On Sunday, September 9, I joined a few hundred members of civil society, including members from the Interfaith Working Group on Trade and Investment at a resort in Leesburg, Virginia where delegates from the nine countries currently involved in the negotiations are meeting for the 14th round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I had the fortunate opportunity to present on the faith and moral concerns surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
As I prepared, I meditated on the Gospel scripture from Matthew 21:12-13:
Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money-changers and the seats of those who sold doves. He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
Columbans and I fear that the TPP will lead to just another trade policy that will further impoverish people in poverty around the world, cause additional public health disasters and environmental degradation. The TPP, through multi-national corporations, will turn sovereign nations into the den of robbers at the expense of Creation and the poor. This is the largest trade agreement that the U.S. has sought yet and the consequences will be great if it moves forward.
Investor-state clauses in past trade agreements have been particularly harmful for both Creation and vulnerable communities. The most recent case involves the Lead smeltering plant in La Oroya, Peru where many children are suffering from lead poisoning leading to evidence of cognitive impairment. The Peruvian government asked the company to clean up the mess and the company turned around and sued the Peruvian government for wages lost. While not specifically present in this community, Columbans in Peru and other parts of the world see first hand the impacts of harmful trade policies as they play out in environmental and labor conditions.
Getting back to Leesburg. When I arrived, the tables where negotiators could pick up information were in one building about a ten minute walk to where the presentations were held. The presentations were held in tiny rooms from 11am-2pm when many people were thinking about lunch. The event certainly was not set up to make it easy for negotiators to have meaningful interaction with the civil society stakeholders.
My presentation focused on Catholic Social Teaching related to the human dignity and worth of every person, Caring for God’s Creation, and the right and responsibility for meaningful participation in society to help improve the well-being of the common good. I highlighted
- the need for strong labor standards and the right to dignified work and livelihoods,
- the need to ensure strong environmental regulations and prevent corporations from suing for profits lost after they generate environmental and public health disasters,
- the need for transparency in the negotiations process,
- and the need to ensure that the people most affected by investments have a voice in the decisions that will directly impact them and their environment.
See my fact sheet on the TPP and Catholic Social Teachings here.
After the presentation, I joined a few hundred people, including our new Economic Justice Advocacy intern Joseph, at a rally in front of the resort to stop the TPP. It was inspiring and invigorating to be with such a strong group of supporters and to hear some great speakers including Matthew Kavanaugh from HealthGap working for affordable drugs for AIDs patients.
Then the group of us who were stakeholders returned inside to hear from the chief negotiators. It was clear that the negotiators did not want to answer questions related to generic drug access, public participation in the process or in investment decisions made under the TPP, or questions regarding the investor-state provision.
While the official response was certainly frustrating, I was glad I was there to share the Columban experience with negotiators and to have a faithful presence. It was also important for building national and international solidarity in the movement itself. This event reminded me that the voice of conscience and truth is important and that sharing a faithful witness is my role as a person of faith. I pray that the negotiators in their hearts will hear our concerns and consider what the consequences will be for all God’s people and the whole of Creation if the TPP moves forward. I also pray for justice and that we do not end up with an agreement that allows corporations to create a den of robbers.