The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a massive international treaty being negotiated in secret by twelve Pacific Rim countries, side-by-side with 500 corporate advisors.

After five years, the trade ministers and corporate advisors are aiming to wrap-up the deal on Maui at the end of this month. Meetings with Chief Negotiators begin July 24, followed by what they hope will be the final Trade Ministers meeting from July 28-31. Both the Westin and Hyatt Regency in Lahaina are reportedly hosting the meetings.

The TPP (and its parallel TTIP Atlantic-version and TISA services agreement aims to lock-in policies that make it easier for the most dominant corporations and banks (mostly monopolies) to guarantee increased profits, and harder for people and democratic governments to decide their own fate in relation to those forces, or to hold them accountable for their actions. It amounts to more regulation protecting the profits and property rights of the mega-rich, and less protections for people, workers, the environment, and smaller businesses.

The TPP has been described as a “corporate power grab", "a Trojan horse in the global race to the bottom,” “an agreement for the 1%,” a “backdoor” for laws that can’t pass democratically, and a “Christmas wish list for corporations.”

The “investor protections” in these treaties give corporations the right to sue governments over imagined losses of “anticipated profits.” 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.

The specific impacts that TPP / TTIP / TISA could have on Hawaii are numerous; due to the unprecedented secrecy of the negotiations, specific impacts must be inferred based on leaked texts and past agreements. A few dangers that are of importance to many in Hawaii include:

  • Exposure to dangerous pesticides — The agrochemical lobby is a main force behind the TPP / TTIP, through which they are pushing for the “harmonization” of countries’ laws to weaken chemical regulations, allow higher levels of pesticides on foods, and block public access to “confidential business information” about pesticide ingredients and dangers. Their goal is to limit protections and tie governments’ hands, right at a time when science, social movements, bees and butterflies are all demanding that we raise protections. Many official U.S. TPP negotiators have worked for the chemical lobby, and will likely go back to their old jobs for Monsanto and Dow after they’ve done their service in U.S. government.

  • Local food production — When we talk about not being able to increase local food self-sufficiency due to “global market forces,” we are referring to particular policies that make it very difficult, if not impossible, for regional food systems to survive. The WTO, NAFTA, and other TPP-predecessors laid ruin to local food systems and displaced tens of millions of smallholder farmers in a matter of decades. The TPP extends such policies, which make it excessively difficult for Hawaii to develop a thriving localized and resilient food economy.

  • Local democratic rights and “home rule” — Citizens of the Mexican municipality of Guadalcazar were made acutely aware of the curtailment of local governance under “free-trade agreements” when they rejected expansion of a toxic waste facility that was polluting the water and soil; they were subsequently sued by a U.S. waste management corporation for $16 million under NAFTA. This is one case of many. With the TPP’s “investor rights,” Hawaii counties and the State could similarly be blocked from any number of local decisions.

  • Economic vulnerability — Given Hawaii’s dependence on tourism, we are especially vulnerable to downturns in the global economy. Hawaii faced one of the worst recessions in its history during the 2008 global economic crisis. Leaked draft texts of TISA (Trade in Services Agreement), the TPP’s sister agreement, reveal that it would roll-back many of the regulations put in place after the 2008 crisis to stabilize the economy and push the financial deregulation that led to the crisis. Not only could this trigger another recession, but it could shackle governments’ capacities to respond.

  • Deepening colonialism — The TPP could interfere with Hawaiian self-determination efforts, including contested rights to manage and access resources and sacred places. The TPP would make “bio-piracy” (the patenting of indigenous plants and knowledge) even easier, and facilitate appropriation and privatization of Hawaiian culture.

  • Human trafficking — The horror of tens of million of people enslaved globally is increasingly entering public awareness in Hawaii as debates surge about our role as a major hub of human trafficking in the Pacific. The problem of modern slavery requires actions at multiple local-national-international scales, and the TPP is being sold to the public on such promises of lifting human rights standards. In truth, the TPP is denying an opportunity to confront modern slavery and is “rewarding” countries with atrocious human rights records. Shockingly, last week the Obama administration upgraded Malaysia’s human rights status in order to ease its entry into the TPP, despite it being one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking.

  • Climate change — Hawaii is already facing impacts of climate change that are only accelerating, including a decrease in trade winds, declining rainfall and stream flow, warming temperatures, sea level rise, and acidifying oceans. When it comes to climate, the earth is our island, and Hawaii will inevitably be impacted by larger global decisions. Under the provisions of the TPP, coal, natural gas, and oil left in the ground = loss of “expected profits” for fossil-fuel companies, and corporate lawsuits have already been brought over fracking and oil contamination clean-up. Further, some trade analysts suggest that the TPP / TTIP would provide “huge market incentives” for more coal mining, oil drilling, mining of tar sands, and fracking.

The list goes on. Clearly, these are not purely matters of “trade”. These are massive, binding international treaties, enforceable through harsh economic penalties, with immense repercussions, far into the future.

The problem is not with global agreements in and of themselves, nor is the problem “trade”. The problem is what is being pursued through such global agreements: control of wealth and power for very few, in direct correlation with increasing poverty and inequality, erosion of democracy, and catastrophic earth destruction.

Why not, instead, pursue binding international treaties guaranteeing universal minimum incomes? Or reducing carbon emissions to preserve a livable planet? Or agreements on debt forgiveness, or aiding refugees of violence and climate change, or cracking down on human-trafficking, or institutionalizing open-sharing of our biological commons, or any number of urgent moral matters that require working together as an island-planet?

We in Hawaii might ask whether the TPP is the type of international agreement that we want being concluded in our home. Or, the more basic question in a “democracy,” do we even have a voice to say anything about it?

Excerpted from a longer article by HAPA Board Member Andrea Brower in The Hawai`i Independent.