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Getting Action: Dragging the TPP Out of the Shadows

Introducing the TPP

After failing to gain approval for the Free Trade Area of the Americas in 2005 following mass public mobilization, the focus of corporate-driven US trade policy shifted to bilateral and sub regional trade agreements. Dubbed ‘NAFTA on steroids’ by campaigners, the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) is one of the largest regional trade and investment agreements to date.

The talks, which began in 2007, now involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States and Vietnam. The areas covered in negotiations include intellectual property, procurement, financial sector regulation and investor-state dispute mechanisms. Despite the wide-ranging implications for the countries involved the negotiations are closed to the public but remain open to 600 corporate lobbyists who can comment on the draft texts in real time.

This latest corporate power grab has not gone unnoticed. When a leaked chapter of the text revealed the extent of proposed investor rights, 100 eminent jurists from the countries involved wrote an open letter expressing concern that the rights would override the jurisdiction of domestic legal systems. These investor rights allow corporations to bring lawsuits against democratically elected governments for implementing social or environmental policies that affect their investments. Meanwhile labor, environmental and social justice organizations have been mobilizing grassroots resistance. In our latest Getting Action blog post Arthur Stamoulis of the Citizen’s Trade campaign against the TPP asks why so little public discussion of the TPP is taking place – and points out where grassroots action is happening to confront it. 

Thomas McDonagh
Project Coordinator, the Democracy Center

For more on the injustices of the current system of global investment rules, visit The Network for Justice in Global Investment, a Democracy Center project.

Dragging the TPP Out of the Shadows

by Arthur Stamoulis

When argues that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could be “the most significant foreign and domestic policy initiative of the Obama administration,” they’re not exaggerating.

Labor unions have warned that the TPP would offshore jobs and “undercut worker power in the United States, China and throughout the world.” The Sierra Club believes the TPP could “increase dirty fracking and carbon emissions; put sensitive ecological areas at risk; and increase natural gas and electricity prices.” Consumer groups say it would “impose limits on domestic financial regulation.” Doctors Without Borders asserts it is likely to “roll back public health safeguards…making it harder to gain access to affordable generic medication.” The ACLU calls the TPP “the biggest threat to free speech… you’ve never heard of.”

If the TPP is such a big deal, why the hell have you heard so little about it?

One major reason has to do with the secretive process in which the TPP is being negotiated. Despite having completed 14 major rounds of talks over a period of several years, U.S. negotiators still refuse to tell the American public what they’ve been proposing in our names. (Meanwhile, they’ve granted approximately 600 corporate lobbyists special “cleared advisor” status that allows them to review and comment on draft texts in real time). Even Senator Ron Wyden, who chairs the Senate subcommittee charged with overseeing trade policy, has complained:

“The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations — like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast and the Motion Picture Association of America — are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement.”

Another reason you’ve heard so little about the TPP is the sorry state of journalism in the United States. In Japan, a country that’s not even part of the TPP yet, there are reportedly books on the bestseller list about the Trans-Pacific Partnership. That’s “books,” plural. Back stateside, the TPP has failed to pique most corporate media outlets’ interest.  Even most of the independent “left media” has failed to give the issue sustained coverage.

With government and the media failing to keep the public informed, it’s up to all of us to drag the TPP out of the shadows — grassroots-style. There’s a reason why the TPP’s architects want to keep it secret. It’s because they know that, other than with a stake through the heart, there is no better way to kill a bloodsucking vampire like the TPP than by exposing it to the light of day.

Over the past year or so, TPP demonstrations in ChicagoLos AngelesDallasSan DiegoVirginia and elsewhere have helped raise initial murmurs about the TPP in progressive circles, putting the first cracks in the wall of silence. Building off that initial interest, national grassroots organizing calls are now taking place monthly to update activists on the status of the TPP negotiations and share information about timely organizing opportunities, such as sign-on letters, Congressional “dear colleagues,” bird-dogging campaigns and more. 

On December 1st activists from Canada, the United States and Mexico will gather in the Pacific Northwest for a cross-border organizing summit and rally at Peace Arch Park, launching a new tri-national campaign to defeat the TPP. Organizers’ hope is to convince over 1,000 organizations across the continent to adopt a position on the TPP within just a few months’ time, and then to start educating their bases and mobilize on it.

It’s worth noting that each of the recent and forthcoming events has brought people together across issue areas and across national borders, helping to re-invigorate the “movement of movements” that educated people about the threats posed by past corporate power grabs like the World Trade Organization’s “Millennial Round” and the Free Trade Area of the Americas — both of which completely and utterly burst into flames and died once people started shining a light on them.

Arthur Stamoulis is Executive Director of Citizens Trade Campaign