Stamford Advocate | 26 October 2016
Peruvians urge Himes to oppose TPP
by Conrado Olivera
Conrado Olivera is director of Red Peruana Uniendo Manos Contra la Pobreza /Peruvian Network Joining Hands Against Poverty and Ana Romero is director of Red Peruana por Una Globalización con Equidad/Peruvian Network for Globalization with Equality
It might be surprising to some in the United States that presidential nominees from both parties are opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). But, as people struggling for our lives and livelihoods in Peru, it comes as no surprise. If anything, we ask what took so long for the elites in the United States to wake up to the failures of the so-called “free trade” policies like the TPP.
Our experience in Peru with the 2007 bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States should serve as a cautionary tale for members of Congress, such as U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., who must take a stand on the TPP now.
The U.S.-Peru FTA was the first U.S. agreement that included enforceable labor and environmental provisions in the core text, and served as the template for the TPP’s Labor and Environment chapters, which the Obama administration claims to be “most progressive in history.” The FTA also included the same terms at the heart of the TPP that empower multinational corporations to sue governments before panels of three corporate lawyers.
The FTA’s beginnings in Peru were bloody. As the deal was being implemented seven years ago, 32 people died in a deadly confrontation, known as the “Bagua massacre,” between Peruvian officials and indigenous communities protesting controversial executive decrees enacted to comply with the FTA’s investor rights requirements.
In the years since, U.S. multinational companies have used the extraordinary rights granted to them by the FTA to sue our government over our environmental and health policies before panels of three corporate lawyers, who are empowered to award unlimited sums of taxpayer money. Our government has to spend millions of dollars out of our small budget just to defend Peru in such cases.
For instance, U.S. company Renco Group, Inc., that owned a metallurgical smelting complex in La Oroya, acted irresponsibly in its environmental and social commitments to the community, to the extent that the community was declared one of the 10 most polluted cities in the world. Ninety-nine percent of children in La Oroya have heavy amounts of lead in their blood. And yet, Renco used the FTA to sue Peru for $800 million, claiming that Peru’s enforcement of the company’s environmental commitments violated its investor rights under the FTA and lowered its expected profits. After years of expensive litigation, the tribunal dismissed the case on a technicality, but Renco vowed that same day to relaunch the case.
The United States perhaps did not have to worry as much under the Peru FTA because there are very few Peruvian multinational corporations in the United States, but you should worry now. Under the TPP, more than 10,000 corporations from TPP countries would be newly empowered to attack U.S. local, state and national laws in these private tribunals, where corporate lawyers rotate between serving as “judges” and launching cases on behalf of corporations.
And, while the Labor and Environment chapters in the U.S.-Peru FTA (and now the TPP) sounded nice, they did not protect Peruvian workers or environment. The FTA had a special annex on forestry (stronger than in the TPP) to counter illegal logging in the Amazon — considered to be the lungs of the world and the global thermal regulator. But seven years later, the illegal logging crisis in Peru’s Amazonian forest continues unabated. Peru’s own forestry oversight agency found last year that 94 percent of the logging operations it surveyed had illegally logged wood set for export. Despite years of advocacy by environmental groups, the U.S. Trade Representative earlier this year asked Peru to verify the legality of just one timber shipment of one exporter.
In the meantime, Peru has become the fourth most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental or land defender. As just one tragic example, we continue to grieve the deaths of four Ashaninka natives from the Saweto community who worked to protect the forests and were assassinated after uncovering an illegal logging operation.
And, incredibly, in 2014, the Peruvian government enacted a package of laws (PL 30230) that rolled back environmental and worker protections, despite explicit language in the FTA that prohibits such rollback. The “enforceable” standards in the agreement made no difference, even with a U.S. Democratic U.S. president responsible for enforcing it.
Our experience in Peru demonstrates how the TPP model prioritizes trade and investment above the protection of the environment, ecosystems, and life itself. The TPP would further facilitate abuse by transnational companies to maximize their economic gain at the expense of the environmental vulnerability of the Amazon.
Further, we agree with United Nations Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz who declared, “The TPP will present a serious threat to the rights of indigenous peoples.”
It fails to even mention Convention 169 of the International Labor Organization which establishes the rights for indigenous and native peoples to be consulted prior to any legislative or administrative measures that directly affect their collective rights. This is likely to lead to even more instability and conflict as transnational logging and mining companies attempt to extract resources from indigenous communities without respecting their right to their lands, territories and cultural identity.
We cannot afford the TPP expansion of corporate power — in Peru or in the United States. The good news is that the TPP is facing rejection across the political spectrum.
We know that representative Himes from Connecticut was born in Peru and thus has a personal connection to the concerns we face in Peru. And thus, as representatives of indigenous, environmental, development, and faith organizations across Peru, we sincerely urge representative Himes to pledge to reject the TPP if it comes to a vote after the election.