Given the high stakes these agreements involve, why have we heard almost nothing about them? The obvious answer is that the rich and powerful interests that stand to benefit the most from these treaties are in bed with the interests that own the media outlets most people rely on for daily news.
Pop quiz: What does FIPA stand for? When was it signed and who are the signatories to this agreement? What legal requirements and obligations does this agreement create and what enforcement measures are in place to back them up? How about ACTA? TPP? TTIP? TIFA? LOST?
Give up? Don't worry, there are only a handful of people on the planet who could answer these questions with any confidence and in any degree of detail. Unfortunately for us, that handful of people are the same handful that are negotiating these agreements and who wield the power to undermine the sovereignty of entire nations with a single stroke of the pen.
Given the high stakes that these agreements involve, why have we heard almost nothing about them or the progress of these negotiations? The obvious answer is that the rich and powerful interests that stand to benefit the most from the smooth passage of these treaties and stand to lose the most from too much public scrutiny of the deals are in bed with (and sometimes one and the same as) the rich and powerful interests that own the media outlets that most people still rely on for delivery of their daily news. But the mechanics of how this deception occurs is in fact much simpler to understand and explain: these trade deals are complex, confusing legal documents that require a lot of interpretation and parsing from legalese to understand, and the ramifications of these deals are usually not felt for years or even decades after they come into effect. Perhaps this is best reflected in the fact that, to most people, these deals are little more than a meaningless acronym that they may have seen once or twice but convey absolutely no information about the agreement in question. After all, who's going to be interested in a headline like “Business and NGOs divided over TTIP regulatory cooperation.” Sadly, almost no one. And perhaps that's the point.
Some of the questions about these deals are answered easily enough. What does FIPA stand for? Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement. Other questions are slightly trickier. When was it signed and who are the signatories? Canada has a number of such agreements with over a dozen different countries, from its earliest deal signed in 1991 with the Soviet Union and currently in effect with the Russian Federation to its latest FIPA with China brought into force just this past week. The most important questions, however, the ones dealing with what these deals cover and what their ramifications are, take entire editorial columns to even begin describing. Most people's eyes will glaze over before they get to the details. So let's look at the big picture first before we look at the specifics.
Long-time listeners of The Corbett Report (or listeners of the recently deceased Dr. Stan Monteith) will no doubt be familiar by now with the testimony of Norman Dodd, the former bank manager who served as the chief investigator of the Reece Commission, a Congressional investigation into tax-exempt foundations in the United States that ran from 1952-1954 and was headed by Congressman B. Carroll Reece of Tennessee. Those who aren't familiar with Mr. Dodd's testimony are highly encouraged to watch G. Edward Griffin's 1982 interview with him or read the transcript online, but the operative part of that testimony hinged on what the Reece Commission discovered in the archives of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; namely, that from the time of the inception of the Carnegie Foundation's board in 1908 and throughout the course of that year, the board members debated the question: “Is there any means known more effective than war, assuming you wish to alter the life of an entire people?” As noted in their own archival documents, the board came to the conclusion that war is indeed the most effective way of altering a society, and thus spend the course of 1909 discussing the question: “How do we involve the United States in a war?” Sadly, there is a cold logic to this thought process, but as Mr. Dodd notes, “I doubt at that time if there was any subject more removed from the thinking of most of the people of this country than its involvement in a war.” Never mind that, though; if war is effective, then by golly war will be had. And had it was. By 1917 the United States had become embroiled in war, namely the so-called “Great War.”
But this raises the question: “To what end was this war aiming? If the attempt to involve the U.S. in a war was consciously aimed at as a way of altering American society, what needed altering?” It did not take long for the answer to that question to arrive in the form of the Covenant of the League of Nations. If war is the mechanism by which society's opinions are altered, “covenants” and treaties are the means by which that alteration is codified into law. Thankfully for most Americans, the League of Nations was D.O.A. Despite being championed strenuously by President Wilson and his administration at the international level (for which he was awarded the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize), the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the deal.
