What do you predict the great-grandchildren of this planet will say after a few decades of ISDS as the global norm?
Nuclear energy, financial crisis debt, carcinogenic substances, research and development funds, drug prices, toxic substance transport. Transnational corporations have been given special legal authority on these and other issues in Canada and the European Union through trade pacts. Meanwhile, countries have lost millions in trade tribunals defending protective laws, paying legal fees and lawsuit fines to corporations.
Years from now, there is no doubt that the great (and ever greater) grandchildren of this planet will ask why we allowed transnationals to overturn our highest courts. If you imagine the possibilities even a little you can almost hear their astonishment: You seriously allowed corporations to cancel laws that interrupted their profits? Did you not see how a special legal power for corporations inside a government framework would impact this generation’s ability to have any hope of electing responsible representation?
Many bilateral investment treaties have included ISDS since the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. It is a legacy of which many in-the-know North Americans feel ashamed. However, an opportunity for other choices may be arising on the global scene. Last week, Germany and France, in response to 132 000 people stating opposition to ISDS, are requesting to change it in the CETA. CETA is a backdoor deal with the US because much of Canada’s economy has been filled with American firms. The majority of US-based transnationals have subsidiaries in Canada and post-ratification, they could launch lawsuits at the EU. This deal also includes a wider variety of sectors for ISDS-suits to emerge like municipal procurement and banking. With European – North American trade regimes that include ISDS we are normalizing the practice of corporations suing citizens for laws that interfere with profit. GDP? New job markets? Is there any possible way to justify this to future generations?
Trade deals set the character of nation to nation relationship. Sadly, trade is now heavily mediated by private interests and few of its sections relate to goods. Wise trade requires a long lens. If a deal is forty years, then potential impacts should be explored for that long. ISDS will be a marker of historic proportion. When people look back at this time, they will want to know about each nation’s role. Maybe the best marker for the quality of a deal will be how often our descendants have cause to say, How could you?