by INA ALLECO R. SILVERIO
From July 2 to 10, government leaders of the Pacific Rim held the 13th round of negotiations for the previously secret United States-led free trade agreement, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). The meeting has been met with protests from various sectors from all over the US, including groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN-USA) and the International League of Peoples’ Struggles (ILPS-US).
Bayan-USA is an alliance of 18 progressive Filipino organizations in the U.S. representing youth, students, women, workers, artists, and human rights advocates. As the oldest and largest overseas chapter of Bayan in the Philippines.
Lori Wallach, the director of the Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch explains in an article that the TPPA is a trade agreement that will undermine allied countries’ financial regulation, increase their drug prices, flood their economies with unsafe imported food and products and empower corporations to counter environmental and health safeguards before tribunals of corporate lawyers.
According to reports, the agreement has been negotiated in secret since March 2010 by the US and eight other countries, namely Peru, Malaysia, Australia, Chile, Vietnam, New Zealand, Brunei, and Singapore. Critics said the TPPA has one aim: ensure that big American multinationals are able to make more money out of the eight member countries.
On July 7, 2012, member organizations of Bayan-US joined protests where the participants wore aprons and banged on kitchen pots and pans as they marched through the streets of downtown San Diego to the Bayfront Hilton Hotel calling for a stop to the TPPA.
Allies, including members of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance (APALA), marched with the Bayan -USA contingent. Speakers from around the US condemned the TPPA, saying that the citizens in the countries covered by the TPPA have already learned their lessons from the North American Free Trade Alliance (NAFTA) whose impositions led to massive migration of US industries to countries with less regulation and cheaper labor.
Ivan Penetrante, chairperson of Anakbayan San Diego, said US President Barack Obama’s push for the TPPA is a sign of desperation.
“While the TPPA and the oncoming military pivot in the Asia-Pacific are geopolitical moves of the US to contain its rival China, the US ultimately needs to exploit the Asia-Pacific region for cheap labor and raw materials to survive the economic crisis,” he said.
In behalf of Bayan-USA, Anakbayan San Diego joined the July 2 rally and press conference organized by the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council at the Bayfront Hilton Hotel while the secret negotiations took place inside. The event was the first of week-long actions that member organizations of Bayan-USA took part in to expose and oppose the TPPA.
According to reports, the the rally also kicked-off a series of roundtable discussions and panels about the effects on the TPPA on the rights of workers, women, intellectual property, food sovereignty and the environment.
Last July 5, Bayan USA joined panelists from the San Diego Maquiladores Worker’s Solidarity Network, the ILPS and indigenous people’s organizations for a panel on Geopolitics and Empire followed by a discussion on Indigenous People’s Rights.
Country co-coordinator of ILPS-US Kuusela Hilo emphasized the need for the poor and working people to stand united against formations such as the TPPA and the policies of economic neoliberalism.
“Neoliberalism is the tomb that is putting workers, indigenous peoples, and peoples around the world in the grave,” said Hilo. On the indigenous people’s panel, Southern California Coordinator for Bayan-US Theresa Jaranilla said the effects of the TPPA would be “distressing for indigenous communities in the Philippines who already experience wide-spread displacement, environmental destruction, increased militarization, and gross human rights violations as a result of large-scale mining by foreign mining companies.”
Penetrante linked the Obama administration’s public announcement regarding the shift in the US military’s operations to the Asia-Pacific region and the US’ desperation to protect its economic interests. He scored the covert counter-insurgency tactics in the Asia Pacific, including politically-motivated killings and abductions in the Philippines under the watch of President Benigno Aquino III.
“The Philippines is key to the TPPA and the US military pivot to the Pacific. The US already has the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and are looking to re-open bases in the Philippines. Moreover, the US also funds, arms, and creates strategy for the human rights violating Philippine military. The US will need to enforce the TPPA with military might because the people will fight against it. People stood up against NAFTA, and they are standing up against the TPPA,” said Penetrante.
Members of the academe have also expressed their opposition to the TPPA. In an interview with Itwire.com, a professor of law at the University of Auckland and a long-term academic activist in the area of free trade and investment agreements Jane Kelsey said the proposed TPPA is far-reaching on several levels.
“It is important to understand that it is not about “trade” as traditionally understood. Its advocates call it an agreement for the 21st century. That does not mean addressing the challenges of the 21st century – climate change, financial instability, resource scarcity, job insecurity, inequalities – but removal of constraints on economic integration and seamless commercial transactions.There is no doubt that the major corporations are driving the TPPA agenda and seeking binding rules that guarantee them influence within domestic decision-making processes and enforcement powers outside national courts if governments act against their interests,” she said.
Kelsey pointed out that among the driving objectives of the US and its allies for pushing the TPPA is their desire to create a “gold standard” agreement. This standard, Kelsey said, will be imposed , mainly among countries that are already highly liberalized, as a platform for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific.
“That goal is not just economic – it is seen as a way of counter-balancing China’s influence in the region and ensuring the US has influence. Other APEC countries will come under pressure to join the TPPA if the negotiations conclude. That may not happen if there has been resistance in the past to such an agreement because the Anglo-American model that the TPPA would follow is not favoured by many Asian countries, especially when the US and its corporations are at the core,” she said.
Bayan-US continues to campaign for greater international solidarity between the American people and people of Asia-Pacific region against all forms of US intervention, including economic intervention through the TPPA.