Ironically, the sticking point for the Senate was Article X of the Covenant, which obliged members of the League to come to the aid of any member that is subject to external aggression. Republican Senators of the time recognized this provision for what it was: the undermining of Congress' sole and exclusive ability to declare that the United States was at war. This is ironic since as we all know the United States Congress has completely abandoned their power to declare war, with no declaration having been passed by congress since the WWII. It is doubly ironic since attentive observers of global geopolitics will recognize that Article X of the League of Nations Covenant is essentially identical to Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (the basis for NATO), which states that an attack on any NATO member shall be treated as an attack on all of them.
The underlying point is simple: treaties, once ratified by Congress and signed into law by the President, have the ability to override domestic law, even, theoretically, the Constitution itself, in cases where such laws come into conflict. Treaties, then, are the very mechanism by which sovereignty is overridden, a point which has been well understood for decades.
In 1923 the then-Attorney General of the State of Washington, L.L. Thompson, penned an article in the California Law Review entitled “State Sovereignty and the Treaty-Making Power” in which he engaged in a thorough review of the case law, noting that according to the decision of the Supreme Court in Missouri v. Holland of 1920: “an unconstitutional law, if enacted by Congress in the original instance, becomes constitutional if passed pursuant to a treaty contract, entered into between the President and some foreign nation, which has been acquiesced in by the Senate.” That is to say, treaties can overturn any existing law of the land in the United States up to and including the constitution itself.
The same is true of most other nations on earth. This fact has been, is being, and no doubt will continue to be exploited by the forces of globalization for the gradual erosion of state sovereignty in favor of amorphous, unaccountable international organizations and multinational corporations. Exactly as the Carnegie Board would have predicted, it was war that once again reset the table and made the once unthinkable (the ratification by the U.S. Congress of treaties undermining national sovereignty) suddenly thinkable. It is no coincidence that the United Nations, NATO, the Bretton Woods agreement and GATT were all created within the first four years of the end of WWII.
When it comes to the way that these treaties and bodies undermine national sovereignty, most of the scrutiny has fallen on the World Trade Organization (WTO) and its forerunner, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), originally signed in 1947. The specific purpose of the GATT in limiting the ability of nations to defend themselves economically by implementing protective tariffs was specifically underlined by a U.S. delegate at the original GATT drafting session in Geneva in 1947, who argued: “We have introduced a new principle in international economic relations. We have asked the nations of the world to confer upon an international organization the right to limit their power to retaliate. We have sought to tame retaliation, to discipline it, to keep it within bounds. By subjecting it to the restraints of international control, we have endeavored to check its spread and growth, to convert it from a weapon of economic warfare to an instrument of international order.”
As the GATT developed in successive rounds of negotiations, the agreement came to cover a broader and broader range of issues, bringing them within the purview of the international community and taking them out of the hands of national (or state or local) governments to determine for themselves. “Anti-dumping” measures, framework agreements, agriculture and labor standards, environmental regulations, competition, investment, transparency, patents; one by one, each of these areas was folded into the GATT, which itself was eventually codified in an institution, the WTO.
The argument that the WTO was itself nothing more than an attempt to further erode the sovereignty of its member states had an unlikely proponent in the form of Sir James Goldsmith. As heirs of a luxury hotel tycoon, members of a prestigious merchant banking lineage, and neighbours to the Rothschilds, the Goldsmiths had every motivation to join their fellow bankers in promoting the WTO, the EU, and similar international organizations that were set up for the benefit of them and their billionaire friends, but James Goldsmith came out as a fierce opponent of GATT, the WTO, the EU, NAFTA and similar organizations. In testimony to the U.S. Senate in 1994, Goldsmith, a Member of European Parliament on the foreign relations committee who spent much time studying these treaties and institutions, said of the WTO: “one thing which is certain, is bottom line, this is giving up national sovereignty; it can't be otherwise; otherwise why would it exist? What is its purpose? Its only purpose is to impose discipline on all the nations to accept a trading system, and that that discipline should be under the control of all the nations that participate on a 'one vote, one nation' basis. Full stop. That's diminution, dilution of sovereignty. The exact technical mechanisms, legal mechanisms, I would rather avoid because they are too technical.”
