Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), joined by members of Congress from both sides of the aisle and advocates from numerous organizations including the Feminist Majority Foundation (FMF), called attention yesterday to the myriad human rights and labor issues that are being sidestepped as closed door meetings on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) go forward in Ottawa, Canada.

Policy Director Gaylynn Burroughs (center) addresses crowd at TPP press conference on Capitol Hill. Pictured from left to right, Rep. Peter DeFazio (R-OR), Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

Policy Director Gaylynn Burroughs (center) addresses crowd at TPP press conference on Capitol Hill. Pictured from left to right, Rep. Peter DeFazio (R-OR), Rep. George Miller (D-CA).

The TPP is a proposed regional free trade agreement that addresses a broad range of issues, including trade in goods and services; regulation of intellectual property, Internet access, and foreign investments; as well as labor and environmental regulations. The United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are all negotiating parties in the TPP, making it the world’s largest free-trade zone in history if a final deal is reached.

Standing in the rain, Rep. DeLauro cited the numerous health and environmental concerns, as well as egregious human rights and labor rights abuses that members of Congress want to see addressed before moving any further with negotiations.

“It is no wonder that nearly two-thirds of Americans oppose granting ‘fast-track,’ and 178 House members from both parties have publicly declared their opposition to it,” Rep. DeLauro said, referring to legislation that would force Congress to vote, up-or-down without the ability of offering any amendments, on whether to approve the trade deal.  “TPP is a non-starter. There is no appetite for the deal, neither in the Congress or in the country as a whole.”

Rep. Marc Pocan (D-WI) called out the Sultan of Brunei’s new penal code, and that negotiating partner’s decision to stone gays, lesbians, and people convicted of adultery, to publicly flog women who have had abortions, and issue prison sentences for women wearing “indecent” clothing. “We should not be providing special trade privileges to countries that continue to violate human rights and restrict equality,” Rep. Pocan said. “The United States has had a long tradition of using our influence as a world leader to try to improve human rights across the globe, and we’re doing the exact opposite in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”

Last month, 12 women’s rights groups, led by the Feminist Majority, issued a letter to President Obama calling for the White House to suspend TPP talks if Brunei was not removed from the negotiating table, or until the sultan revoked the new laws. Feminist Majority Policy Director Gaylynn Burroughs reiterated those terms yesterday.

“Human rights and women’s rights can never take a backseat to profit and trade,” Burroughs said. “The United States should not condone these laws by conducting business as usual with Brunei. We have to seek to use all available and appropriate policy tools to pressure the sultan to change his new penal code.” 

In recent weeks, President Obama said he wanted to see a deal completed on the agreement by NovemberTalks over the terms of the agreement have been underway since 2010, but as in the past, critics say this week’s TPP meetings in Ottawa include limited, if any, participation by public stakeholders or elected officials. Members of Congress have called for increased transparency, especially important as some groups charge that multinational corporate interests are thoroughly represented in the negotiations through “trade advisers.”

Media Resources: Feminist Newswire 6/9/14, 5/1/14; Huffington Post Canada 7/7/14; The Japan Times 6/25/14; Public Citizen

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