Opponents of Corrupt “Trade” Agreement Stage Final Event
March, Rally Culminate Week of Coordinated Actions Against Trans-Pacific Partnership
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine * All rights reserved
About 200 progressives, socialists, anarchists and other opponents of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a giant so-called “free trade” agreement between the U.S. and various countries along the Asian-Pacific rim – gathered in San Diego’s Civic Center Plaza downtown Saturday, July 7 for a so-called “Pots and Pans” march to the Bayfront Hilton Hotel. TPP negotiators had been scheduled to meet at the Hilton from July 1-10 for the latest rounds of talks to work out the treaty’s terms, but faced with progressive opposition they decided to start early and get most of their work done well before the official July 10 closure of the talks.
The marchers, many of whom had taken part in the six-month-long occupation of the plaza by Occupy San Diego, gleefully proclaimed that at least for one night they had taken the plaza back from the police who drove them out of it in the first place. The march was supposed to step off at 11 a.m. but didn’t actually start until 11:30, partly because organizers wanted to wait for contingents from Los Angeles and Orange County to arrive and partly because a leaflet had given the start time as 11 a.m. and some prospective marchers may have been confused.
Instead of going in a relatively straight line to the Hilton, the marchers took a circuitous route through downtown and the Gaslamp Quarter, aiming for maximum visibility and also trying to avoid getting steered by the police into one route. In an unprecedented move, they took the march right through the Horton Plaza shopping mall, property the city of San Diego leased to a private corporation, and risked arrest to challenge the values of consumerism in a temple built to honor and facilitate it. They also took brief control of several intersections, routing the march in a circle to cut off traffic in all directions. At one intersection a few marchers staged a brief, impromptu sit-in.
Though the original plan had been to have the march led by a group carrying a banner targeting the pro-corporate, anti-worker, anti-consumer values behind the TPP, with all the doubling back and circling, anarchists quickly took control of the march and led it for most of its route. They dressed either in “Black Bloc” outfits or in grey hoodies, which must have been uncomfortable on a typically hot San Diego July day. Along the route marchers occasionally set off green flares, which produced billows of green smoke and a scent of gunpowder. One of the signs carried in the march read, “San Diego Is Not for Sale,” and ironically the person carrying that sign passed a sandwich board advertising a realty company whose Web address is “ISellTheCity.com.”
Organized labor, which had dominated the first major anti-TPP event in San Diego July 2, was less in evidence this time around, though a few unionists showed up with their professionally printed T-shirts and signs and Matthew McKinnon of the International Association of Machinists (IAM), who had spoken on July 2 as well, spoke at the rally. But the lead-off speakers were two people who had also appeared at the nightly meetings the TPP’s opponents staged in San Diego July 2-6 to discuss the many ways the TPP will harm both the world’s economy and its environment: New Zealand (or “Aotearoa,” the indigenous name for her country she prefers to use) attorney and activist Jane Kelsey and Mississippi family farmer Ben Burkett.
“When they talk about this agreement and they try to justify it,” Kelsey said, “they say it’s an agreement for the 21st century, not only for the nine countries that are in there but for the whole Asian Pacific. They have this grand plan for a ‘free trade area for the Asian Pacific.’ It is an agreement of the 1 percent, by the 1 percent and for the 1 percent, and we say to them about that, shame, shame, shame! … We know that under neoliberal policies, since the 1980’s, inequality has increased most dramatically in our rich countries. Poverty has remained endemic in poor countries, but the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer in our countries as well. We know that job insecurity is a daily reality for too many people in our countries. We know that child poverty means that children’s futures are crippled from the day that they are born. We know that the corporations that were responsible for the global financial crisis are still creaming the corporate welfare, which the governments then say raises too much debt, so they have to cut education and health and support for the poor.”
Burkett said little at the July 7 rally, but he had already given extensive presentations at the World Beat Center in Balboa Park July 5 on how so-called “trade” treaties like the 18-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the proposed TPP directly affect his life as a family farmer. Though Burkett’s official biography on the announcement of the July 5 meeting emphasized his research and activist credentials — it described him as “president of the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) in the U.S., and a cooperative-marketing-specialist member of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives Land Assistance Fund; current director of the Mississippi Association of Cooperatives, the local arm of the Federation of Southern Cooperatives; [and representative of] NFFC on the Via Campesina Food Sovereignty Commission and is a board member of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC)” — he described himself as a typical small farmer trying to make a living off the land in the face of corporate monopoly power over land and seeds.
“I have a few traditional old seeds that can be traced back for generations,” Burkett said. “But all that diversity is being lost because the corporations we deal with won’t buy anything grown from any seeds other than specific varieties of corporate seeds. Some growers in Mississippi grow a small watermelon for Walmart that’s the proprietary property of Walmart. It’s up to us to create seed banks. In the South, the sweet potatoes grown are all of one variety, Beauregard” — he chuckled at the irony that the name came from a Confederate Civil War general — “and it’s rather hard to find the old-time varieties. … In my community there were 50 small farmers. Now there are only eight. I don’t want to have to go back to doing things by hand or working with mules or oxen, but if we can go back to being able to make a living on farms of 260 acres, it would make a big difference in biodiversity.”
The July 5 events at the World Beat Center — one on local economies and sustainability, the other on biodiversity and climate change — were part of a week-long series of presentations on the economic ills unbridled neoliberal capitalism has wreaked upon the world and how the proposed TPP would only make matters worse. Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, who has been fighting against so-called “free trade” agreements since well before the “Battle in Seattle” in November 1999, which disrupted a round of global trade talks by the World Trade Organization (WTO) and brought the issue to mass public consciousness, spoke at the World Beat Center July 5 and gave a summary of the reasons to fight the TPP.
