The Occupy movement was in full force in Washington last week, as local activists and members of Trade Justice New York Metro attended the Trans Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTA) hearings. The activists wanted to tell members of Congress as well as officials from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) that the Trans-Pacific FTA needs to live up to the high standards the Obama administration promised the American people.
The activists donned t-shirts, with the messages “Don’t Trade Our Lives Away,” “Make Trade Fair for the 99 percent,” and “Got Text?” to represent their opposition to the way the Trans-Pacific FTA has been negotiated thus far. During an intermission between panelists, the activists linked arms and stood by the door to allow the press and members of Congress to read their messages of dissent. The Capitol police photographed the activist attending the hearing and then promptly asked them to leave. While it was clear that the 99% was not wanted at the hearing, the 1% took center stage before the powerful Ways and Means Committee, which oversees trade deals.
Angela Hoffman, Vice President of Global Integrated Sourcing and Trade for Wal-Mart Stores, also testified in favor of some very one-percenter policies. The Wal-Mart representative stated, “USTR should consider alternative approaches to yard forward provision.” The “yard-forward rule of origin” provisions was presented by members of Congress trying to protect over 470,000 American workers in their districts, who are employed in the US textile industry and cannot compete with the low wages paid to workers in Vietnam and China. Wal-Mart also pushed for greater liberalization of non-tariff regulations such as “limitations on size, geographic locations and merchandise assortment.
One of the concerns presented by the activists is the lack of transparency. While Obama and the USTR stated that they would usher in a new era of transparency, this has not been the case. Instead, the only text of the negotiations that has been released is a memo of understanding signed by the Obama administration and negotiating parties that they will not release the text of the negotiations until 4 years after the deal is concluded or the talks have ended. Activists were also concerned with troubling limitations on access to medicines, which may occur if trade negotiators extend intellectual property rights as well as data exclusivity beyond the May 10, 2007 agreement, which helped to increase access to medicine by allowing low income countries to produce generic medicines under more flexible arrangements.
Members of Congress have also issued letters to the United States Trade Representative, Ron Kirk, to ensure that the new TPP negotiations do not worsen access to medicines for critical programs to combat AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, and other life-threatening diseases. Yet, it seems as if US trade negotiators hear the voices of the 1% far louder than those of the 99%, and are now considering a medical pricing proposal brought to them by Big Pharma. We have not forgotten the words made when President Obama was simply the Senator from Illinois, fighting for the 99% “Together, we must forge trade that truly rewards the work that creates wealth, with meaningful protections for our people and our planet.” We will fight to keep this promise even if the 1% do not.