By Stan Santos
The authors of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are asking Valley communities to take another leap of blind faith in support of multinational corporations. The TPP would create a legal framework with the force of an international treaty that controls natural and human resources across several continents and for generations. In an encouraging development, communities, environmentalists, labor and some conservatives are united in opposition. People throughout the world have hit the streets to demand that their governments halt the TPP.
“How do you fight something you cannot see?”
Activists against the TPP liken it to the blind men and the elephant. Only lawmakers and industry experts with security clearances can review the material in a closed environment, with no ability to copy, photograph or even take handwritten notes.
President Obama is seeking “fast track” authority for TPP; secret negotiations, followed by public disclosure for a short window of time with no amendments or changes. It would then go to Congress for an up or down vote.
In January 2014, representatives of the Fresno-Madera-Tulare-Kings (FMTK) Central Labor Council met with Rep. Jim Costa (D–Fresno) and voiced their opposition to the TPP. The only details available to the public are from WikiLeaks, which provided troves of information including negotiating transcripts. Since those early disclosures and subsequent releases by WikiLeaks, there has been some real time data. The details paint a tapestry of interconnections that can only be likened in complexity to a living organism and/or a military organization.
Industry Has Open Access
There are approximately 600 trade advisers comprising six Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITACs) with access to the TPP text. The following is a partial list:
- The Agricultural ITAC includes the Almond Board of California, the California Walnut Commission and the American Farm Bureau Federation. They will represent important export opportunities for Central Valley farmers. There is no statement regarding representation of farmworkers.
- The Energy and Technical Trades ITACs include the American Petroleum Institute, Archer Daniels Midland Company, Chevron Corporation, General Electric and the Nuclear Energy Institute. They would become major suppliers of the fuel and energy needs of the region and Japan, which desperately needs coal and other fuels to replace its crippled and hazardous nuclear power industry. There is no data regarding the job prospects for Valley unemployed in this fast-moving, skilled, technology-based industry.
- The Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals and Health Science Products and Intellectual Property Rights ITACs include the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and “Big Pharma,” which wants to extend the patenting and copyright protections of lifesaving drugs. Treaty-enforced controls would make these products more difficult to obtain for poor countries. Criminal and civil sanctions would tighten access to generic products for U.S. consumers, who will continue to pay exorbitant prices for their prescriptions.
AT&T Data Breaches
The Information and Communications Technologies and Intellectual Property Rights ITACs include AT&T and Verizon Communications. They see market potential but may also be eyeing more overseas call centers in countries where English is the primary or sole foreign language taught in their schools. U.S. consumers increasingly complain about a “Kenny” who “can’t disclose my location” or spell “Kenmore Drive.” When the caller says, “Kenmore, like the washing machine?” there is only a pause.
In April of this year, the Federal Communications Commission announced data breaches in AT&T call centers in Mexico, Colombia and the Philippines; 279,000 AT&T customers had their names, Social Security numbers and account information stolen. According to AT&T, which paid a $25 million settlement, there was no reason to believe the stolen customer records were used for identity theft or financial fraud.
This comes at a time when call centers located in Atwater, Fresno and Bakersfield closed, causing the exit of more than 400 residential service reps represented by the Communications Workers of America.
Wal-Mart Trade Adviser
Wal-Mart is part of the ITACs dealing with Distribution Services, Customs Matters and Trade Facilitation, and the Agricultural Committee on Animals and Animal Products. Wal-Mart already has extensive expertise with foreign markets and suppliers. Mexico is its second largest market outside of the United States, and Wal-Mart de Mexico y Centro America is the biggest retail company in Latin America.
According to a 2012 New York Times report, the U.S. Justice Department and the Securities Exchange Commission launched investigations into Wal-Mart de Mexico for bribes paid for construction permits and other favors. Forbes Magazine later reported, “Wal-Mart Bribery Probe Expands Past Mexico to Brazil, China and India.”
By 2013, Wal-Mart had spent more than $200 million on the investigations and should have faced penalties of up to $4.5 billion. Although the outcome has been muted, that experience could be helpful in dealings in Asia and the Pacific Rim where this business model may work.
There is also the Trade Advisory Committee on Africa headed by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which indicates where the TPP may be headed next.
Valley Leaders Take a Stand
On May 5, leaders and affiliates of the FMTK Central Labor Council, the North Valley Labor Federation, the California Labor Federation and the AFL-CIO met with Costa and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez. Also in attendance were the heads of the Fresno County Democratic Party and the Madera County Democratic Party; both of which have passed resolutions opposing the TPP.
The focus of the meeting was Costa’s position on the TPP. A few days before it was announced that Secretary Perez would attend, it was clear that he would provide political cover for Costa and allay concerns regarding the TPP.
Costa and Secretary Perez opened with the good work that had been done on behalf of labor. Although respectful, labor leaders grew impatient and turned toward the present negotiations, citing case after case where they had been shortchanged. The North American Free Trade Agreement and similar trade deals had decimated the ranks of machinists, auto builders and other manufacturing craft trades. And they had accomplished little or nothing to improve health and safety conditions or provide justice for workers abroad.
The meeting was punctuated by an emotional statement by the head of the California Labor Federation, Art Pulaski. He spoke of a visit with trade unionists in Colombia, which was known to have the highest rate of assassinations of labor leaders in the world. He later learned that one of the labor leaders he met with during that visit had been murdered. Similar violence increased in 2014.
Why Obama? And why now?
Obama seems convinced that passage of the TPP is his last chance to repair his legacy and lead the United States out of the inherited quagmire of wars and financial disasters, which have left more than $4.5 trillion in debt to foreign governments. According to the U.S. Treasury Department, China is owed the most, with $1.26 trillion in debt, followed by Japan, with $1.22 trillion.
If the authors of the TPP achieve their goal and humble China, they could invite China to join, placing workers in the United States and other countries in direct competition with the manufacturing powerhouse of the region.
The TPP touches people’s lives in ways that mostly benefit multinational business interests. It infringes on national sovereignty; human, civil and labor rights; freedom of speech; consumer protections; health and safety; and net neutrality. The list goes on; it has no sunset and is open to expansion to other countries.
History is a continuum of human suffering, conflicts and opportunities to advance the cause of justice. The struggle to stop the TPP has mobilized communities across borders and continents. Whoever prevails, it has galvanized international movements against the power and designs of multinational corporations. It could be a turning point.
If you want to help local efforts, call Rep. Costa at 888-966-9836 or write him at 855 M St., Fresno, CA 93721. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stan Santos is an activist in the labor and immigrant community. Contact him at email@example.com.