FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Greed Without Limits

by RALPH NADER

The ultimate downfall of the corporate globalizers may be that they know no limits.

Not satisfied with imposing pull-down agreements on the trade in goods, Big Business is looking to do the same thing for services through the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS). Services includes such economic sectors as finance (banking, insurance, pensions), healthcare, telecommunications, construction, travel and tourism, the professions, education and training, express delivery, energy and environmental services. GATS is part of the World Trade Organization (WTO), and now undergoing renegotiation to become more encompassing.

The Wall Street banks and the other service multinationals first want to ensure that countries do not discriminate against foreign service providers. The United States does not let foreign airlines service domestic routes, for example. Such restrictions to protect domestic firms are prevalent in developing countries, and an impediment to the expansionary dreams of the rich country multinationals.

But the multinationals want much more than non-discrimination. Their real goal is to use the language of non-discrimination (they talk about “market access” and “national treatment” for foreign companies) in order to force deregulation and privatization.

A key priority for the service companies is to place a burden on all countries to show that their regulations are the “least trade restrictive” means to achieve a legitimate purpose.

What does this mean? In case after case, the European Union has suggested that the U.S. federalist system — with overlapping regulatory powers between the states and federal government — is an impediment to trade. The argument goes like this: American companies with a bigger presence in the United States can more easily manage to deal with separate regulatory agencies in each state. Foreign companies with a smaller presence cannot negotiate this terrain as easily. Thus, goes the EU argument, regulation should be done at the federal level.

Do we really want to sacrifice important state-level consumer and civil rights protections — for example, interest rate caps, limits on corporate discriminatory practices like redlining, restrictions on predatory lending — because they are inconvenient for European companies? Of course, the real point is not that they are inconvenient for Europeans, but for business. The U.S. companies hope to use GATS to eliminate U.S. regulations — just like the European corporations want to get rid of rules in the EU.

There are relatively weak GATS rules in place now, but ongoing negotiations between nations under corporate influence to tighten them and apply them to more and more services raise serious concerns.

What might a strengthened GATS mean for the United States? It’s too early to say with certainty, but based on a careful analysis of existing proposals, Professor Patricia Arnold of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has raised a set of disturbing questions:

Will GATS weaken efforts to regulate financial markets in the aftermath of the financial and accounting scandals? Already foreign companies are complaining about the reach of the modest Sarbanes-Oxley accounting reform bill, which would require foreign, as well as U.S. CEOs, if they sell stock on the New York Stock Exchange, to attest personally to the validity of their companies’ financial statements. If Wall Street gets its way and achieves a partial privatization of Social Security, will GATS make it impossible ever to bring the program back fully into the public sector? GATS requires countries to pay compensatory damage if they grant new public rights over the supply of a service, she notes, making privatization a one-way street. Would GATS limit efforts to regulate the health insurance sector? The insurance industry argues that service agreements should prohibit restrictions on the types of insurance products allowed on the market. Might this mean a ban on legal requirements that health insurance policies must cover certain medical conditions?

Some will argue these are Chicken Little sky-is-falling concerns. But if the NAFTA-WTO experience shows anything, it is that corporate lawyers will grab onto any crevice in trade rules to hoist corporate interests above the public interest.

Consider the “Chapter 11” investment protections in NAFTA. In a case closely paralleling what might occur in other countries with a GATS agreement, UPS is suing the Canadian postal service for offering express delivery service. The postal service is subsidized for mail delivery, and that subsidy unfairly advantages Canada Post over UPS in the express delivery market, UPS claims.

If Canada Post want to compete in the market, they should set up drop-off boxes separate from mail boxes, employ delivery and sorting staff separate from the people who handle the mail, and handle delivery packages at separate facilities from the mail, UPS argues. Since Canada Post had the temerity not to pursue this economic irrationality, UPS is asking for hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation.

This is actually happening, and other companies are filing lawsuits in each others’ countries against safety regulations, court verdicts and other expressions of domestic sovereignty.

