TPP trade negotiations: Chicago to Dallas to San Diego

TPP trade negotiations: from Chicago to Dallas to San Diego

TPP trade negotiations: from Chicago to Dallas to San Diego

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“There’s no reason in the world why trade agreements can’t be written that create a more just and sustainable world.” — Jerry Greenfield, co-founder of Ben & Jerry’s, TPP Labor Day Rally, Chicago, September 5, 2011.



Friends of the Earth is a leading advocate calling attention to international trade and investment agreements, such as the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement now under negotiation, that undermine environmental protection.

For the past year, Friends of the Earth has stepped to the forefront at TPP negotiations.  We are letting the public and the negotiators know about the environmental threat posed by the proposed agreement among nine Pacific nations.  We are documenting the ways in which the TPP trade deal would subvert environmental priorities, such as climate change measures and regulation of mining, land use, and bio-technology. For example, we have stoked up opposition, particularly internationally, against the TPP investment chapter that would allow global corporations to bring claims for money damages before business-friendly, international tribunals in compensation for the cost of complying with environmental regulations.

Chicago: put people first

It was Labor Day, 5 September 2011, in Chicago.  As representatives from the United States and eight other Pacific countries gathered in the Chicago Hilton hotel for negotiations starting the next day on a Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, we joined activists from environmental, labor and community organizations at the corner of Columbus and Balbo in Grant Park to demand a fair deal or no deal in the TPP talks.

The TPP would be a platform for economic integration and government deregulation for nations surrounding the Pacific. The negotiations now include the United States, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, and Singapore, as well as the non-democratic governments of Brunei and Vietnam. In the near future, the TPP talks may very well be officially expanded to include Japan, Canada, Mexico, the Philippines and others.  This potentially makes the TPP as important as the EU common market in terms of its economic heft, and a big hazard to the environment.

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, the founders of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream, spoke at the Grant Park rally. Jerry Greenfield delivered a clear message,”We encourage trade negotiators to create an agreement that works for working people, farmers, and the environment in all countries.”  Ben Cohen agreed, “We want an agreement that puts people first.”

Lauren Cumbia, from Stand Up! Chicago, a coalition of community groups, said, “big banks and corporations have had a chance to see the draft trade agreements and give input while the rest of us are being left in the dark.  We’re all here to demand an agreement that puts families first instead of corporations.”

Especially given that it was Labor Day, worker rights issues were highlighted at the rally. As Tom Balanoff from the Service Employees International Union told the 800 or so people gathered in Grant Park, “Hundreds of thousands of workers here in Chicago and all over the Midwest are out of jobs because of bad trade agreements like NAFTA that did so much to push down the value of people’s labor in this country,” and to push down “workers ability to raise their standards everywhere,”

The next day, just before Ben and Jerry attempted to deliver 20,000 postcards demanding that the TPP negotiators deliver a fair deal, a press conference was held in front of the Hilton.  I told the assembled reporters, “If corporate lobbyists get their way, the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact will be a clone of the failed NAFTA model, empowering multinational corporations to run roughshod over environmental and public health protections.”

“NAFTA-style investment provisions,” I explained, “would let big oil, mining, tobacco and agribusiness companies avoid accountability to national governments or courts for the environmental destruction and social injustices wrought by their investment projects.”

Later in the week, we participated in a teach-in at Roosevelt University and made key contacts with U.S. and international activists, as well as university researchers from the U.S., Australia, and New Zealand. We had conversations about the TPP investment chapter with Australian and U.S. negotiators.  The Australians seemed to like our message; the U.S. team did not.

Lima: TPP secrecy

The next month on October 22, another round of negotiations on a TPP trade agreement began in Lima, Peru.  Friends of the Earth staff could not afford to go to South America, but we joined 20 other environmental and civil society groups to call for an end to secrecy in TPP trade talks.

A leaked document brought to light an agreement between the U.S. and other parties to keep the draft negotiating text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement classified. In a letter to Ambassador Ron Kirk, the United States Trade Representative, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, AFL-CIO and other groups urged the Obama administration to honor its pledge of transparency in trade policy-making and release the negotiating text.

Friends of the Earth allies in Malaysia, Chile, Australia and New Zealand also sent letters to their trade ministries demanding an open process that protects the public interest from the behind-the-scenes influence of corporate lobbyists.

Kuala Lumpur: what about the 99%?

The next set of TPP negotiations was held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia from December 5 to 9, 2011.   Malaysian civil society organized a Parallel People’s Conference in advance of the negotiations to highlight the risks posed by the TPP: “It will make it harder for farmers and manufacturing workers to make a living.  It will make medicines and books more expensive for all Malaysians.  It will make it harder for the government to regulate foreign companies in the interests of the 99% of Malaysians, including environmental and public health regulations.”

Beverley Hills: access to medicines and patents on plants and animals

TPP negotiators returned to the United States from January 31 to February 3 for private meetings in southern California to hammer out the details on the intellectual property chapter, among other issues. Trade negotiators met behind closed doors in luxury hotel rooms in Beverly Hills and La Jolla for these less formal “inter-sessional” talks. Controversy arose at the Beverly Hills site when a hotel cancelled a conference room reservation for public interest groups allegedly under pressure from negotiators.

Friends of the Earth let the negotiators and our local activists know that the ability of governments to implement public policies designed to protect access to medicines must be preserved and the dangerous trend toward patenting biological and genetic materials must be slowed. Both issues would be greatly impacted by the intellectual property chapter of the TPP.

The leaked version of the TPP intellectual property chapter provides substantial protections for corporate patents on plant and animal life.  Most people are shocked to learn that 20 percent of the human genome has been patented by corporations and scientists, granting companies ownership and sole access to these building blocks of life.  Likewise, Friends of the Earth is worried about the implications of the TPP intellectual property chapter for so-called bio-piracy, especially in the form of corporate appropriation of natural biological materials, associated genes and traits, and the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples.

