Editor’s note: This is the first of three articles on the views of speakers who will participate in the Moana Nui 2011 conference during APEC. Read an article by the coordinator of the alternative conference.

Read the other articles in the series: Moana Nui Speaker Challenges People to Examine APEC More Closely and Moana Nui Speaker Says Hawaii Should Take Its Cue From New Zealand .

Next week, as Honolulu is engulfed in a veritable sea of APEC delegates, corporate executives, CEOs, finance ministers, international media and the heads of state of the 21 member economies, a different international gathering called Moana Nui will take place (Nov 9-11) in which experts, activists, academics and thinkers from around the Asia Pacific will gather to discuss an alternative to the APEC model.

In this first of three articles examining just a few of the more than 30 participating Moana Nui speakers, two leading voices explain why they are highly critical about APEC and associated free trade agreements (FTAs).

Victor Menotti is executive director of the International Forum of Globalization (IFG), a San Francisco-based North-South research and educational institution that provides analysis and critiques of economic globalization. He is critical of the policies and practices of APEC, arguing that they are damaging to indigenous and traditional communities, fragile ecosystems and the resources within, and the environment as a whole.

‘Corporate Rape and Pillage’

He pulls no punches: “APEC is a corporate agenda. It’s about the industrial economy with policies that read as if they’re straight out of the WTO rule book. This is trade liberalization and getting governments, which are supposed to express the people’s will, out of the way of ‘economic freedom’ which is code for corporate rule. This is corporate rape and pillage,” Menotti says.

He calls APEC “primarily a business forum and its economic collaboration with a particular role for government,” adding, “It’s what we’ve seen since the Washington Consensus onwards.”

Menotti is not singling out APEC. He says the IMF (International Monetary Fund), the WTO (World Trade Organization) and similar bodies claim to pursue “economic integration” but the results are a disintegration of cultures, ecosystems, societies and social safety nets.” In more blunt terms, he calls APEC “colonization today in real time.”

APEC may claim it pursues the goals of peace and prosperity but, according to Menotti, it has the opposite effect.

Can APEC Do Anything Right?

Menotti concedes that an international exchange of ideas and best practices in critical areas like climate change adaptation and global empowerment of women are a positive aspect of APEC.

“Certainly the things APEC is doing with policy makers, practitioners and exchanging ideas on best practices for climate change and adaptation and coastal planning is great. Democratic movements need their governments to cooperate and we need international exchanges in fora.”

Asked if APEC can do any good, Menotti says, “Yes. The more it allows a democratic space to happen and the people’s priorities to come forward… But what we see happen is a corporate agenda.”

Ultimately, however, he says APEC’s goals place the industrial economy, buoyed by global free trade, increased consumption and materialism as a top priority at the expense of all non-corporate controlled bodies. Such goals, Menotti argues, are destructive and unsustainable.

Joining Menotti at Moana Nui to discuss APEC and associated free trade legislation is professor Jane Kelsey, an associate dean at New Zealand’s University of Auckland school of law. Specializing in international trade negotiations and their impacts on social justice, she edited and co-authored No Ordinary Deal: Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

Writing by email from New Zealand, Kelsey says it is important to expose and resist what is being done under free trade and investment negotiations, in particular the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free trade agreement currently being negotiated between the United States and eight other APEC members. Last week Japanese prime minister Yoshihiko Noda announced Japan will declare its intention to join TPP despite strong opposition from farmers.

The ultimate objective for TPP, Kelsey says, is to form a free trade area across all APEC countries and potentially beyond APEC, most notably India. The motivation for this, she says, is to counter China’s growing influence in the region and ensure the adoption of the “Anglo-American style, market-driven model.”

Kelsey says completion of the TPP agreement could potentially impose constraints on regulatory freedoms over non-commodity sectors like public health, consumer rights, state-owned public services, finance and agriculture.

Kelsey, who has been following APEC since 1994, describes it as “advancing the failed model of global free markets.” One important distinction, often overlooked, she says, is that APEC member countries are described as “economies.” This is in part to accommodate the political sensitivities of an association that includes China, Hong Kong and “Chinese Taipei” (Taiwan) as three separate entities but Kelsey argues that viewing APEC members as “economies” excludes non-economic considerations like social well-being, indigenous rights, culture, the environment, workers and gender rights, except as they fit into the neo-liberal free market model.

Aging Politicians Enjoying Cocktails

APEC has just one voice, Kelsey says, ‘the voice of big business.’ APEC’s relevance today, she says, is to serve as an incubator for policies and a legal framework that are imported to free trade agreements like the TPP and recently passed agreements between the U.S. and Colombia, Panama and South Korea.

Its other relevance, she says, is as a place for trade ministers and political leaders to seek political deals, jump-start stalled negotiations, sign agreements and partake in a telegenic photo ops dressed in matching ponchos, bomber jackets, batik or (could this year be anything else?) — aloha shirts. As early as the 1990s, Kelsey says, APEC was discredited to the point that it was jokingly referred to as “Aging Politicians Enjoying Cocktails.”