Barely noticed by most media outlets, top corporations are finding ways to assert their control over policies nominally designed to serve public interests. Unglamorous trade talks between the European Union and Canada offer a prime example of the headway they are making. Since their launch in Prague last year, these negotiations have largely followed an agenda drawn up by the European Services Forum (ESF). Bringing together Goldman Sachs, IBM, Vodafone and Deutsche Bank, the ESF is determined to usher in a trans-Atlantic investment regime where elected institutions play second fiddle to unaccountable chief executives.
The forum’s principal recommendation is that an EU-Canada trade deal should be modelled on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). More specifically, it wants chapter 11 of NAFTA to be copied and pasted into an EU-Canada accord. That chapter facilitates private firms to sue any of the three governments that signed NAFTA – the US, Canada or Mexico – if obstacles to making profits are encountered. The courts of arbitration provided for by the chapter can issue legally binding verdicts after hearings held in camera. If the ESF has its way, firms would also be able to put the European Union in the dock.
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