No, it really was not a rallying cry for sanitation—but rather the “TP..P” stands for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, and the call was made by hundreds of non-profits, labor unions and family farm groups on September 9 at the site of the closed-door trade negotiations in Leesburg, VA. How many people remember the North American Free Trade Agreement? Well, the TPP is supposed to be a bigger version of NAFTA. Just when we thought that the free trade paradigm had come to a sobering halt (what with the WTO in a coma, a global economic crisis and recent food crises forcing hard questions about our global trade, finance and agriculture policies), we need to think again!
Apparently, the US Trade Representative’s office thinks that the way to address unemployment and economic woes in this country is to further lower import and export duties and relax the rules that govern investment, services, intellectual property and much more. USTR has been negotiating the TPP for over two years with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. The negotiations also involve chapters on environment and labor. Yet neither environmentalists nor labor unions have been allowed to see the negotiating document, even though USTR has concluded 14 rounds of talks on an agreement with 29 chapters.
On Sunday, the US TPP lead negotiator, Barbara Weisel, confirmed that though many organizations are calling for the public release of the text, the government was not prepared to do so at this stage. Organizations asked question after question for nearly two hours during the USTR organized “stakeholder meeting” in Leesburg, VA—organizations as diverse as Communication Workers of America, Doctors without Borders (Medcins Sans Frontiers), American Apparel and Footwear Association, Oxfam, Public Citizen and Health Gap.
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The major questions revolved around the power such free trade treaties give to multinational corporations when it comes to public health concerns like access to affordable medicines, the right to use generic drugs, and the balance of power between corporate profits and government rules that protect the public interest. In legal jargon, this latter issue also involves “investor to state dispute settlement.” In practice, this means that corporations whose profits are affected by government regulations can sue for damages. For example, US based Renco sued the Peruvian government when Peru took action against Renco’s subsidiary, in connection with lead poisoning in the small town of La Oroya. This suit came soon after Peru signed the U.S-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement.
Though the TPP has some time to go before the negotiations are completed, IATP and its partners are extremely concerned that the government is not learning from history. It is time for a complete rethinking of US trade policy to ensure that health, human rights, the right to food and work are not traded away for corporate profits.