By Daniel Cooper Bermudez for Nation of Change
Thousands of people are resisting the TPP as it would severely limit the self-determination of peoples around the world in the service of corporate interests. The deal would entrench the enforcement of profit guarantees for investors at the expense of our lives and the well-being of our Earth.
The TPP is a ticking time-bomb and the clock is set for its approval by Congress during their “Lame Duck” session after the November elections. Thousands of people have already committed to the #NoLameDuckUprising: a national effort to resist the ratification of the TPP by Congress with actions in Washington, D.C. and across the country starting on November 13th… And we need you to take action with us.
What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is an international treaty signed by 12 countries – the United States, Japan, Mexico, Chile, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and Singapore – that was negotiated in secret for 5 years with the guidance of hundreds of corporate advisers.
The content of the TPP was finally released on Nov. 5, 2015 due to mounting pressure by grassroots organizations in each of the signing countries. The conclusions were clear: the TPP is an attempt to entrench corporate power in all aspects of our lives, putting in further danger the health of our living Earth.
The scope of the threat the TPP poses is so all-encompassing that it would take an extensive anthology to fully cover it. I’ll let this excerpt from a declaration by United Nations (UN) human rights experts began with the following warning on the threats to human rights:
“Our concerns relate to the rights to life, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, science and culture, improved labour standards, an independent judiciary, a clean environment and the right not to be subjected to forced resettlement.”
Obama has tried to sell the TPP as the “the most progressive trade bill in history,” but any careful analysis of the TPP indicates the opposite, and commentators have continuously identified the treaty’s sections on labor and environmental protections as mere lip service.
Why we must stop the TPP
Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS)
The Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) is a legal mechanism through which corporations can sue states for taking action that reduced “expected profits” by avoiding domestic courts altogether. The system of trade courts is run by corporate lawyers that have consistently ruled in favor of corporations in cases of egregious abuse.
An 18-month Buzzfeed investigation found that “companies and executives accused of convicted of crimes have used ISDS to avoid punishment; businesses have used the system to gut environmental laws; big banks and financiers have turned the system into an engine of profit, often at the expense of poor nations or those in crisis; and the US is surprisingly vulnerable to claims from foreign companies.”
The ISDS is undemocratic in its ability to limit governments’ abilities to regulate corporations on their territory. Corporations use ISDS to avoid respecting domestic laws and instead have the judges of the cases be friendly faces.
Public Citizen has extensive documentation on the foreign investor-state cases under NAFTA and other US “trade” deals. Their research shows that if states lose the ISDS suits, taxpayers end up fronting the fines. “Of the more than $34 billion in the 18 pending claims under NAFTA-style deals, nearly all relate to environmental, energy, financial, public health, land use and transportation policies – not traditional trade issues.”
A Threat to the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The rights of indigenous peoples are squarely out of the picture in the TPP. The enforcement of investor interests that could threaten indigenous peoples lives and lands are not only front and center of the deal, the TPP has no respect for the free, prior, and informed consent of indigenous peoples on state or commercial activities that can affect their communities.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli Corpuz, reported that “there was no information about the content of the negotiations, and only recently were the contents of the agreement revealed[…] Although we are still the ratification stage, I can say with certainty that this agreement is a serious threat to the rights of Indigenous Peoples.”
This is in spite of the fact that the 11 of the 12 countries have important indigenous populations in which approximately 1,207 of the 1,588 of spoken languages spoken in these countries are of indigenous peoples.
The TPP would weaken the already rare enforcement of the rights of indigenous peoples when their lives stand in the way of corporate profit. The political and economic mechanisms that permit abuses – like those occurring in Standing Rock on Lakota lands in the benefit of the Dakota Access Pipeline or the environmental disasters that have violated the rights of the indigenous peoples of the Ecuadorian Amazon at the hands of Chevron – will become further consolidated under international law.
A Threat to Worker Rights
No matter what the TPP’s chapter on labor claims, there is overwhelming evidence that signing countries’ governments have no intention of actively enforcing their labor laws. This Buzzfeed article, for example, elegantly surveys the Department of Labor’s unwillingness to enforce labor laws pertaining to the rights of migrant workers under the H2A guest-worker program.
