Trade Deals Will Supplant Democracy with Corporate Tribunals, Warn Critics

Provisions of international trade deals currently under negotiation threaten domestic sovereignty while giving corporations special legal rights, charges a letter signed by more than 100 law professors and sent on Wednesday to congressional leaders and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.

The letter (pdf), organized and released by the Washington, D.C.-headquartered Alliance for Justice (AFJ), specifically opposes the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) language in the corporate-friendly Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the equally troubling Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

“ISDS grants foreign corporations a special legal privilege, the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a government for actions that allegedly cause a loss of profit for the corporation,” the letter reads. “Essentially, corporations use ISDS to challenge government policies, actions, or decisions that they allege reduce the value of their investments. These challenges are not heard in a normal court but instead before a tribunal of private lawyers.”

In particular, the letter points out that in recent years, corporations have challenged numerous regulations aimed at protecting the public interest, “including decisions on plain packaging rules for cigarettes, toxics bans, natural resource policies, health and safety measures, and denials of permits for toxic waste dumps.”

With the environment, public health, and workers’ rights on the line, it’s essential that trade pacts prioritize people over corporations, said AFJ president Nan Aron.

“It is fundamental to our democracy that our justice system treats all equally, regardless of wealth or power,” Aron said. “When laws and regulations protecting everyday Americans are at issue, any challenge should take place in our courts, not before a private tribunal.”

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