Journal Doesn’t Get TTIP Memo

May 27th, 2014 · No Comments · economy, energy policy, journalism

By Denise Tessier

Apparently, the Albuquerque Journal editorial board hadn’t seen the memo. Or maybe it did and didn’t care.

How else to explain its editorial advocating – pretty much without reservation – adoption of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? The May 20 editorial, “TTIP would strengthen U.S. and EU economies,” talked about the TTIP as the best way to “promote economic growth, add jobs, expand markets, promote common interests and avert traditional wars without costing taxpayers a penny or adding to budget deficits.”

There was no mention of the secret October 2013 TTIP negotiation memo, published by Huffington Post the day before the editorial, which revealed that among the terms being discussed the U.S. would be under EU pressure to expand fracking, offshore oil drilling and natural gas exploration.

Instead, the Journal editorial parroted statements made by EU ambassador to the U.S. João Vale del Almeida, who touted economic benefits without alluding to the potential power TTIP appears to provide carbon extractive industries over the very nations the editorial says will be united as “equals” under TTIP, capitalizing on their already “similar democratic systems, economies and approaches to industrial and workplace standards.”

Basically, the editorial said, “. . .the United States should be first in line to embrace” TTIP, adding:

Senators, are you listening?

Picking up on the Huffington Post story about the memo, Common Dreams noted (also the day before the editorial) that:

Many European leaders have made no secret that they would like increased access to U.S. natural gas reserves. At a US/EU meeting in Brussels in March ministers pressed Obama to provide better access to U.S. fossil fuel reserves as a way to counter dependence on Russian pipelines from the east. As the Guardian reported at the time:

While European access to the US shale gas revolution is currently constrained by American licensing procedures, a successful conclusion of ongoing ambitious trade talks aimed at creating a transatlantic free trade area would also hasten European access to American gas.

EU officials said they wanted the talks finished by next year while Obama pledged that he would ensure a successful pact would not entail any dilution of consumer or environmental standards under pressure from multinational corporations.

In revealing the memo, however, Huffington Post reported that:

Free trade agreements frequently bind all of their participants to a specific regulatory regime, hindering the deployment of future regulations in response to new problems. Trade pacts are enforced by international courts, which can issue economic sanctions against countries that violate the deals. The proposed EU language would run counter to existing environmental standards that limit the development of the fossil fuel industry.

“It expands a trend in trade negotiations of removing policy decisions from national and local governments and enshrining those policy decisions in international trade laws,” said Sarah Burt, an attorney with the environmentalist legal organization Earthjustice, who has seen the document. Those negotiations, said Burt, happen outside of the public eye and are an “opaque process where trade and economics are elevated above any other values.”

In other words, the trade agreement could interfere with U.S. attempts to regulate carbon-based industries (and other industries, including food production giants) if it is deemed to interfere with the trade promoted under the TTIP.

Those against the elevation of such international agreements over local rule point to the fact that oil companies are already threatening or have filed lawsuits against local governments that ban fracking.

In Canada, a Lone Pine Resources Inc. is threatening the city of Quebec with a $250,000 lawsuit if it does not lift its moratorium on fracking for natural gas under the St. Lawrence River.

Closer to home, Mora County faces two federal lawsuits for its ban on fracking, and, according to The Nation, more than 150 townships and municipalities in the U.S. have passed laws similar to the Mora County ban. San Miguel County has had a moratorium on oil and gas drilling for more than three years and Santa Fe County has effectively kept out oil and gas development through a restrictive ordinance.

(While this could not be confirmed at the time this post was being written, attorney Mike Papantonio claimed on his Ring of Fire radio show Saturday that there is talk in legal circles that Quebec is contemplating a suit against the U.S. to force approval of the Keystone XL pipeline because of last July’s oil-carrying train tanker explosion that killed 47 people and destroyed the Quebec city of Lac-Megantic. Some believe construction of the pipeline will reduce use of trains and highways for transport of the unstable and dangerous Bakken crude being produced in Canada’s tar sands, while others say such traffic will remain steady because of the boom in fracking overall.)

(And as an interesting, unrelated aside, back in February The Nation reported on this bit of ironic corporate hypocrisy: an Exxon Mobile oil CEO and fracking advocate sued to prevent construction of a water tower near his multi-million-dollar horse ranch because the tower, used to store water for fracking, might devalue his property.)

Without elaborating on details of the talks, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., criticized the secrecy behind trade deal negotiations in general and the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement in particular, according to a story in The Nation, which reported her saying:

From what I hear, Wall Street, pharmaceuticals, telecom, big polluters and outsourcers are all salivating at the chance to rig the deal in the upcoming trade talks. So the question is, Why are the trade talks secret? . . . I actually have had supporters of the deal say to me ‘They have to be secret, because if the American people knew what was actually in them, they would be opposed.’

The Journal editorial, however, was less scrutinizing in its view of the trade deals, saying of TTIP:

The Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposal born from the economic crisis, would create the world’s largest free-trade area, aligning the United States with 28 European Union member states.

By aligning, the United States and European Union would not only remove obstacles to trade but would also strengthen participants’ “position in the world,” allowing them to establish high standards for themselves as well as emerging economies. At a base level it could, for example, open up European markets for U.S. meat. At a higher level it could include finding alternatives to Russian gas, enforcing standards to combat climate change, protecting intellectual property rights and using economic strength rather than military might to project power.

“If we get our act together, if we are able to agree on a set of rules and principles, our capacity to influence the rest of the world will be enormous,” Vale de Almeida says. “If we want to promote economic growth, this is a cheap way to do it. It doesn’t cost any public money, it doesn’t add to budget deficits, it doesn’t add to debt. It just opens up opportunities for business and investment.”

The Journal concluded:

America is considered the land of opportunity. In the 21st century, the chance to align with like-minded countries to address myriad economic, environmental and security issues is too good to pass up.

Its only caveat was that:

This foreign policy matter is too important to attempt to “lead from behind.” Strong U.S. leadership is needed to make sure this is a win-win for both sides of the Atlantic.

A win-win for whom – the citizens of those nations, or the corporations that stand to benefit? The editorial makes no distinction.

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