With respect to access to medicines and the TPP intellectual property chapter, Adam Bandt, a Green Party member of the Australian parliament, sums it up neatly, “Last year there was a leak of the draft US chapter regarding how intellectual property would be regulated under the [TPP] agreement – it contains some worrying proposals. The changes being proposed by the US would favour big pharmaceutical companies.  Patents would be stronger and longer; profits would be bigger.”

Melbourne and Santiago: internet freedom

TPP negotiations resumed in Melbourne, Australia from March 2 through 9, where much of the public attention was focused once again on access to medicines and intellectual property issues, including threats to internet freedom.

Advocates for internet freedom expressed concern that the U.S. may be trying to incorporate language into the IP chapter that favors corporate interests and could result in harsh enforcement action against internet users.  This is similar to the controversies that have dogged the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) introduced in the U.S. Congress and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which raised a firestorm of opposition in Europe.

Another “inter-sessional” meeting on intellectual property was held in Santiago Chile, April 9 to 13.  It focused very much on internet issues. Again, a public interest group meeting was cancelled on short notice, this time by the University of Chile, but the Catholic University provided an alternative venue.

Dallas: no private courts for capital

On Tuesday, May 8, in Dallas, we kicked off ten days of intense activity at TPP negotiations in Ambassador Kirk’s hometown. If Chicago was mostly about outside politics and protest, then Dallas was a about inside politics and face-to-face persuasion.  During this week and a half, we met formally and informally with negotiators and participated in public teach-ins, civil society meetings and a major demonstration.

We met privately three times with Australian negotiators, and had similar lengthy private meetings with negotiators from Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, and Chile.   On May 12, Stakeholders Day, Friends of the Earth staff almost ran out of copies of the four TPP issue briefs, and talked in a more public setting to negotiators from Brunei, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Malaysia, and the U.S.

Friends of the Earth officially co-sponsored a mass rally in opposition to the TPP, on Saturday the 12th. The next day, we questioned the delegation leaders of the nine parties at a roundtable with stakeholders about bias in the investment chapter.

We also attended a teach-in sponsored by the Texas Fair Trade Campaign and Dallas community organizations, as well as a reception sponsored by the corporate lobbyists that was disrupted by Occupy Dallas activists who  gave the Corporate Power Tool Award to negotiators. .

Along with Public Citizen and Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth co-sponsored an investment negotiators lunch meeting on Wednesday May 9, at which a total of 26 negotiators representing nine countries were present.  The invited speaker of Friends of the Earth, Professor Bob Stumberg of Georgetown Law, convincingly explained the adverse consequences of the U.S. proposal for a TPP investment chapter.

The topic of the luncheon discussion in Dallas is of overwhelming importance to environmentalists. The U.S. proposal for a TPP investment chapter would create a separate “court” for capital.  Foreign investors could bypass domestic courts and bring suit before special international tribunals designed to encourage international investment. They could seek awards of money damages, of unlimited size, in compensation for the cost of complying with environmental and other public interest regulations.  They could even seek compensation for lost future profits.

The U.S. investment proposal follows the same general model as such previous U.S. agreements as NAFTA and the U.S.-Peru trade deal.  Suits brought by multinational corporations under these prior agreements highlight the threat to the environment and human rights.

In a pending investment case brought under the U.S.-Peru trade agreement, a U.S. holding company, Renco Group, is seeking $800 million from Peru in compensation for the cost of complying with environmental regulations, even though its smelting operation at La Oroya is one of the ten most polluted sites in the world. Another tribunal is considering a case brought by one of the world’s wealthiest corporations, Chevron, against the Republic of Ecuador.  The issue is whether Chevron is obliged to clean up massive pollution, resulting from oil drilling, in an area the size of Rhode Island in the Ecuadorian Amazon.  The tribunal, in February, ordered the government of Ecuador to suspend enforcement of the judgment against Chevron in any court in the world.

San Diego: enforceable environmental standards

When Friends of the Earth staff arrive in San Diego for the next round of TPP negotiations, July 2 through 10, the environment chapter will be a top priority.

Friends of the Earth will tell the U.S. Trade Representative that the TPP environment chapter must do more than simply pay lip service to countries’ obligations to enforce domestic environmental protections and abide by global environmental agreements. This means that the TPP environment chapter must be enforceable not merely through diplomatic consultations, but also through lawsuits before international tribunals with the authority to impose sanctions.

Beyond San Diego

Friends of the Earth is committed to the fight for environmental protection and social justice in international trade agreements like the Trans Pacific Partnership.  It’s one of the toughest fights to take on.  We are up against powerful global corporations with vast financial resources and political influence.  Victory will not come today or tomorrow but only after months or years of struggle.  Why not take on smaller, easier to win environmental issues, skeptics might ask.

Ben & Jerry have also committed to the struggle for stronger social and environmental protections in the TPP, and have an answer to the skeptic’s question.  It is found in Ben & Jerry’s official position on fair trade:

“What is the global economy for? Creating endless corporate profits? Or serving people equitably around the world as they pursue meaningful and prosperous lives?

The answer is clear to us: it’s people, not merely profits. But the last few decades, the global economy has been warped through national policies and trade agreements into a system that benefits the few at the expense of the many. Current global trade rules make it easy for corporations to move wherever labor is cheapest and environmental protections weakest. Global trade rules can undermine local laws, making it hard for workers to organize and difficult to ensure the safety of imported foods and other products. They also gut the policies that developing countries use to fight hunger and ensure food security.

The point is that the global economy is not a free market- it’s an unfair market with big winners and big losers.  And, there is a better way, if we are willing to embrace it.”

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