“The TPP is a negotiation between nine countries [United States, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Viet Nam], with Mexico and Canada about to join,” Wallach explained. “It’s been branded a ‘trade agreement,’ but it’s really a new bill of rights for corporations. It has 29 chapters, only two of which have anything to do with trade. The rest is a series of limitations on governments and new rights for corporations, and it’s enforceable. Governments can sue other governments, and corporations can sue governments, in corporate tribunals made up of three private-sector attorneys who rotate between being judges and being corporate attorneys. It is literally a form of permanent corporate governance. Corporations see this as the last negotiation, and any country that wants a trade agreement with the U.S. would have to sign on.”
According to Wallach, the TPP would make it virtually impossible for any government of a signatory nation to pass a law that might cost a corporation money. Corporations could sue — in fact, they already have under similar provisions in NAFTA — to have government regulations overturned that might cost them future profits even if the corporations haven’t lost money from those regulations yet. “It includes limits on procurement policies, financial regulations, and food labeling, and it gives pharmaceutical corporations new rights to extend drug patents” — a provision that could literally kill people in the Third World by making medically necessary drugs too costly for their people and health care systems to afford. According to other speakers at the events, the TPP would also extend copyrights on books, music and movies, and would put controls on the Internet similar to those in the so-called Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA), which the U.S. Congress withdrew in the face of opposition from grass-roots activists and major Internet companies.
To its opponents, the secrecy with which the TPP is being negotiated is even more appalling than the contents of the TPP. Most of the decision-making is being conducted behind closed doors. The lead negotiator for the U.S., trade representative Ron Kirk, invited representatives of 600 corporations to sit in on the sessions as “advisors,” but the drafts of the proposed agreement were kept so secret that even U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), chair of the Senate subcommittee in charge of global trade, wasn’t allowed to see them. And when Global Trade Watch obtained a leaked copy of the “Investment” chapter of the TPP and posted it to their Web site (accessible through the “press releases” section of their site via the June 13 release, “Controversial Trade Pact Text Leaked, Shows U.S. Trade Officials Have Agreed to Terms That Undermine Obama Domestic Agenda,” at http://www.citizen.org/pressroom/pressroomredirect.cfm?ID=3630
), the actual text turned out to be as dire as their group had been saying it was all along.
Article 12.7 of the leaked draft, “Performance Requirements,” states that no country which signs the TPP may “impose or enforce any commitment or undertaking … to achieve a given level or percentage of domestic content; [or] to purchase, use or accord a preference to goods produced in its territory, or to purchase goods from persons in its territory.” In other words, while President Obama included “Buy American” requirements in the economic stimulus bill in 2009 and has touted such laws as key to reviving U.S. manufacturing, his administration is simultaneously negotiating a “trade” treaty that would prevent his and future U.S. governments from doing that. The draft article also contains the rules for so-called “investor-state dispute settlement” that would, if implemented the way similar clauses in NAFTA already have been, mean either that governments of TPP-member countries wouldn’t be able to regulate corporations’ labor or environmental policies, or they’d have to pay heavy fines to the corporations they presumed to regulate.
Perhaps the most chilling part of the leaked TPP draft is the repetition of the words, “For greater certainty,” throughout the document. According to the TPP’s opponents, the “greater certainty” that is being sought is the ability of corporations literally to do whatever they like — trash the environment, drive labor costs down, offshore jobs to countries with ultra-low wages and few or no worker protections, engage in financial scams and enforce copyrights and patents forever. A press release issued by Global Trade Watch on July 10, the last day of the official TPP negotiations in San Diego, quoted Lori Wallach as saying, “U.S. negotiators have tried to keep TPP negotiations totally below the radar, but even so opposition to the current ‘NAFTA-on-steroids-with-Asia’ approach is escalating, which is good news for the public but a serious complication for the Obama campaign’s attack on [presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt] Romney as a U.S. job offshorer.”
“When we look at the future they want for us, we have to ask not only how to stop it but what is our alternative,” Jane Kelsey said at the World Beat Center July 5. “Some of it may seem remote. Our population is only four million people. We have a history of 1,000 years before colonization. The Maori had a system of spiritual, physical and environmental beliefs that still sustains them, and the future we want is decolonization. … When I get home on Thursday [July 12] we will have a hearing before a government commission over the violations of Maori sovereignty over their spiritual, physical and legal resources. My evidence will be the way these agreements [like TPP] lock the door on the ‘rights’ of foreign corporations over those resources and exclude the Maori from sovereignty. It’s a bit like the resistances in Mexico, where the people know the future depends on their struggle.”
“Sisters and brothers, 50,000 factories in the United States have closed in the last 10 years,” Matthew McKinnon of the Machinists’ Union said at the July 7 rally. “Five million American manufacturing workers have lost their jobs since NAFTA took effect [in 1994]. And what it’s spread is substandard working conditions globally. And if we think that that doesn’t come home to roost in the United States, we’re kidding ourselves. In Virginia a few months ago the Machinists’ Union organized a factory where workers were wearing adult diapers because they couldn’t take a break from the machines. When I went to work in a factory not very far from here, 35 percent of American workers had a retirement at the end of their work life. Today, eight percent are looking forward to a retirement. The chickens come home to roost here when we move the jobs offshore and allow anything short of workers being able to organize freely and better their way of life.”