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11-November 2013



We are in a time of transformational change. The opportunity is here to reverse the destruction wrought by rigged corporate trade agreements and to demand trade that is fair and promotes sustainable practices. There is no reason trade cannot improve the lives of workers and people around the world, as well as protect the planet from the rapacious destruction of corporate greed. We need to insist that people and the planet come before profits.

It is up to us to make this transformation a reality. To do so we must build a broad-based, movement of movements that sends a clear message to Washington, D.C.: "If you pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we will not obey."

The Obama administration has made it a priority to have the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) completed by the end of the year. The TPP is the largest trade agreement negotiated since the World Trade Organization (WTO). It covers 12 countries so far and includes provisions that reach beyond issues of trade. The full contents of the TPP are unknown because it has been negotiated with unprecedented secrecy; however, it is clear from what has been revealed that the TPP gives transnational corporations the power to alter our laws down to the local level to enhance and protect their profits.

To pass the TPP, Obama is seeking Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority from Congress, which would give the president the ability to negotiate and sign the agreement before it is presented to Congress for a limited debate and an up-or-down vote without amendments. Fast Track, which has been used to pass other undesirable trade deals like the WTO and NAFTA, would prohibit a transparent and democratic process. Without Fast Track, it would be more difficult to pass the TPP.

At present, with the help of grass-roots pressure, momentum is growing in Congress to stop Fast Track. Many elected Republicans and Democrats are signing on to letters stating that they refuse to give up their constitutional responsibility to regulate trade between nations. However, as corporate lobbyists descend on Congress, that momentum could change.

To ensure that Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership do not become law, we need to continue to build grass-roots pressure. In addition to contacting Congress, activists are organizing to pass local laws saying their community will not obey the TPP because it is being passed in secrecy, without their consent and taking away their ability to legislate for the benefit of their community. And activists are strengthening their ties with the global community by coordinating efforts to stop the TPP and other toxic agreements such as the WTO and the new Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, known as TAFTA, which started being negotiated in July.

Time to Build a Democratic Movement of Resistance

Alliance for Democracy member Ruth Caplan, who has been active in movements that stopped previous trade agreements and facilitated the creation of an alternative "General Agreement for the New Economy," recently told us, "It is time to build a democratic movement of resistance. This starts from the grass roots, in the communities where we live." She urges opponents of the TPP to work with their local governments - city, town and county - to pass TPP-Free Zone laws.

As Caplan emphasizes, "This is not, 'Please, Congress, do the right thing,' but language of resistance. We need to say, 'If you create this secretly negotiated corporate trade agreement and it is a rubber-stamped by Congress, we will not obey.' "

The Alliance for Democracy website has information to help activists work with local elected officials to do this. In addition to providing model municipal laws that can be edited to fit the needs of the community, they provide the best arguments for making the case to local officials.

Dane County and the city of Madison, Wisconsin, recently passed resolutions opposing the TPP; and Berkeley, California, is in the process of considering one. David Newby of the Wisconsin Fair Trade Coalition, who was a key player in passing the Wisconsin resolutions, said:

"What was most powerful with local officials was the realization that these trade agreements change federal law to conform to the agreement. That would mean the elimination of Buy America or Buy Local in terms of government procurement. ... TPP limits the ability to pass ordinances which benefit the people of Dane County or the City of Madison."

Caplan points out that more specifically the TPP would undermine local laws such as those that protect food safety, worker rights and the environment. In addition to requiring that laws conform to provisions within the TPP, corporations would be allowed to sue governments in the trade tribunal if laws interfere with their profits. Governments could not represent their interests before the tribunal or appeal adverse decisions. This would be a tremendous loss of sovereignty.

The TPP-Free Zone would say to Obama and Congress that communities will not allow secretly negotiated trade deals to undermine the ability of local governments to legislate. Caplan explains that just as some communities are challenging the idea that corporations have the constitutional rights of humans, this is an approach of "taking on settled law. It is taking on what these corporations think they have already won."

The campaign to pass TPP-Free Zone laws serves other purposes as well. It is an opportunity to reach out to local advocacy groups and educate them about the TPP. And it provides a way to break through the media blackout of the TPP by approaching local media.

A similar campaign that included resolutions in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Asia and Europe was a key ingredient in stopping the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) in the mid-1990s. When the draft MAI was released in 1997, broad opposition that included labor, environmental, human rights and other civil society groups developed quickly. And by October 1998, the MAI was dead. The overall approach was called the "Dracula Strategy," i.e. that exposing the agreement to the light of day would kill it. Many of the same arguments being made against the TPP were also made against the MAI.

Caplan describes the defeat of the MAI as the first global movement against corporate trade deals and with success "the movement felt its power. It taught that active citizens working together can overcome transnational corporate power and defeat them." It helped to build the momentum to stall the WTO in the Seattle protests of 1999.

Arthur Stamoulis of Citizens Trade Campaign, who has been working against corporate trade agreements since the 1999 Seattle protests, reminds us that past trade agreements have been stopped by a "movement of movements." And that is what is happening now with the TPP because it affects so many different issues: food sovereignty, health care, Internet freedom, labor, the environment, human rights and more.

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