Sunday, August 14, 2005

CAFTA and the Administration's contradictory positions on sovereignty

Daphne Eviatar, a contributing editor to American Lawyer and a 2005 Alicia Patterson Fellow, has a piece in today's Washington Post Outlook on a provision of CAFTA that that allows for " 'investor-state arbitration' provisions [that] actually hand foreign businesses powerful rights that trump the interests or desires of local citizens." It's worth quoting at length:

How can a multinational corporation that objects to local environmental, health or safety regulations sue a national government? That license is provided under NAFTA. Once CAFTA is signed, it will provide the same right. In each case, a provision of the agreement allows a foreign corporation to sue a national government for money damages if it believes that the actions of the federal, state or local government in a given country are discriminatory, violate international law or can be considered -- directly or indirectly -- an expropriation of the company's investment. If complying with an environmental regulation makes a project no longer worth the cost, a company can claim that its investment has been expropriated by the state.

Whether the company is in the right won't be decided by an independent judge, however. Rather, it will be decided by a panel of three private international arbitrators chosen by the parties involved. These arbitrators are often corporate lawyers, who, in another suit, could be representing the investor. Affected citizens are not parties to the case. The government's right to protect the water supply in Guatemala, then, could be decided by British or American lawyers, for instance.

Eviatar then quotes some credible legal sources about a similar issue that came up in NAFTA:
Still, many legal experts argue that the provisions violate state and national sovereignty: They allow foreign investors to make an end-run around the federal courts, which usually rule on the legitimacy of public laws. As Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote after NAFTA's adoption: "Article III of our Constitution reserves to federal courts the power to decide cases and controversies, and the U.S. Congress may not delegate to another tribunal 'the essential attributes of judicial power.' Whether our Congress has done so with respect to tribunals created by different treaties and agreements is a critical question." John Echeverria, executive director of Georgetown University's Environmental Law and Policy Institute, puts it more starkly: "Congress is virtually sleepwalking through a revolutionary, and likely highly destructive, alteration of the American constitutional system of government."
Finally, she underscores the hypocrisy of the Bush administration position on the issue:
These arbitration provisions also highlight the inconsistency of the Bush administration's approach to sovereignty under international law. According to many legal experts (including lawyers now bringing these claims), the significance of investor-state arbitration provisions, which wasn't clear at the time NAFTA was enacted under the Clinton administration, in the last few years has become so. The Bush administration has refused to sign the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gases and the treaty creating the International Criminal Court on the grounds that these treaties threaten U.S. sovereignty. But when it came time to push for Congressional support of CAFTA and other trade pacts that compromise U.S. sovereignty for the benefit of big business, the administration's concerns about the integrity of our legislative and judicial system had disappeared.
Well said.

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