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Yet another example of a system that puts profits ahead of the public good

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As wholesome as mother’s milk. What could be better? Money, of course.

Corporate profits trump babies’ health, each and every time, at least if you’re the U.S. administration. A new report shows American delegates to last spring’s World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva tried to block a resolution in favour of breast-feeding that called for controls on the inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

Acting in the interests of infant formula manufacturers, the American contingent used threats after attempts to water down the resolution.

“The confrontation was the latest example of the Trump administration siding with corporate interests on numerous public health and environmental issues,” reports the New York Times.

“In talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Americans have been pushing for language that would limit the ability of Canada, Mexico and the United States to put warning labels on junk food and sugary beverages, according to a draft of the proposal reviewed by The New York Times.”

It’s another example of how talk about free trade has little to do with trade – and even less with freedom. In fact, NAFTA and the types of deals that followed – CETA, TPP and their ilk – are all about corporate control, subverting the public good in the name of profits as blatantly as moves to protect the $70-billion baby food market put money ahead of the health of mothers and children.

“The Americans also sought, unsuccessfully, to thwart a WHO effort aimed at helping poor countries obtain access to lifesaving medicines. Washington, supporting the pharmaceutical industry, has long resisted calls to modify patent laws as a way of increasing drug availability in the developing world, but health advocates say the Trump administration has ratcheted up its opposition to such efforts,” the newspaper reports this week.

The trouble is that increasingly deals such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership – ironically, one of Trump’s targets in a war that includes bogus stances on NAFTA and even trade itself – aren’t about trade, as tariffs pre-Trump were already zero or so close to it as to be irrelevant. No, these deals, and the TPP in particular, are about enshrining corporatism and eliminating national government control over unfettered capitalism in all its abusive glory.

Moving farther along the “trade” deal continuum, new deals such as the TPP enshrines the right of corporate profit over good public policy, the environment and even people’s lives. Corporations can and will sue governments for impeding profits, able to claim massive compensation from governments if they’re unable, for instance, to offer private health care services in Canada.

TPP-like agreements are no longer primarily about reducing traditional trade barriers. Instead, they’re about policies that have nothing to do with comparative advantage, policies that are often designed to lead to higher consumer costs and concentrated corporate power.

So, the TPP has little to do with trade – and recall that free trade deals have largely been harmful to most Canadians and their working- and middle-class counterparts in the U.S. – but everything to do with increasing the wealth of a few while killing jobs and driving up prices here. On that, many critics – Nobel laureates included – agree.

Many see it as an end-run around sovereign nations and their ability to protect the public good – already a dubious enterprise, given the corrupt and co-opted governments we elect. There will be a loss of governance, higher prices – changes in rules about intellectual property and patents will drive up the cost of items from pharmaceuticals to music – and a downward pressure on wages.

We know, of course, that sweeping trade agreements have largely been harmful for our economy, encouraging the kind of globalization that has gutted the manufacturing sector in Ontario, as it has even in the U.S. heartland.

Language in existing deals such as NAFTA becomes even more pronounced in CETA and the TPP, allowing for end-runs around national governments, essentially constraining their powers. In many ways, its continued deregulation by stealth, as governments would be handcuffed. As parties to the negotiations, they do so willingly, attempting to hide from the public the desire to turn more power over to corporations. Once the agreements are in place, national governments can simply wash their hands of any issues raised by their citizens.

It’s a corporate-friendly agenda, to the detriment of other priorities citizens may have, turning over the levers of control from public hands to private.

It can be argued that liberalized monetary policies and trade deals that favour corporate interests over the well-being of citizens have eroded our standard of living for three decades. The cure, we’re told, is yet more deregulation and globalization, essentially offering a drowning man more water instead of a lifejacket.

It’s the angst over sweeping changes to our economies that has help fuel the rise of populist movements, from the perpetrator of Make America Great Again to Syriza and Podemos. In the case of the U.S., “buy American” provisions have a popular ring to them, just as retaliatory “buy Canadian” movements have taken off in reaction to tariff wars and the Tweeter in Chief’s badmouthing of allies.

The actualities of the trade wars the U.S. have embarked on don’t make sense, but the sentiment does, particularly to the ever-important base. In principle, Western countries under strain from the influx of overseas goods and the insidious trend of outsourcing to offshore locales, which have been more pressing concerns than trade with our U.S. neighbours, with whom we have much more in common on every front … until recently, that is.

Buying locally, especially from small producers and retailers, is the perfect tonic for the globalization that has destabilized the financial system, weakened the domestic economy and lowered the standards and safety of the goods we consume. It may not be that simple, but simplicity and sloganeering are the hallmark of the types of populism we’re seeing in the U.S.

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