Negotiators of the Trans-Pacific Partnership began meeting on Maui today, where they are hoping to conclude a deal next week. The massive twelve-country treaty has been in the works for six years, secretive to the public but advised by 500 corporations.

Making no attempt to feign democracy, citizens have had to rely on leaked draft texts to get just a partial glimpse of what is in the extensive agreement. Once the negotiators have come to a deal, democratic deliberation will be further subverted by “fast-tracking” the TPP, putting it to Congress for a yes/no vote with no amendments and limited debate. Depending on what happens in Hawaii this week, a Congressional vote could happen as soon as Nov. 1.

The TPP is one of three major international treaties — also including the TTIP Atlantic-version and TISA services agreement — currently under negotiation. These treaties aim to lock-in policies that make it easier for the most dominant corporations and banks to rake in profits, and harder for people and democratic governments to decide their own fate. It amounts to more regulation and bureaucracy facilitating the profits and property rights of the mega-rich, and less protections for workers, indigenous rights, farmers, health, the environment, and smaller businesses.


President Obama and other leaders of Trans Pacific Partnership agreement nations at a 2010 meeting.

Via Wikimedia Commons

Like NAFTA and other (misleadingly described) “free-trade agreements,” the TPP would pit workers of different countries against one another and drive down wages and living standards. Richard Trumka, President of AFL-CIO, the largest federation of unions in the United States, recently told the Guardian that never before have unions been so unified in opposing something. Describing general effects on U.S. jobs and the economy, Trumka said:

“It doesn’t affect just people in manufacturing…It affects everybody, including people in services. When high wages are driven down in manufacturing and elsewhere, it affects everyone in the community. When a manufacturing plant moves out — and we’ve lost tens of thousands of them since 2000 — it affects everybody. It hurts the wage base and tax base.”

Leaked texts from the TPP indicate that not only does it extend the NAFTA-like regime, but it goes well beyond it. Investor rights provisions in the TPP empower corporations to bypass domestic courts and sue governments in international tribunals for imagined losses of “expected profits” — for example, over gold still in the ground. Currently these “investor-state” systems are being used by corporations to sue over denial of mining permits, pollution cleanup requirements, minimum wage law, climate regulations, cigarette health labels, and a long list of other public interest policies. Hundreds of cases have been launched in the past several years, and an entire industry has popped up around contriving potential lawsuits. With investors entitled to demand unlimited sums of taxpayer money, it is a lucrative new frontier for stealing wealth from the 99.9 percent (and especially the world’s poorest).

For Hawaii, aspects of the TPP might be likened to an international level PLDC—on steroids. Corporate profit protections would be privileged over Hawaii’s unique protections for conservation lands and publicly managed resources. Development companies would acquire strengthened legal rights to maximize their private investments using public resources. These legal rights can create a “chilling effect,” whereby governments hesitate to pass regulations that might interrupt or irritate private investors.

All of this is of particular concern in regards to ongoing violations of Kānaka rights to manage and access resources and sacred places, and potentially of concern to unresolved seized Crown and Government land issues. Indigenous communities globally are calling the TPP / TTIP a new wave of colonization—treaties being made without their participation or consent, but with extensive impacts on their lands and the appropriation and privatization of their cultures and knowledges. It should not be ignored that TPP negotiations are being “hosted” by the U.S. in Hawaii, amidst de-colonial and de-occupation struggles.

Potential impacts of the TPP are wide-ranging, and rattling down a list risks sounding alarmist. But perhaps it is far past time to sound the alarm. Just a few of many additional points of concern include: widening inequality, rising cost of medicine, the undermining of local food production and security, exploitation of Oceania resources, the lowering of pesticide regulations, and suspended action on climate change. While seemingly disparate, these things are tied together by an underlying agenda to extend the profits, powers, privatization rights, markets and speculative capacities of the world’s largest corporations and banks, while shredding what remains of the social safety net and public protections.

TPP has an underlying agenda to extend the profits, powers, privatization rights, markets and speculative capacities of the world’s largest corporations and banks, while shredding what remains of the social safety net and public protections.

These aren’t just matters of “corporate greed” (though that is part)—they are the drives of a system that is structured by compulsive commodification and profit maximization. In recent decades, neoliberal ideology has imposed extremes of this capitalist logic. While it comes cloaked in rhetoric of freedom, in truth all that comes “free” are the profits of those with the power to enclose the commons, speculate on non-existent abstractions (wreaking hunger and homelessness), and sue citizens for attempting to govern their own lives.

The decades-long corporate power grab and assault on people, democracy and earth also has a counter—the global movement of movements that is rising to make a fairer, more ecologically sane, and more cooperative and compassionate global future. What brings us together is our love for the planet, our respect for and responsibility to one another, and our belief that a better world is possible. While today many of us focus on stopping the TPP, these efforts are about the equality, democracy, human solidarity, justice, and true freedom that we seek to build.

Organizers and movements on Maui, in solidarity with people around the world, have called for a “convergence by land and sea to stop the TPP” on July 29 in Lahaina, where negotiations are taking place. Organizer Trinette Furtado says that all are invited that afternoon to a collective blowing of the conch shell: “The conch shell (or pū, in ‘ōlelo Hawai’i) was included because it calls for a cessation of time; of people. Because it demands attention and asks all to bear witness. We are sounding a call to attention; a call to stand and join together.”

For those that choose to visit the TPP negotiations, please be very respectful of place, take out everything you bring in, and use busses and parking shuttles if possible. Kamaʻaina of Lahaina did not invite the TPP negotiations, nor should they have to deal with any kind of pilikia or ʻōpala left behind.

In line with the Hawaiian wisdom “I ka wā ma mua, ka wā ma hope” (the future is in the past), it is worth recalling that July 31 also marks Lā Hoʻihoʻi Ea, which was celebrated as Hawaiian national independence during much of the 19th century. On this “Restoration day” in 1843, after the islands were temporarily claimed by a rogue British captain, Hawaiian emissaries secured sovereignty and Kamehameha III famously proclaimed, “ua mau ke ea o ka ‘āina i ka pono”—“the sovereignty of the land continues through justice and proper acts” (translation by Noelani Goodyear-Ka‘opua in A Nation Rising).

Grounded in knowledge of histories past, we might ask what history is being made today, and how we will participate in shaping the future.

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