Hundreds of activists chanted and waved signs outside of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C. on Monday to protest the government's secretive negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) taking place inside, which they say place corporate interests ahead of environmental, labor, and human rights concerns.
The protest comes less than a week after President Barack Obama's comments in support of the controversial talks. Critics have repeatedly slammed the influence of representatives from the banking, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries of a dozen countries on the deal.
"We can't let negotiators secretly shape trade pacts behind closed doors that will open up the floodgates for fracking, make environmental safeguards vulnerable to polluter attacks and worsen climate corruption," said Ilana Solomon, director of the Sierra Club’s Responsible Trade Program.
Opponents of the TPP say the controversial deal would send countless American manufacturing jobs overseas to developing countries; allow for drastic increases of U.S. natural gas exports, which would further incentivize fracking; undermine food safety standards; loosen financial regulations; and require Internet Service "We can't let negotiators secretly shape trade pacts behind closed doors that will open up the floodgates for fracking, make environmental safeguards vulnerable to polluter attacks and worsen climate corruption."
—Ilana Solomon, Sierra ClubProviders to police and restrict user activity.
Further fueling their outrage is the secrecy of the talks, as well as recent attempts by some in Congress, such as Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), to pass "Fast Track" legislation that would give the president power to negotiate and sign trade deals.
Obama said last week that he was ready to fight with TPP foes to authorize the deal, telling an association of conservative corporate CEOs on Thursday that "[t]hose who oppose these trade deals ironically are accepting a status quo that is more damaging to American workers."
"And I’m going to have to engage directly with our friends in labor and our environmental organizations and try to get from them why it is that they think that," he added.
On Monday, protesters made that message clear.
"U.S. public opposition is focused on TPP non-trade terms being pushed by U.S. officials on behalf of corporate interests that would raise medicine prices, undermine Internet freedom and provide foreign firms operating here special privileges relative to their domestic competitors," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "President Obama will not get Fast Track authority for the TPP because congressional Democrats and Republicans alike oppose such ‘diplomatic legislating’ and are irate about the actual trade terms, such as disciplines against currency manipulation, that the administration has refused to raise in TPP talks."
George Kohl, senior director of the Communications Workers of America, disputed Obama's statement that TPP opponents' views are "more damaging to American workers.""We are fighting against old trade policy that literally guarantees corporate profits at the expense of working families in all nations."
—George Kohl, Communication Workers of America
"We believe in trade," Kohl said. "We are fighting against old trade policy that literally guarantees corporate profits at the expense of working families in all nations. In the weeks ahead, we will mobilize like never before against Fast Track authorizing legislation and the TPP, and for 21st century trade that gives workers’ rights, environmental issues and other concerns the same standing as corporate profits."
Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, echoed the sentiment. "Trade negotiators need to wake up to the fact that Fast Track is dead and won’t be resurrected," he said. "Voters have had enough of backroom pacts that put corporate profits ahead of human needs, and Congress members increasingly understand that rubber-stamping the TPP would be a fast track out of office."