We welcome all of the delegates to APEC with Aloha. However we cannot keep silent about the subject of the talks that world leaders are engaging in while they are here. APEC is the Pacific version of an emerging system of supra-national governance – economic globalization – that is eroding the basis of national identity and sovereignty. Free Trade Agreements subject the laws that cities, states, provinces, and even nations make to an unelected set of international financiers. These finance capitalists from Goldman Sachs to Singapore’s Sovereign Wealth Fund are gathering in Hawaii next week and making plans that could, if passed without changes, restrict our ability to govern ourselves. This is an area of grave concern for churches, temples and other institutions of civil society.

On the table for APEC is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (or TPP) which is the first trade deal initiated by President Obama’s White House. As a candidate Obama made strong commitments to conduct trade deals differently than his predecessors. He stood up not only for the environmental and labor protections that were lacking in NAFTA, CAFTA, and the more recent South Korean and Colombian free trade deals – but also for the need to protect America from the job losses that these past agreements inflicted on us. I pray that the President holds firmly to his original vision, but leaked early drafts of the plans look like the same old thing.

And the same old thing is bad news for the 99 percent in our country. When billionaire candidate Ross Perot ran for office he predicted that after passage of NAFTA, we’d hear a giant sucking sound of jobs leaving the country — and 20 years later there are 2 million less American manufacturing jobs thanks mostly to NAFTA, GATT, and their successor agreements. The net effect of these agreements has been to create a worldwide race to the bottom, so that investors move factories to the countries with the least restrictions on child or slave labor, the least environmental and safety standards. Meanwhile the terms of the trade deal forces us to accept these goods as if they were made in our own country.

This isn’t just bad because trade agreements like the proposed TPP being discussed next week prevent us from protecting keiki from lead paint in toys, or labeling tuna “Dolphin Safe” (a label that has been struck down last spring by the WTO as “too restrictive on trade”). It is also bad because manufacturing is the basis for American prosperity. Manufacturing turns raw goods into finished products, adding value to the economy. Countries with strong manufacturing sectors get rich off this virtuous cycle, the way China is doing today. Trade deals like this one are killing manufacturing in America at the expense of the middle class, but to the benefit of the investor class who are loyal to quarterly stock earnings above God and country.

In Hawai’i this isn’t an abstract problem since some of the jobs sucked out by past trade agreements were ours. Over the last 20 years Hawaii lost almost all of our remaining sugar and pineapple to Mexico, displacing thousands of workers, and stripping diversity from the local economy. The collapse of our agricultural sector has also paved the way for urban sprawl, not only on Oahu but increasingly on Maui as well.

The effect of the economic globalization represented by APEC is to flatten the difference between nations and cultures. It disintegrates values, customs and beliefs that are local. In Hawai’i we highly value the sense of local; it is a word charged with meaning for us. And we’ve all watched over the years as that sense of local identity has weakened. Liberty House becomes Macy’s, Hyatt becomes Goldman Sachs, the Wisteria disappears, and Honolulu gets another Cheesecake Factory. When an international hedge fund buys Turtle Bay, they ban the shaka and try to close the beaches to local people.

But cultural identity and nostalgia are not the main problem in front of us. The current draft TPP contemplates a number of provisions which hurt Hawai’i’s ability to govern itself. One part of the draft talks about limiting government abilities to negotiate drug prices in a block. Another provision limits public procurement programs – curtailing any kind of buy local preferences we might want to enact down the road. Australia and New Zealand have pushed for these kinds of provisions to be abandoned, as did Candidate Obama. The question is will President Obama require these reforms before signing off on the TPP?

FACE is a small faith based organization, located in the most isolated place on earth, a small island chain in a very big world. Usually our work is limited to the things that are right in front of us – the first issue we ever worked on was reserved seating for the elderly on theBus. Our members are churches and temples, we are not politically sophisticated, nor wealthy nor powerful. But churches are the places where people come for some of the most important moments of their lives – baptisms, marriages, and funerals. As pastors we are therefore in a good position to see clearly the beauty of life and we cherish these things above profit margins and stock index numbers. Unsophisticated we may be, but we understand context, we can see that the foreclosures all around us are traced back to the violent and limitless greed pumping through the heart of Wall Street. We are inspired by the young people occupying the parks in New York and around the world. We also hear the words of Pope Benedict the XVI who has offered a prophetic critique of the current crisis over the last few weeks asserting that “the economy cannot be measured by the maximum profit but instead by the common good… the economy cannot function only with mercantile self-regulation…”, and we feel called to act in our own small way to push the TPP towards the Pope’s higher standard.

On Monday we will hold an interfaith service from 6:30 – 8:00 p.m. at St. Augustine’s in Waikiki. All are welcome. This service will be inspired by the Coconut Theology, an indigenous theology of place which began in Fiji and Tonga and spread throughout the Polynesian triangle. In this way we will celebrate the local, the unique and the specific as a challenge to a broken vision of economic globalism that flattens the identity and character of people, places, and things. Three years into a recession that Wall Street caused we are just not willing sit quietly and let the global elite – the so called 1% – decide our fate for us. We invite you to join us on Monday night.


About the author: The Rev. Sam Domingo is the pastor of Keolumana United Methodist Church, and has been President of FACE Oahu for almost two years.