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VIDEO: The Dark Side of Investment Agreements (Transnational Institute)

The Transnational Institute, a progressive European think tank, has a new video on the role of investment treaties in cementing and enhancing corporate power globally. “Movements around the world have put the spotlight on bailouts and tax evasion that have enriched the 1% at the expense of the 99% but this is only part of the picture,” says TNI. Their video “exposes how international investment agreements are also at the heart of an international economic system that is enriching a small corporate elite at the public expense.”

For example:

• Corporate lawsuits against governments have risen by almost 1200% since 1990

• Argentina’s legal bill for fighting corporate lawsuits has come to US$ 912 million, equivalent to the annual average salary of 140,000 teachers or 75,000 public hospital doctors

• Corporate lawyers, based mainly in the UK and US, are earning around $800 dollars an hour encouraging corporations to sue governments

Though the video focuses on how corporations and lawyers based in the Global North use investment treaties to attack public policies in the Global South, the message will resonate in Canada — the sixth most sued country in the world under this regime. Canada recently lost a NAFTA investment lawsuit initiated by Exxon Mobil and Murphy Oil against an R&D funding requirement in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Harper government also just lost its top trade lawyer to private law firm Bennett Jones LLP, one of several Canadian outfits that specializes in helping companies sue governments using extreme investor rights in trade agreements. Why not? $800/hr beats public service any day, right?

His Bennett Jones bio says that since 2009, Matthew Kronby was head of Canada’s Trade Law Bureau, which he has worked in for 15 years, representing Canada before WTO panels and leading legal teams “in numerous high-profile, ground-breaking trade disputes, including arbitrations on aircraft subsidies, biotech products, automotive trade and softwood lumber, and in investment arbitrations under the NAFTA.”

Apart from exposing a revolving door between former politicians and civil servants working on trade agreements and the private law firms that help companies maximize the damage these deals can cause, Kronby’s move opens up a gap in the Canada-EU trade negotiations, where he also acted as lead lawyer.

For more on revolving doors, investor rights and the legal profession, see TNI’s joint report with Corporate Europe Observatory, called Legalised Profiteering: How corporate lawyers are fuelling an investment arbitration boom.