As international trade negotiators gathered this week at a posh golf resort in rural Virginia to hammer out details of the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), they sought to project an image of inclusion and receptivity to public input. In reality, this high-stakes global corporate pact, now in its 14th round of discussions, is heavily guarded by paramilitary teams with machine guns and helicopters as it is developed behind closed doors under a dangerous and unprecedented veil of secrecy.
Photo Credit: Rainforest Action Network
What the hell is the TPP, you may ask? While it is among the largest and potentially most important "free trade' agreements the world has ever seen, one can hardly be blamed for not being familiar with it yet. The corporate cabal behind it, including names like Cargill, Pfizer, Nike and WalMart, has done an exceptional job of maintaining an almost total lack of transparency as they literally design the future we will all inhabit.
While 600 corporate lobbyists have been granted access and input on the draft texts from the beginning, even high-ranking members of Congress have been denied access to the most basic content of what US negotiators are proposing in our names.
Thankfully, draft texts of the proposal have appeared on Wikileaks and the website of Citizen's Trade Campaign . It is difficult to overstate the potential implications on the lives of people around the world if anything like the agreement in these leaked documents were to be implemented with the force of law.
The TPP is called a "trade agreement,' but in actuality it is a long-dreamed-of template for implementing a binding system of global corporate governance as bold as anything the world's wealthiest elite has attempted before. Of the 26 chapters under negotiation, only a few have to do directly with trade. The other chapters enshrine new rights and privileges for major corporations while weakening the power of nation states to oppose them. The TPP essentially proposes to establish a parallel system of justice where companies can sue countries in a tribunal of judges composed of unaccountable international trade lawyers with little to no process for appeal.
This wild bastardization of the concept of justice endangers everything from affordable medicines, internet freedoms and intellectual property rights to democratically enacted labor laws and environmental protections. And that's not to mention the massive outsourcing of middle class jobs from the US to countries like Vietnam and Brunei.
This isn't just a bad trade agreement, it's a wish list of the 1%--a worldwide corporate power grab of enormous proportions.
This week, in an empty warehouse on the outskirts of downtown Baltimore, a group of activists from around the US gathered to plan a spirited week of resistance to the TPP. Finally, after three years of secret negotiations, the momentum of an opposition movement is building. On Sunday, a diverse and raucous crowd of a couple hundred people descended on this exclusive golf resort to demand their voices be heard , chanting after each speaker: "Flush the TPP!"
NAFTA was the last straw that sent the Zapatistas into armed rebellion. The WTO negotiations spawned a robust and global anti-globalization movement the likes of which the world had never seen. Even after 9/11, the FTAA elicited a pushback of people power that even a fully militarized Miami police force could not completely suppress.
But near as I can tell, even though the TPP is bigger, bolder and badder than any trade agreement before it, the small group gathered this week on a grassy hillside in rural Virginia is the backbone of resistance to the TPP today.
The elements are there: a diverse coalition of wonky NGOs, social justice and trade policy experts, urban anarchists, Occupiers and suburban activists painting banners and scheming pranks--labor leaders, environmental groups and representatives from Mexico, Peru and beyond, but the scale is so far totally out of proportion to the threat we're facing.
But this is beginning to change. Speakers at Sunday's rally included key labor leaders from the Teamsters, and the Communications Workers of America joined with the leaders of environmental groups from the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth and Rainforest Action Network.
The TPP was conceived under the second Bush administration, but it has been embraced and nurtured into maturity under Obama's watch. The widespread belief among people here opposing it is that the current Administration is in a race to finish much of the negotiations while they can bank on the fact that labor leaders and environmental and human rights advocates will shy away from challenging a democratic president in an election year. Free trade agreements are particularly unpopular in the key swing states Obama needs to win this election--making right now a crucial moment of opportunity to pull the TPP out of the shadows and leverage our combined political power to kill it before it takes root any deeper.
Stay tuned, one way or another history will be made in the coming months and the outcome will forever influence how our communities and countries relate to each other in an ever-shrinking world.
For more background and details on the TPP negotiations and content, click here.