Citizens and social justice orgs are rallying at Westlake on Friday to protest the largest free trade agreement since NAFTA.
Seattle’s role in resisting global free trade pacts is the stuff of legend.
Even the newest transplants probably recall the city’s massive protest against the World Trade Organization in 1999. Tens of thousands of protesters clashed with an overwhelmed police force in the streets, successfully shutting down parts of the meeting of the global economic institution.
The WTO protest was the dawning of a new collective activism that united advocates for the planet, labor, human rights, and many other causes, in opposition to a globalized free trade that was understood to threaten each of these agendas.
It has been 15 years since that moment, and 20 years since the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which critics now blame for a host of economic and environmental problems in Mexico, Canada and here in the US.
Now there’s another massive free trade agreement is in the works — the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The countries involved in negotiations include all three NAFTA nations, as well as Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Here are just a few of the reasons opposition to this so called “NAFTA on sterioids” is growing both locally and across the globe:
1. “Pay No Attention to the Plan Behind the Curtain…”
Public access to copies of the trade agreement has been extremely limited — even to legislators — and what we know about the TPP thus far is largely thanks to leaked documents. Wikileaks has published several draft chapters over the past few months.
On top of this secrecy, the Obama administration is trying to push the agreement through Congress without much deliberation. The TPP is slated for a “fast-track” approval process, which only allows Congress members to vote yes or no, not to debate portions or add amendments.
One of the most fundamental objections to the TPP is that the public has a right to know fully what it entails, just as our elected representatives have the right and responsibility to provide oversight. The current process does not honor those rights.
2. Willing to Waste the Planet
At a time when the world is facing multiple environmental crises, the TPP threatens to decrease environmental safeguards. Its draft environmental guidelines are all voluntary, and proposed mechanisms to resolve ecological disputes are non-binding.
Julian Assange, publisher of Wikileaks, released a statement on that website calling the environmental chapter “a toothless public relations exercise.” Furthermore, The Sierra Club has sounded the alarm that the agreement could explode the fracking industry and increase carbon emissions by allowing automatic approval of liquid natural gas exports to TPP countries.
Currently, exports can only proceed after lengthy consideration by the Department of Energy. Japan, which recently joined trade negotiations, is the largest importer of liquid natural gas worldwide and could be an eager market if regulations were relaxed, while the US is one of the largest exporters.
3. A Loser on Labor
NAFTA has been responsible for considerable domestic job loss, and the TPP is expected to continue that trend, just as the government is touting a rejuvenated manufacturing sector.
Over 65,000 US jobs were certified by US Department of Labor as lost due to trade policy between 1994 and 2011, though the actual number is probably much higher.
Here in Washington state over 28,000 manufacturing jobs were lost in that same time period, and the Economic Policy Institute estimates that 10,800 have been lost in our state due to trade deficit with Mexico.
There’s reason to fear that the TPP will cause a backslide in labor conditions in other nations, a so-called “race to the bottom,” and fail to ensure International Labor Organization standards in pursuit of a cheap and flexible workforce.
4. Smothering Intellectual Property Rights
The TPP stands to expand the scope of intellectual property protection rights for businesses. This would increase the costs for generic prescriptions, and make healthcare access more difficult and expensive, especially for those in developing countries. The trade agreement may even make it possible to patent certain surgical procedures.
The intellectual property policies would also impact internet usage, according to analysts at the Electronic Frontier Foundation. They warn that the agreement could limit Internet users’ freedom of expression and privacy, as well as vastly extending copyright law and criminalizing infringement.
5. The Bottom Line: Corporate Power over Governments and Citizens
All of these concerns about the TPP stem from what seems to be its central endeavor—a dramatic expansion of the rights of corporations in trade partner countries.
Government watchdog group Public Citizen writes on their website that the agreement would “elevate individual foreign firms to equal status with sovereign nations,” allowing them to directly sue governments for any domestic laws that might “diminish their expected future profits.”
Essentially, federal governments could be encouraged to strike environmental and health regulations from the books, or else to pay corporations because of them.
Despite the ravages of neoliberalism and the recent frustrations of government gridlock, some of us still harbor an old-fashioned belief: governments elected by citizens are capable of enacting laws in the interest of their health and safety, and those laws should be upheld even against the endless corporate drive for profit. The TPP arrogantly contradicts this sentiment.
Area social justice organizations have perceived need for a collective response. Several, including the Community Alliance of Global Justice and Washington Fair Trade Coalition, as well as local chapters of national groups like the Sierra Club and 350.org, have come together to organize a rally against the TPP this Friday, January 31st, at noon in Westlake Park. The event is part of an Inter-Continental Day of Action, and will happen alongside other demonstrations in Canada and Mexico.
Danielle Freidman, Organizing Director of the Community Alliance for Global Justice, said that a display of public resistance in our region is particularly meaningful now.
“Washington is seen as an important trade state,” Freidman explains, “and we have quite a few Congressional members who are in support of the TPP or on the fence.”
So continues this latest chapter in Seattle’s proud, local tradition of free trade policy resistance.