times and worse times.

    While cheap solar is a big deal, it is not yet deployed sufficiently
    to break the “widespread demand will crash the economy through oil price
    increases” problem, and this is exacerbated the by the deadlock rich
    elites have on most of the world’s politics and economic policies, since
    it is not in their interest to solve problems, but only to become more
    rich. Not that solving problems is something they mind, if it makes
    them richer and keeps everyone else poor.

    The world still has very few problems we couldn’t solve if we acted
    on them in a productive way (though some, like climate change and the
    great die-off, are beyond the point of no return for catastrophic
    damage), but that’s largely irrelevant while public policy remains in
    the hands of oligarchs. There is some reason for hope, as left-wing
    parties rise in Europe, but those green shoots are still nothing but
    green shoots.

    I suggest that my readers who are able to make money do so now, you
    may soon find that you can’t. This is especially important if your
    employment is precarious. Take care of yourselves, and take care of
    each other, unless you are lucky enough to live in the few rich, social
    democratic states left, you cannot expect much aid from your

  2. June 2, 2015 at 8:44 pm

    b @ Moon of Alabama expanded on Ian’s post… The Current Overproduction Crisis And War

    …There are then two solutions to such an crisis.

    One is to tackle the underconsumption side and to change the
    distribution of an economy’s profits with a much larger share going to
    “workers” and a smaller share going to “owners”. This could be achieved
    through higher taxes on “owners” and redistribution by the state but
    also through empowerment of labor unions and like means. But with
    governments all over the world more and more captured by the “owners”
    the chance that this solution will be chosen seem low.

    The other solution for a capitalist society to a crisis of
    overproduction is the forced destruction of (global) production
    capabilities through a big war. War also helps to increase control over
    the people and to get rid of “surplus workers”.

    The U.S. was the big economic winner of World War I and II.
    Production capacities elsewhere got destroyed through the wars and a
    huge number of global “surplus workers” were killed. For the U.S. the
    wars were, overall, very profitable. Other countries have distinct
    different experiences with wars. In likely no other country than the
    U.S. would one find a major newspaper that arguing that wars make us safer and richer.

    I am therefore concerned that the intensifying crisis of
    overproduction and its seemingly casual preference for war will, in
    years to come, push the U.S. into starting a new global cataclysmic

    Neoconservatives like Victoria Nuland tried to goad Russia and the EU
    into a big war over Ukraine. The top lobbyist of the military
    industrial complex, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is trying to instigate a war between China and its neighbors over some atolls in the South China Sea. The U.S. is at least complicit in the rise of the Islamic State which will leave the Middle East at war for the foreseeable future.

    Are these already, conscious or by chance, attempts by the U.S. to solve the problem of global overproduction in its favor?

  3. Bluedot
    June 2, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    I don’t personally follow the bible of overproduction. It does make an interesting tale though. I do believe in the business cycle and competition for resources, markets and profits. Those things lead to recessions and sometimes wars. And given the current state of world governments, no one much gives a shit about unemployment, poverty or other human needs or even, it appears about slavery. We are not able to organize to fix it. There is a fix, but the bible right here says, and I agree, it is all hopeless—- at least for the time.

  4. June 2, 2015 at 9:44 pm

    The TPP, TTIP, and TISA all solidify the Oligarchy’s iron-fisted rule, bd…! 8-(

  5. Bluedot
    June 2, 2015 at 9:53 pm

    Nice summary. We actually have a few lefties here too. But we also have Citizens United. So I learned not to hold my breath.

  6. Bluedot
    June 2, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    They are laws for the oligarchs. In a sane world they would facilitate trade. But we don’t live there. TPP may even allow slavery.

  7. Chris Maukonen
    June 2, 2015 at 10:01 pm

    There would not be a problem if it were not known by everyone that corporations – especially multinational corporations – were evil incarnate.

  8. JamesJoyce
    June 2, 2015 at 11:41 pm

    Citizens United protects money as speech. Scott vs. Sanford protected people as property to be exploited for energy. Money now deemed speech as Scott was deemed inferior, therefore property-will buy the servitude of the American people to corporate energy as Scott was in servitude to his master, under the color of law. Last time around we had Amendments to the constitution after civil war. Maybe we should be proactive to avoid a repeat? I do not believe corporation are people, money is speech or that Scott was inferior….

    The only thing inferior here is the logic embrace by Taney’s Court when a House was divided and Aristoi occupied an Antebellum Senate crippled over an old monopoly on energy. Robert’s court has essentially pulled a repeat.

    Today it’s the modern energy monopoly buying the pitched pitches from which benefits are inured by monied interests at republic’s expense as back in 1857. Again money as speech buys American’s “servitude,” involuntary in nature to corporate.

    It already has……

  9. JamesJoyce
    June 2, 2015 at 11:55 pm

    .56 cents per hour? Might as well be slavery! Nice Job Nike. Sounds like good old fashioned colonial mercantilism on crystal meth to me, aka as Globalism? You know… What a King did to some colonist in a Bay colony that gave us a guy named Washington?

    I do believe this is why the bill of rights is so important. These rights were intended to be universal. Then came Scott!

    It is a sad testament to our society the use of “discrimination,” and the rationales used to justify behavior of corporations and government when undermining and usurping god given inalienable right of men…..

    Societal dementia has set in from soma abuse…..

  10. karenjj2
    June 3, 2015 at 12:19 am

    Hey! I’m at firedoglake and see the comments! And if this posts, it’ll be first time since switch to disqus.

  11. karenjj2
    June 3, 2015 at 12:23 am

    it worked! how ’bout that?! Came in via disqus fdlmedia group link. will try firedoglake direct next. see if late nite works.
    12:22a EDT 3jn

  12. karenjj2
    June 3, 2015 at 1:07 am

    Nope, didn’t work via fdl or fdlmediagroup; could be due to heavy load of videos in latenite thread–have a lot of flashing & blinking with text appearing then disappearing. ah well, we’re getting there.

  13. Bluedot
    June 3, 2015 at 10:48 am

    Yes and there are actual slave camps in Malaysia and Indonesia.

  14. Zak Browne
    June 3, 2015 at 11:45 am

    I have no hope for Hillary, but if any other candidate claims they are anti TTP, let them make a pledge that if elected, they will roll back, renounce, all the trade deals. Anything less than this is not credible. I have no hope for any of the Repubes, but any of the so called left candidates, Bernie, O’Malley or Chafee, if they are really honest, should be able to say that. Plus, that should put a brake on O’s free trade zeal, knowing that all this work might be for naught, undone. While it is true that it may not be possible to roll back trade deals, but enforcement is still in the hands of the executive branch, and if not enforced, it is as good as dead. Just look at the Wall Street. While it is true that there exist necessary laws to prosecute these criminals, yet they are not being used. And machinery can be gummed up.