Fast Track for the Trans-Pacific Partnership: What It Means for Indigenous Peoples

April 12, 2015

Photos by Peg HunterCaelie_FramptonBackbone Campaign

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is a massive, controversial free trade agreement currently under negotiation behind closed doors by officials from the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

The TPP would elevate multinational corporations and private investors to equal status with sovereign nations, and therefore above individual citizens, empowering these entities to sue nations via private tribunals.  The TPP has been marked by an alarming lack of transparency and public input. The public has not been allowed to see the draft text, and the majority of information that is available is the result of leaks. Even members of Congress have been provided only limited access to the proposed agreement. US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) has called for increased transparency in trade negotiations for the TPP, warning that, “Without transparency, the benefit from robust democratic participation—an open marketplace of ideas—is considerably reduced.” Meanwhile, more than 600 official corporate “trade advisors” have been given special access to the draft text.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What Does It Mean for Indigenous Peoples?

In the same vein as deals like NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Organization, the TPP is being drafted with no input from the Indigenous Peoples who live in countries that will be affected by the deal. The TPP could have broad implications for Indigenous Peoples living in the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. 

The secrecy of the TPP entirely disregards the concept of Free, Prior, Informed Consent, a tenant of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples which states that policies affecting Indigenous Peoples should not move forward without the full understanding and approval of those it might affect. .

Corporate Rights over Human Rights

The agreement threatens to dramatically affect Indigenous Peoples by ramping up trade policies that have allowed for transnational corporations to engage in oil, gas, and mineral extraction without the Free, Prior and Informed Consent of their communities.  TPP policies would encourage the natural gas industry, which has already severely affected Native and First Nations communities in North America.  “The TPP would facilitate increased exports of liquefied natural gas by requiring the U.S. Department of Energy to automatically approve all natural gas exports to TPP countries. Increased exports would mean an increase in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the dirty and violent process that dislodges gas deposits from shale rock formations,’’ explains the Sierra Club.  Natural gas companies have already begun encroaching otherwise off limits native lands. Uniquely affecting native women, fracking operations tend to be correlated with increased sex trafficking, rape, missing women, and influxes of drugs and alcohol into communities, in addition to its obvious environmental effects contaminating local water and air quality. 

The TPP would also allow companies to evade financial responsibility for environmental contamination, even when it occurs on Indigenous Peoples lands. Under the TPP, investors would have the ability to demand taxpayer compensation for imposed fines, effectively burdening the public with the cost of environmental cleanup. According to Professor Jane Kelsey of New Zealand, the TPP draft chapter on environmental regulations fails to define its key terms, leaving vagueness that will allow for inconsistent interpretation and implementation of regulations. Nowhere in the chapter does it detail a mechanism for setting penalties for environmental offenders. It excludes resource management practices and ignores standards set by the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.  

Mother Nature®

The draft article on Trade and Biodiversity recognizes the rights of states over natural resources and genetic material. This would allow for multinational corporations like Monsanto and industries like Big Pharma to benefit enormously by allowing them to exclusive rights over things like seeds and traditional plant-based medicines found in biodiverse areas managed by Indigenous communities. The agreement flagrantly ignores the United Nations’ specific mention of this in the Declaration, which states that

“Indigenous Peoples have the right to maintain, control, protect and develop…the manifestations of their sciences, technologies and cultures including human and genetic resources, seeds, medicines, knowledge of the properties of fauna and flora.” –Article 31

The patenting of plants that have been used traditionally by Indigenous Peoples without their consent or benefit sharing has been called bio-piracy, and would snowball given the approval of the TPP.  Indigenous activist Te Kaituhi, a Māori of Aotearoa New Zealand, exhorts us to “Imagine a world where Indigenous knowledge, language, and customs are outright owned by multinational corporations and copyright enforcement is heavily backed by government police forces.” According to Kaituhi, “The TPP won’t only affect Indigenous freehold land, nor will it just push our people further into poverty. The TPP will give multinationals the right to exploit the ecosystem and further aid them in the acquiring of enforced trademarking and copyrighting of Indigenous intellectual property and cultural or traditional knowledge;” in other words, a new form of colonization.

Suing for lost profits

One of the most troubling aspects of the TPP is found in the draft chapter on investment deals with investor-state dispute settlement which gives corporations the right to sue a government for unlimited cash compensation -- in private and non-transparent tribunals -- over nearly any law or policy that a corporation alleges will reduce its profits. Kelsey notes that “the vast majority of investment arbitrations under similar agreements involve natural resources, especially mining, and have resulted in billions of dollars of damages against governments for measures designed to protect the environment from harm caused by foreign corporations.” Under the proposed TPP, the investor-state clause can be used to pressure governments into allowing the continued operation of the severely polluting industries out of fear of being sued for lost profits.  Governments around the world are already extremely reluctant to regulate industries like mining and oil, which can bring them large revenues in royalties. With the potential that States could be held financially responsible for reigning in harmful business practices, corporate profits gains an even stronger precedence over disenfranchised Indigenous Peoples living with destructive industries in their backyards.

Fast Track

Negotiators have announced that they are very close to concluding the agreement, with just a few outstanding issues remaining. However, several countries have said that they won’t present their final offers until the US Congress grants President Obama “Fast Track” Authority.

Fast track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), is a process that would rush trade deals through Congress and remove the ability of elected officials to ensure that trade pacts protect workers, communities and the environment. Fast track would allow the president to send already signed trade pacts, including the TPP, to Congress for a straight up-or-down vote with no amendments and a maximum of 20 hours debate.

 Despite mounting opposition, The Obama administration is throwing its full weight behind Fast Track and the TPP.   In response, a national day of action against Fast Track  has been declared for April 18th, 2015. The national day corresponds to a global day of action to promote fair rather than free trade deals  with events spanning the globe.  Now is the time to spread the word about the detrimental effects of the deals like the TPP and advocate for something better. 

Cultural Survival signed on along with over 550 organizations in sending a letter to then US Senate Finance Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) firmly rejecting fast track trade promotion authority in the United States and calling for a new system for negotiating and implementing trade agreements. In the letter, this diverse coalition stated that “fast track,” an outdated mechanism that would limit Congressional and public oversight over trade negotiations, is “simply not appropriate” given the broad subjects covered by today’s trade pacts, such as the TPP and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. “Fast track is the wrong track for Americans who care about the health of our families and access to clean air, clean water, and land,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. “We need a new model of trade—one that protects communities and the environment while keeping the public engaged in the policy-making process.”

Communities, workers, and especially Indigenous Peoples must have a say in these deals. The fast track is the exact opposite of the principle of Free, Prior and Informed Consent that is laid out as a human rights standard when negotiating deals that will affect Indigenous Peoples, as the TPP will in a dozen countries. 

What can you do?

  1. Get in touch with your area Representatives and Senators.
  2. Share on social media: Fast tracking the TPP ignores the rights of #Indigenous Peoples across Pacific nations. #NoFastTrack for #TPP Atn .@RonWyden .@BarackObama
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