In Mexico, a farm called Bioparques del Occidente – which was given a $17 million loan from the World Bank – was raided by authorities to free 275 people from forced labor, amongst them children. A year and a half after the raid, the agribusiness still enjoyed its impunity from legal recourse and the World Bank had not withdrawn its financial support of the farm.
Under the TPP, violations to the labor clauses will only be brought to court if another country voluntarily builds the case. This has only happened once, after a significant 7 year campaign by Guatemalan and US labor groups that began in 2008, due to the murder of 70 union organizers in Guatemala since the Central American Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2006.
Finally, the US government brought a trade tribunal case against Guatemala in 2015. But while the case takes years to be concluded, the CAFTA remains active. According to Human Rights Watch “No other member of the TPP has ever been known to bring legal trade cases to enforce labor chapters in other economic agreements.”
A Heavier Burden for our Earth
The TPP will facilitate the acceleration of climate change and the destruction of our ecosystems through its protection of corporate interests over people and planet.
Starting with the ISDS courts, corporations will be able to prevent governments from restricting their exploitation of natural resources within their territory. The Its Our Future campaign in New Zealand found that “around two thirds of the 696 ISDS cases under similar agreements have challenged environmental laws, such as mining fracking, oil and gas production, toxic chemicals, waste dumping and renewable energy.”
Furthermore, the track record on the possible enforcement in previous trade deals gives us clear indication that there is no willingness to enforce environmental protections. The Sierra Club has denounced that no state-state dispute settlement mechanism in all U.S. ‘trade agreements’ since 2007 has resulted in a legal case against environmental abuses. This includes the Peru Free Trade Agreement, which has stronger environmental protections than the TPP, but not led to any action that would stop rampant illegal logging in Peru.
The agreement would be an incredible victory for the US energy industry as it will make it easier to export natural gas from fracking without the approval from the Department of Energy. And the lowering of tariffs will promote the trade of products that damage the ecosystem of or are directly produced from animals in risk of being endangered, such as sharks, tigers and elephants.
The TPP was signed by the 12 countries on Feb.4, 2016 and is meant to be ratified by their respective governments within a two-year time span. This seems highly unlikely under the mandate of the next U.S. presidency given that both major candidates have made strong statements against the deal.
That is why the Obama administration considers that its “only real shot” to pass the TPP is during the congressional session that begins at the end of the elections and ends when the new session of Congress begins in January. Obama is banking on the support of “Lame Ducks” – members of Congress who have retired or lost their seat – who will have diminished political incentives to be accountable to their constituents.
This period is considered to be the most structurally ripe congressional session to pass unpopular legislation. Exiting members of Congress have less of a commitment to constituents given that they no longer need to maintain their approval for a future election. This lack of accountability was a principal motivation for the approval of the 20thAmendment to the Constitution in 1933, which reduced the “Lame Duck” session by around 6 weeks.
Obama’s attempt to put the TPP to a vote during the congressional “Lame Duck” session would not be the first time controversial legislation is discussed during this period. It was used in 1998 to consider the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, in 2002 to create the Department of Homeland Security, and in 2008 to attempt a $14 billion bail-out of the auto industry. US participation in the expansion of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which created the World Trade Organization, was passed during the Lame Duck session of 1994.
This is why we need thousands to join the #NoLameDuckUprising this November. Our futures depend on us saying NO to the TPP.
We will be hosting an action camp on Nov. 13 to be followed by 4 days of action from Nov. 14-17 in Washington, D.C. to make sure that Obama does not get Lame Ducks to carry through the ratification of the TPP. We will also be promoting local actions throughout the country during the congressional holiday break on Nov 21-23 right before the vote. Come for all or part of it, there will be ample opportunities to participate for everyone.
We will have sleeping space at a church in DC starting Saturday night, Nov. 12 for people who need to travel that day. The church will serve as our base for sleeping, eating and organizing during the week. It sleeps 50 people, and we can reserve a second church if necessary for up to 500 people.
To participate in the uprising, register here: http://www.flushthetpp.org/register/.
If you have any questions, please reach out to us at [email protected].