State Representative Denise Provost is “appalled” with what is going on in Washington, DC.
The Democratic representative of the 27th Middlesex District might not be a member of U.S. Congress, but two trade agreements being negotiated in secret by the Barack Obama administration – the Transpacific Trade Agreement (TPPA) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment partnership (TTIP) – could have severe impact on the state of Massachusetts and even on the City of Somerville.
But both treaties are so secret that members of Congress, as well as elected officials in many other countries, are only allowed to look at them if they promise not to make copies, take photos, take notes, or even talk about them to anyone.
And, both treaties include language that would allow corporations to sue provinces, states, and maybe even cities, if they felt that laws, rules and regulations were getting in the way of their profits. The system is known as “Investor State Dispute Settlement” (ISDS) and it’s already being used by corporations around the world.
“To have our country entering into an agreement that gives foreign investors the right to come and put their monetary interests over our democratic institutions appalls me,” Provost told Somerville Neighborhood News (SNN) a few days after she gave damning testimony at a U.S. Trade Representative’s hearing in New York City.
At the April 23 meeting, Provost told officials and others present that she fears the state could be sued because firms might claim its comprehensive climate change legislation, enacted in 2008, represents a “non-tariff barrier” to trade.
“The TTIP is riddled with sections which enmesh Massachusetts in a system of international law beyond its control, and beyond its current understanding. TTIP could make Massachusetts a defendant against complaints from foreign investors, claiming that the state’s own laws and decisions amount to a kind of ‘tortious interference with an advantageous business relationship,’” Provost said at the hearing, according to written remarks she supplied to SNN.
Just last month, a US company – Bilcon – sued the province of Nova Scotia and the federal government of Canada after an environmental study determined that a quarry near the Bay of Fundy should not be expanded. Two members of a tribunal of three trade lawyers sided with Bilcon, which is now seeking over $300 million in damages. [Read about it in The Chronicle Herald and The Globe and Mail.]
“ISDS disputes are decided by ephemeral bodies of trade lawyers, with no obligation to apply any laws besides international trade laws, but with the apparent power to fashion their own extraordinary remedies,” she also said at the April 24 hearing.
Thousands of organizations in Europe and in the U.S. oppose TTIP and TPPA. On April 18, thousands of people took to the streets in a number of European cities and on April 27, over 2,000 national churches, unions, non-profits and other organizations who oppose TTIP and TPPA signed a letter urging Congress to deny Obama the “fast track authority” (officially known as Trade Promotion Authority) he is seeking. If he gets fast track authority, he can negotiate the treaties without any interference from Congress.
Provost is outraged that fast track would allow the executive to negotiate in secret.
“Both of them enormous trade agreements,” she told SNN. “I think TTIP alone would cover 43 percent of the world’s trade, the other would sew up most of the rest. And the thing about these agreements is, they are huge and their contents are not public except for the bits that have been leaked.”
Provost is not alone in objecting to the TTIP or the TPPA. But she is worried that voters in Massachusetts don’t understand the far-reaching nature of the laws.
“It’s tremendously far-reaching. Potentially, Somerville’s Styrofoam ban could be challenged by an international investor,” she said.
Why is she spending so much time on an international treaty?
“I’ve spent my entire adult life working for the integrity of government, to protect the taxpayers and to support the rule of law and to make sure that government is adopting good and beneficial policies that reflect the overall will of the people,” Provost said, and that aspects of the TTIP would “ride roughshod over states like ours.”