There was a time when borders were wide open for people and much more restricted to capital flowing in or out of countries. Only toward the end of the 20th century did it change when significant controls were enacted to restrict people’s ability to cross borders while money could flow freely.
For centuries, nation-states could use their vast powers to protect their fledgling industries from outside competition. A perfect example is Japan’s auto industry, which never would have grown to its dominant world position today had Japan’s borders been wide open to other auto companies.
But today, capital is king. The power of large, international corporations far surpasses that of most nation-states’ governments. Armed with so-called free trade agreements, these immensely powerful multi-national corporations are literally blackmailing smaller nations. The examples are staggering.
For instance, El Salvador, which is densely populated, has put a moratorium on mining permits. So Vancouver-based mining company Pacific Rim has recently taken El Salvador’s government to task for trying to protect its citizens from the environmental and social degradation that will surely result if Pacific Rim proceeds with its plans for a gold mine.
To make matters worse, using the arbitration mechanisms available under the World Trade Organization, Pacific Rim does not even have to give El Salvador its day in court. Instead, the matter will be determined behind closed doors by a WTO bureaucrat. Should El Salvador lose, the damages would literally bankrupt this tiny nation.
In another case, Philip Morris is using a bilateral trade agreement between Uruguay and Switzerland (where it recently moved to from the U.S.) to sue the small South American country for increasing the size of health warnings on cigarette packages.
These examples, which are the tip of the iceberg, illustrate just how powerful corporations have become.
Now lets turn to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If this agreement is approved, the governments of all signatories — including Canada — will be prohibited from enforcing all kinds of legislation and safety standards we have come to expect if it means interfering with trade. That includes health and safety regulations on importing foods.
Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! recently discussed the downside of the TPP. For instance, in Vietnam’s fast-growing farmed prawn industry, the lagoons are filled with raw sewage and, in turn, massive amounts of antibiotics to keep the prawns alive. So the final product is dubious, to say the least. The TPP, if it’s approved, would do away with our ability to ban or even significantly limit this import.
Given all of the above, I’m so pleased that one Vancouver city councillor has decided to put the TPP on the municipal agenda. Green City Councillor Adriane Carr has put a motion on notice for the November 17 Council meeting that the City Of Vancouver oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
She points out — just as the prawn example illustrates — how damaging the TPP will be to us at a national level. She rightly goes on to emphasize that negative impacts at the municipal level are no less significant, giving “… multinational corporations excessive power to undermine the authority of our city, province and country to create reasonable rules and regulations regarding environmental, health and labour safeguards, climate policy, food safety standards and protection of local jobs and businesses.”
When I was on City Council, I was proud to succeed in getting an ethical purchasing policy approved. I suspect that this policy would also fall victim to the TPP if it’s approved.
So let’s open our borders to people and think twice before we give corporations carte blanche to move money and products across our borders.
Sign up now to speak in favour of Adriane Carr’s motion! (Let’s keep our fingers crossed that enough speakers sign up so that on Nov. 17th, Council refers this to a Standing Committee.)