Trial Lawyers on Trade Policy

The U.S. Trade Representative’s press schedule today lists a meeting:

Deputy United States Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro will meet with former Congressman Tom Downey and the Amazon Defense Coalition (ADC) to discuss renewal of the Andean Trade Preference Act.
Washington, DC
1:30pm EDT
Closed Press

The issue is whether Ecuador has lived up to the requirements — such things as protection for investment, an adherence to the rule of law — to receive U.S. trade preferences under the Andean Trade Preferences Act. Of course it hasn’t. The National Association of Manufacturers supplied a statement last November to the House Ways and Means Committee detailing the predations of President Rafael Correa’s government against foreign investors.

Ecuador [has] continued to abuse foreign and domestic investors, including using the judiciary and police as harassment arms for the political leadership, rather than independent bastions of and protectors of democracy and rule of law. Over the past five months we have also seen the President of Ecuador issue decrees to revoke patent protections for international pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical manufacturers and threaten to annul many of Ecuador’s long-standing investment treaties including the Ecuador-U.S. Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) which has been in force and benefiting both parties since 1997.

Investor’s Business Daily added a tough editorial earlier this month after Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s gave Correa a warm personal and policy embrace in Quito:

Correa is one of the most anti-American leaders in the hemisphere. He has trashed democracy in his own country, taking over the National Assembly by ousting elected lawmakers on spurious legal grounds. His rubber-stamp legislature now structurally resembles that of communist Cuba.

He’s also corrupted the judicial system, taking over the Supreme Court and making every judge a crony. Small wonder recent tapes show rulings-for-sale by an Ecuadorean judge in a $26 billion lawsuit against Chevron. Now Correa’s going after the press, jailing even leftist reporters and shuttering 95% of the private media.

The Chevron dispute is one important issue, as Ecuador’s government lines up with U.S. trial lawyers and activists to rig their $27 billion lawsuit against the company. The anti-Chevron activists at the Amazon Defense Coalition — El Frente de Defensa de la Amazonía* —express outrage when Chevron objects to trade preferences for Ecuador. Rep. Linda Sanchez (D-CA) has excoriated the company’s lobbying, calling it extortion. (Chevron makes no apology for pointing out Ecuador’s corruption, nor should it.)

It is amusing to see the Amazon Defense Coalition so overtly engaged in the lobbying game. The ADC’s flacks are always claiming the moral high ground, wrapping their causes in the alpaca cloak of global environmental justice and throwing around ridiculous terms like “Amazonian Chernobyl.” Yet now the group is down in the D.C. dirt, appealing to the U.S. Trade Representative for the extension of U.S. trade preferences to Ecuador. Shall we call that extortion or just hypocrisy?

Call it revealing hypocrisy. According to the USTR schedule cited above, the Amazon Defense Coalition is being accompanied by Tom Downey, the former Congressman from New York and well-known lobbyist. But Downey is not a lobbyist for the Amazon Defense Coalition. According to House lobbying disclosures, Downey represents the Law Offices of Steven R. Donziger, the New York trial lawyer driving the contingency fee litigation against Chevron. (The Philadelphia firm of Kohn, Swift and Graf is financing the lawsuit; Downey represents them as well.)

So U.S. trial lawyers are lobbying to preserve the trade preferences for the anti-American, anti-business, anti-rule-of-law government of Ecuador, where a corrupted judicial system could reward those same U.S. trial lawyers with billions of dollars.

Outrageous? Of course. But to anyone watching this theater piece play out, it’s hardly a surprise.

* Frente recently associated itself with the lobbyists of Sharp & Barnes.

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