Two elderly businessmen struggled to push a dolly cart loaded with boxes of 10,000 postcards addressed to the US Trade Representative to the door of the Chicago Hilton as negotiators launched a new round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
These were no ordinary businessmen. The founders of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream had been travelling the country educating communities about fair trade and collecting signatures on the postcards. They were determined to hand them personally to the US lead negotiator. Hotel security turned them away.
The postcards call for no more free trade deals based on the model of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Instead a 21st century fair trade agreement should “advance labor, environmental and human rights standards at home and abroad”. That would include:
“Strong, clear and enforceable labour standards based on International Labor Organization Conventions
An end to investor-to-state provisions that threaten environmental and consumer protections
A clear mandate enabling countries to obtain affordable, generic medications for sick people
Respect for communities’ decisions as to how to best protect family farmers and feed their populations.”
At a curbside rally to support the handover, spokesperson from ‘Stand Up Chicago’ connected these demands to the realities of the local community.
“Chicago has the third highest poverty level for any metropolitan area in America and 35,000 workers have lost their jobs during the recession.”
“All we see is that our taxpayer dollars that go to pay for corporate welfare, while the corporations and banks get special access to these talks and we are shut outside”.
Lori Wallach from Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch observed that the sentiments on street in Chicago reflect a wider groundswell of concern that Obama’s trade agenda puts the interests and voice of powerful corporations ahead of workers, the poor, the sick, the environment and nation’s democracy.