Enough cases like this — and a more dominant GATS will make sure there are many more — may eventually produce a backlash that will bring down the whole WTO-NAFTA edifice. But the damage inflicted in the meantime is too severe. Better instead to prevent new agreements that diminish our living standards and roll back existing ones. For more information on how to stop the GATS, contact Global Trade Watch.

 

More articles by:
May 25, 2016
Eric Draitser
Obama in Hiroshima: A Case Study in Hypocrisy
Ryan Mallett-Outtrim
Does Venezuela’s Crisis Prove Socialism Doesn’t Work?
Dan Arel
The Socialist Revolution Beyond Sanders and the Democratic Party
Marc Estrin
Cocky-Doody Politics and World Affairs
Sam Husseini
Layers of Islamophobia: Do Liberals Care That Hillary Returned “Muslim Money”?
Susan Babbitt
Invisible in Life, Invisible in Death: How Information Becomes Useless
Mel Gurtov
Hillary’s Cowgirl Diplomacy?
Kathy Kelly
Hammering for Peace
Dick Reavis
The Impeachment of Donald Trump
Wahid Azal
Behind the Politics of a Current Brouhaha in Iran: an Ex-President Ayatollah’s Daughter and the Baha’is
Jesse Jackson
Obama Must Recommit to Eliminating Nuclear Arms
Colin Todhunter
From the Green Revolution to GMOs: Living in the Shadow of Global Agribusiness
Binoy Kampmark
Turkey as Terror: the Role of Ankara in the Brexit Referendum
Dave Lindorff
72-Year-Old Fringe Left Candidate Wins Presidency in Austrian Run-Off Election
May 24, 2016
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Financial Invasion of Greece
Jonathan Cook
Religious Zealots Ready for Takeover of Israeli Army
Ted Rall
Why I Am #NeverHillary
Mari Jo Buhle – Paul Buhle
Television Meets History
Robert Hunziker
Troika Heat-Seeking Missile Destroys Greece
Judy Gumbo
May Day Road Trip: 1968 – 2016
Colin Todhunter
Cheerleader for US Aggression, Pushing the World to the Nuclear Brink
Jeremy Brecher
This is What Insurgency Looks Like
Jonathan Latham
Unsafe at Any Dose: Chemical Safety Failures from DDT to Glyphosate to BPA
Binoy Kampmark
Suing Russia: Litigating over MH17
Dave Lindorff
Europe, the US and the Politics of Pissing and Being Pissed
Matt Peppe
Cashing In at the Race Track While Facing Charges of “Abusive” Lending Practices
Gilbert Mercier
If Bernie Sanders Is Real, He Will Run as an Independent
Peter Bohmer
A Year Later! The Struggle for Justice Continues!
Dave Welsh
Police Chief Fired in Victory for the Frisco 500
May 23, 2016
Conn Hallinan
European Union: a House Divided
Paul Buhle
Labor’s Sell-Out and the Sanders Campaign
Uri Avnery
Israeli Weimar: It Can Happen Here
John Stauber
Why Bernie was Busted From the Beginning
James Bovard
Obama’s Biggest Corruption Charade
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
Indian Point Nuclear Plant: It Doesn’t Take a Meltdown to Harm Local Residents
Desiree Hellegers
“Energy Without Injury”: From Redwood Summer to Break Free via Occupy Wall Street
Lawrence Davidson
The Unraveling of Zionism?
Patrick Cockburn
Why Visa Waivers are Dangerous for Turks
Robert Koehler
Rethinking Criminal Justice
Lawrence Wittner
The Return of Democratic Socialism
Ha-Joon Chang
What Britain Forgot: Making Things Matters
John V. Walsh
Only Donald Trump Raises Five “Fundamental and Urgent” Foreign Policy Questions: Stephen F. Cohen Bemoans MSM’s Dismissal of Trump’s Queries
Andrew Stewart
The Occupation of the American Mind: a Film That Palestinians Deserve
Nyla Ali Khan
The Vulnerable Repositories of Honor in Kashmir
Weekend Edition
May 20, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Hillary Clinton and Political Violence
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail