Fixing Free Trade Agreements: Putting People and the Planet over Corporate Profit

Fixing Free Trade Agreements:  

Putting People and the Planet over Corporate Profit 

Today's trade rules are not designed first and foremost to protect workers, the environment or public health.  They are written by corporate lawyers and trade bureaucrats with no citizen input and very little congressional oversight. The rules designed to protect foreign investors and are written with an eye to safeguarding corporate profits. The agreements include a dispute resolution system that allows foreign corporations to sue governments when they feel that laws and regulations, including environmental protections, harm their investments.  Since the establishment of this dispute resolution system in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), numerous cases have been brought forward that threaten the environment and public health. Right now, two cases pending under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) endanger good environmental governance.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the first trade deal to be negotiated by the Obama Administration, presents an opportunity for reform. Considering the history of attacks on environmental protections brought about by bad trade rules, we must call on the Obama Administration to reform the rules in the TPP now and restore a balance between investor rights and the public interest

For the full factsheet see here. 

CAFTA Investor Rights Undermining Democracy and the Environment: Pacific Rim Mining Case

CAFTA Investor Rights Undermining Democracy and the Environment: Pacific Rim Mining Case


Pacific Rim Mining Corp., a Canadian-based multinational firm, sought to establish a massive gold mine using water-intensive cyanide ore processing in the basin of El Salvador’s largest river, Rio Lempa. This proposed project as well as applications filed by various companies for 28 other gold and silver mines, generated a major national debate about the health and environmental implications of mining in El Salvador, a densely populated country the size of Massachusetts with limited water resources.[1] Leaders of El Salvador’s major political parties, the Catholic Church and a large civil society network expressed concerns. In the face of growing opposition, Pacific Rim never completed a feasibility study necessary to obtain an exploitation permit for its mine, called “El Dorado,” and in July 2008 ceased exploratory drilling.[2] In December 2008, the firm filed a claim under the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), demanding hundreds of millions in compensation from one of the hemisphere’s poorest countries. Meanwhile, in El Salvador, the mining debate continues. Intimidation and threats against civic groups have escalated. In the past year, three prominent anti-mining activists were murdered.[3] As the Obama administration begins talks on its first prospective trade pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Pacific Rim CAFTA case again spotlights the concerns that have led many in Congress and U.S. civil society to demand changes to the past model of trade pact investor rights and an end to their private enforcement. Tribunals have ordered over $200 million in payments to investors under similar terms in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).


For the rest of this briefing click here.



[1] Florian Erzinger, et. al, “El Lado Oscuro del Oro,” Unidad Ecologica Salvadoreña (UNES) and Development and Peace report, December 2008, at chapter 1.


[2] Pacific Rim Mining Corp, “El Dorado, El Salvador.” Accessed May 25, 2010. Available at: http://www.pacrimmining.com/s/ES_Eldorado.asp

[3] Matt Kennard, “How Sustainable is ‘Socially Responsible’ Mining?” The Nation, Feb. 17, 2010

Video-Global Investment Rules: Threat to Democracy and the Environment

">Global Investment Rules:  Threat to Democracy and the Environment

Around the world, citizens have been mobilizing to defend their environment and economic sovereignty from transnational corporations, but there is another threat lurking in the shadows that can ride roughshod over our rights.

This is a ">video of the Network for Justice in Global Investment about the ways in corporations take advantage of the International Trade Tribunals to subvert sovereignty and democracy.


 ">Las Reglas Globales de Inversión:  Una Amenaza para la Democracia y el Medio Ambiente

En todo el mundo, ciudadanos/as se han estado movilizando para defender su medio ambiente y su soberanía económica de las corporaciones transnacionales. Aun cuando hemos éxito, existe una amenaza oculta entre las sombras que puede pasar por encima de nuestros derechos.

Este es un ">video de la Red Por la Justicia Social en la Inversión Global  sobre como las corporaciones aprovechan de los Tribunales de Comercio Internacionales para trastornar la soberanía y la democracia.


The costs of ICSID arbitration and the consequences for the enjoyment of social rights in El Salvador

The costs of ICSID arbitration and the consequences for the enjoyment of social rights in El Salvador

February, 2012

By the Foundation for Studies on the Application of Law (FESPAD, a Member of the National Roundtable on Metallic Mining in El Salvador)[1] [2]

Versión en Español

The legal proceedings initiated by the mining company Pacific Rim[3] against the Salvadoran state before the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), is today waiting on a resolution. This is because the three arbiters who will decide the case have been given the task of deliberating at length over the last round of jurisdictional objections put forth by El Salvador. The fact that Pacific Rim has created a subsidiary in the state of Nevada, three years after the beginning of its conflict with El Salvador, to then later claim that it has the right to recourse under the DR-CAFTA, might be considered a form of fraud. The tribunal should take this fact carefully into consideration.

We expect this decision to be given in the next few days. 

At this stage in the process, the best scenario for El Salvador would be a decision on the jurisdictional objections that favors it, and would mean that the case is dismissed. The worst scenario for El Salvador would be that the tribunal allows the proceedings to continue to the next stage, in which both parties would present their charges and defense, and in which responsibilities would then be established.

Pacific Rim demands indemnity for 77 million USD in return for its investment in El Salvador, and the number could reach hundreds of millions of dollars. This is because the company claims that its stock lost value after the permit for a mining concession was denied.

It must be remembered that El Salvador has been placed twice in the defense seat at supranational tribunals. The first occasion was the case presented in mid-2009 by the mining company Commerce Group, with allegations that the country had no legal basis for denying it permits for mineral exploration. Commerce Group demanded compensation of 100 million dollars, along with the re-instatement of its revoked environmental permits, without which the mining project could never exist. The decision came in March of 2011 that this case would not be accepted by ICSID. Regardless, the phase of preliminary objections cost El Salvador 800,000 USD in legal fees.

