Workers, human rights advocates, environmental organizations, and consumer rights leaders rallied today in front of the Office of the US Trade Representative to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, described as “a massive corporate power grab that would set rules governing roughly 40% of the global economy, with potentially dire consequences for the economy, environment and public health both at home and abroad.”

Negotiators on Sunday kicked off a week of closed-door meetings on the proposed free trade agreement in Washington, DC. These negotiations follow the TPP summit last month in Beijing, at which leaders, including President Obama, expressed that concluding the TPP – which would be the largest free trade deal in history – was “a top priority.”

A number of workers’ rights, human rights, women’s rights, environmental, and LGBT groups, however, have opposed the deal, citing a broad range of concerns. As Martha Burk explained in the Fall 2014 issue of Ms., the TPP is “unprecedented in its scope, affecting not only trade in goods and services, but also regulation of intellectual property, foreign investments, and labor and environmental standards.” Unions say that the deal means fewer US jobs – especially majority-female jobs in the communications and human resources sectors. Groups like Doctors without Borders have also pointed out that the TPP’s provisions on intellectual property could reduce access to generic drugs, including drugs that are critical for treatment of HIV/AIDS.

The agreement also threatens human rights. The Feminist Majority Foundation in June led a group of 12 women’s rights organizations, demanding the White House suspend all TPP talks until Brunei was removed from the negotiating table or until the Sultan of Brunei revoked its new penal code, which calls for the stoning of gays, lesbians and people convicted of adultery, as well as the public flogging of women who’ve had abortions. In a letter to President Obama, the groups wrote:

It is simply unacceptable for the United States to bind itself into a close and enduring relationship with a country that is enacting such policies… The administration has claimed that the TPP will be a high-standard 21st century agreement. But clearly no 21st century agreement can include a country that has imposed 5th century laws that deny women, LGBT people and others their basic human rights.

A bipartisan group of House Representatives, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT-3), have also opposed the TPP, highlighting in particular that the TPP is largely a secret deal, negotiated without sufficient transparency. “Right now, lead negotiators from the 12 nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership are meeting behind closed doors and without input or oversight from members of Congress,” DeLauro said in a statement released to coincide with the DC negotiations. “The Administration has repeatedly refused to take into account the deeply harmful impact the TPP would have on workers and families, food safety, intellectual property, financial regulations, the environment and access to medicine. The American people want confidence that international trade creates jobs and grows the economy. Instead, we know that corporate interests are driving these negotiations.”

In the nearly five-year history of the talks there has been limited, if any, participation by public stakeholders or elected officials. However, multinational corporate interests have been thoroughly represented by “trade advisers,” leading some critics to characterize the TPP as a “backroom trade deal” that favors the 1 percent.

House members have also stressed that negotiations with known labor rights offenders sends a conflicting message to the world about the United States’ commitment to the rights of working people. In a letter to the US Trade Representative Michael Froman, Reps. DeLauro, George Miller (D-CA-11), Loretta Sanchez (D-CA-46), and Mark Pocan (D-WI-2) warned, “Free trade agreements with nations that violate international child labor and forced labor standards not only undermine our moral authority, but they also capitalize on the lack of oversight and regulation in developing nations.” The group cited the Department of Labor’s International Labor Affairs Bureau’s (ILAB) annual report that has cited one-third of the TPP countries for labor abuses. In particular, Vietnam, Mexico, Peru, and Malaysia have all faced charges of labor violations. In ILAB’s 2014 report, Vietnam was one of only four countries in the world cited in the report for both child and forced labor abuses.

The countries represented in the TPP negotiations are  Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. The deal would set rules governing roughly 40 percent of the global economy, while impacting everything from the cost of healthcare, deregulation of food and drug safety, environmental policy, and FCC rules.

Media Resources: Public Citizen; MarketPulse 12/8/14; Ms. Magazine Fall 2014; Feminist Newswire 7/9/14, 6/9/14; Office of Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro 12/8/14, 12/4/14; Center for American Progress 3/25/14

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