This is what is at stake when the headlines gloss over the details of the latest round of negotiations on some confusingly-named and seemingly benign trade treaty: the fact that these treaties by their very nature are attempts to take what few mechanisms of political and economic freedom remain in the grasp of the people away into a realm of unaccountable international institutions and bodies.
What's worse, in recent years governments have begun taking extraordinary measures to make sure that what little opposition they do encounter to the passage of these agreements becomes impossible.
In 2007 mass protests exposed the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral deal started in 2005 that sought to “harmonize” the environmental regulations, trade rules, agricultural standards, pandemic response and security measures of Mexico, the United States and Canada. These protests drew attention to the secrecy of the SPP process, and the fact that, contrary to what Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper asserted, the partnership was not meant to discuss “the color of jelly beans” but set the stage for the creation of a quasi-governmental North American institution which, leaked documents showed, was being secretly directed by multinational corporations and business interests. Quebec provincial police attempted to infiltrate the 2007 protest and use their own masked undercover agents to start an altercation with police, presumably to justify a violent crackdown on the protesters, but their scheme was revealed. The SPP, having received too much attention, withered on the vine and ceased functioning in 2009.
Similarly in 2012 citizens the world over celebrated when the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA)--an attempt to create yet another international institution governing counterfeiting laws, medicine patents, and copyright infringement on the internet—was defeated at the last minute. Activists, alerted to the fact that the treaty contained provisions that would remove due process for those merely suspected of potential copyright violation and even require their Internet Service Providers to actively spy on them, spilled on to the streets of Poland, Slovenia, Sweden and other European countries. These last-minute protests led to the European Parliament withholding its consent, effectively scuttling the deal.
The answer to this people-powered meddling in the globalists' plans? Make these negotiations even more secret and opaque than they already are. As a result, the negotiations surrounding major new trade pacts like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have gone underground to an unprecedented degree. In the drafting of the TPP—a trade deal between 12 of the Asia-Pacific nations that has been described as “NAFTA on steroids”—not only has the contents of the negotiating text been kept secret from the public, even ranking members of Congressional subcommittees were barred from looking at the deal. In 2012 an exasperated Senator Ron Wyden, the chair of a subcommittee on international trade, introduced legislation to force the government's negotiators to allow him to see the document they were negotiating and that threatens to re-write the rules on everything from prescription drug pricing to intellectual property standards to the ability of U.S. manufacturers to “Buy American.” Speaking at the time, Wyden complained: "The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations -- like Halliburton, Chevron, PhRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America -- are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement." Even more outrageous was the fact that the decision to keep the TPP text secret was actually classified as secret itself. In 2013 a massive campaign organized tens of thousands of people to submit angry comments to the United States Trade Representative about this practice, forcing the government to allow a Congressman (Alan Grayson of Florida) to actually read the treaty. His pronouncement? “This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.” Surprise surprise.
This is the same story in case after case. Even in the case of deals that have actually been concluded and are now available for public scrutiny, like the recently completed FIPA (Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement) between Canada and China, there is still enough interpretive wiggle room for different analysts to come to completely opposite conclusions about the deal and its ramifications. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, but sometimes the pudding is not eaten for years and by the time it is (as in the case of NAFTA) it's too late to send it back to the kitchen if it's found to be rotten at the core.
Treaties and trade deals exist for the sole purpose of taking the power away from the people and putting it in the hands of institutions that exist beyond the ability of any citizen to reach or influence it. As Sir Goldsmith said, “otherwise why would it exist?” This fact alone should give Americans (and citizens the world over) pause for thought about the power that is wielded by these trade negotiators and the obedient Congresses and Parliaments who, more often than not, simply rubber stamp these deals. But will it motivate them to continue to expose and protest them as it did the SPP, ACTA, CAFTA, and other failed treaties? We can only hope.