In the Pacific Rim case, which was also presented in mid-2009 and was accepted somewhat later by ICSID, El Salvador has continued the process of placing objections, which has prolonged the proceedings at a considerable cost. The cost of this case for El Salvador has been estimated at 4.3 million USD. This means that in defending itself against these two cases, El Salvador has already spent a total of over 5 million USD. For El Salvador, a country with very few financial resources, to be paying millions in arbitration, it has the effect of deepening the precariousness for the lives of people whom the state protects the least. It is extremely difficult for our country to assume these costs for arbitration, and the costs have serious economic and social implications for the people of El Salvador.

As one example, those five million USD would have provided one year worth of adult literacy classes for 140,000 people[4].

Those five million USD could have doubled the amounts of scholarships available to middle school students[5].

Five million USD are equal to what the government invests every year in infrastructure and public schools that benefit 384,615 students[6].

The five million USD paid in arbitration are approximately a third of what the government invests in the provision of food for Salvadoran students[7].

The five million USD paid in arbitration equal the full sum of what the government would invest in order to give each public school student a glass of milk every day, to support their nutritional development.

Five million USD in arbitration would cover a fifth of what the government needs to develop its 2012 vaccination program.

Five million USD could serve to feed 60,570 families in temporary housing for a full two weeks during a natural disaster[8].

If this and more can be accomplished with five million USD, how much more could be accomplished with the 77 million USD that Pacific Rim is demanding, or the hundreds of millions it could win from El Salvador?

It is for this very reason that in December of 2011, civil society organizations representing millions of people in El Salvador, the United States, Canada and the world, submitted a petition to ICSID and the World Bank (where the trade tribunal is housed) that asks for respect for domestic judicial processes, the sovereignty of El Salvador, and to have the Pacific Rim case dismissed. We are waiting.

[1] With the support of Jan Morrill. Tranlsation by Lela Singh.

[2] Fundación de Estudios para la Aplicación del Derecho (FESPAD). www.fespad.org.sv

[3] Company of Canadian capital incorporated in the Cayman Islands until 2007 when it moved to the United States to benefit from the DR-CAFTA.

[4] This calculation is made with the data that in 2010 the government spent $2 million on literacy classes for 56,000 people

[5] In 2011 the government spent 6 million USD for scholarships to middle level education students.

[6] in 2012 the government will give either $13 or $25 per student to each school for materials and infrastructure.  The difference in price depends on the type of school the student attends

[7] the 2012 govt has $15.5 dedicated for the school lunch and snack program

[8] the worst natural disaster in Salvadoran history was the tropical depression that hit in October of 2011.  It caused over $650 million in damages and took 34 lives

Mining arbitration has cost $5 million

Mining arbitration has cost $5 million

El Salvador has faced a current suit by Pacific Rim and one that was thrown out by the ICSID.  The pending arbitration demands that the country pay at least $77 million.

By Keny López, La Prensa Grafica

Monday, January 16, 2012 00:00

Translated by Jan Morrill

Defending itself from two arbitration suits for not issuing mining exploitation permits has cost the country a little more than $5 million over a two and half year period.

The corporations Pacific Rim and Commerce Group filed two different suits against the government of El Salvador between June and August of 2009 in the International Centre for Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID)-a branch of the World Bank- arguing that there was not a legal base for the denial of their permits and proceeding by suing the country through provisions in the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).

They are under the umbrella of article 19 of the mining law of the country, approved in 1995, that established that exploration licenses “grants the exclusive right to apply for the respective concessions.”  This law was conceived in order to strengthen the economic activity from mining.  However, the past presidential administration and the current administration have stated that they do not endorse mining.

In the Pacific Rim case, according to information provided to the arbitration tribunal by the  disputing parties, the cost of the company’s defense for the two objections presented by El Salvador (without including preparation for the suit) has been approximately $4.4 million.  The total costs for El Salvador have been an even $4.3 million. 

The compensation that the company, made of Canadian capital and which is suing through a United States subsidiary, would ask for is $120 million (the amount that Pacific Rim alleges represents the loss in value of its stock) .  Alternatively, it would demand $77 million which it claims to have invested in El Salvador, as well as an amount still not specified- but that easily could reach hundreds of millions-in lost profits.

Pacifc Rim has gambled on El Dorado, a mining project located in the department of Cabañas, where it would extract around one million ounces of gold and a little more than a million ounces of silver. 

In the Commerce Group arbitration, the total cost to El Salvador was estimated at $800,000 during the preliminary objections stage, according to documents presented to the tribunal, while the U.S. Company spent around $230,000, because it used its own lawyers. 

In its suit Commerce Group demanded compensation of $100 million, as well as the reinstatement of its revoked environmental permits, without which the mining project could not operate.  The exploitation concession had been given for the San Sebastian (La Union) and San Cristobal (San Miguel) mines to extract gold and silver.

Versión en Español del artículo

Mining for Profits

Mining for Profits

Sarah AndersonIPS Global Economy Project Director

Posted: Huffington Post-12/16/11 02:46 PM ET

The small country of El Salvador has dared to stand up against powerful international gold mining companies. And now they’re dealing with the blowback.

One of the companies salivating over El Salvador’s gold is suing the government for their failure to bow down and grant a permit for a proposed mining project. There is strong local resistance to the project because of concerns it could poison a river that is the source of water for more than half the national population.

The company, Pacific Rim, is demanding in excess of $77 million in compensation, alleging violations of “investor protections” under the U.S. trade agreement with Central America.

For the full article see here