ESW: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Deal That Will Cost Us All

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by Kaeley Pruitt-Hamm, Seattle CISPES

Members from local Seattle-based organizations, including CISPES, met with Representative Adam Smith on September 23 to talk foreign policy. I attended the roundtable meeting for two reasons: to ask him to reject the approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) via “fast track” and to set the stage to ask him to push the Obama administration for a public statement of neutrality in El Salvador’s elections. One might think those two issues wouldn’t go hand in hand, but these are both important issues for those of us who are concerned with democracy, human rights and environmental rights on a global scale.

As I sat at the table with Rep. Smith, I thought about which angle I should take to explain the destructive impacts of the TPP, the largest free trade deal that the US has proposed to date, which involves 12 coastal nations on the Pacific Ocean, though notably not El Salvador. The groups at the roundtable represented a broad spectrum of the social justice and humanitarian aid organizations, ranging from WAmend (for limiting money in politics) to the Alzheimer’s Association. I realized that any angle I took—defending the human right to health care, supporting Salvadoran workers’ right to dignified jobs and a living wage, or corporate abuse of the environment— related to the TPP.

Why should CISPES be worried about a trade agreement when El Salvador is not directly involved? The answer is relatively straightforward: in this globalized economy, trade agreements like the TPP have worldwide impacts. The Salvadoran people are trying to build a long-term model for democratic self-governance and sustainable economic development, and an important aspect of our solidarity with El Salvador involves opposing sweeping laws that seek to hand power over to corporate interests around the globe.

According to Kristen Beifus of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, of which Seattle CISPES is a member, “A super-sized NAFTA [North American Free Trade Agreement], the TPP is a free-trade agreement whereby countries give foreign corporations rights and privileges to encourage investment and global business…The corporate powers granted in the TPP can override domestic laws on environmental health and safety, and labor and citizen’s rights.”

The TPP would involve countries such as the US, Mexico, Canada, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Vietnam, and Japan. But that doesn’t mean that the effects of the TPP wouldn’t be felt all across the globe, especially in the Latin American nations attempting to forge a different path amidst worldwide trends of globalization and the neoliberal rules of “Reaganomics.” Salvadoran daily El Mundo has reported that if the TPP were to pass, over 22,000 jobs would be lost in El Salvador’s textile industry alone, while a whopping 200,000 jobs could be lost across Central America. Many of the jobs lost would result from Vietnam’s textile industry signing off on $0 tariffs on exports under the TPP.

Many countries negotiating the TPP, including the US, should be concerned about job loss, as well as skyrocketing costs of medication, restrictions on the internet as public domain, and countless other corporate dreams-come-true would become an all-too-harsh reality. And guess who’s writing the laws that would restrict democracy and mandate that all disputes be settled by investor-friendly corporate lawyers in private tribunals? According to Washington Fair Trade Coalition research, it’s Cargill, Monsanto, Dow Chemical, Phillip Morris, PhRMA, Microsoft, Chevron, Wal-Mart, the US Chamber of Commerce, and over 600 corporate advisers.

While corporations hog the seats at the table, the public has been given little to no information. Mainstream media has not covered the TPP widely, partly because these media outlets are themselves part of corporate conglomerates and partly because the TPP has been kept a secret—even the names of the chapters of the document are not being made available. In fact, most of the information on the TPP has come from leaked documents.

Furthermore, TPP negotiators are trying to do get the OK from Congress to skip any debate over the text itself. By allowing the TPP to be “fast tracked,” President Obama could sign the agreement right away, without what Rep. Smith called the “difficult” democratic amendment process getting in the way. This is called a “Dracula tactic.” As with the 1999 WTO ministerial in Seattle, trade deals this terrifying can't survive long outside of the negotiating chambers and in the public eye before people catch on and protest.

After our meeting with Rep. Smith, he made an appointment to talk with the US Trade Representative to ask hard-hitting questions about what the TPP would really mean.

Seattle CISPES has been working to educate our community about the dangers of the TPP. With members of SUPER UW (Students United for Palestinian Equality and Rights at University of Washington), we led a workshop on the TPP and free trade as a root cause of migration during our June Solidarity Cycle bike tour. We will be presenting on the TPP and the alternative being built—and threatened—in El Salvador at various events this fall. Seattle CISPES has been calling on our base to pressure members of Congress to not only support democratic elections in El Salvador, but to also vote “NO” on fast track for the TPP.

Unelected officials representing corporate interests are designing a system that does not have the greater good in mind. The passage of the TPP would not only set trends in the opposite direction from that in which the peoples of El Salvador and the US want to go, but it would make those trends incredibly difficult to reverse. Let’s bring a democratic alternative to the table, and let’s stop the TPP before it’s too late. n

To take action on the TPP, visit TPPxBorder.org. If you’re in the Seattle area, visit www.seattlecispes.org to get involved!

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