Seattle activists seek to make TPP as well-known – and infamous – as WTO

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It’s usually not a good idea to have two acronyms in a headline, or anywhere near each other.

Bear with me.


WTO protests in Seattle November 30 1999

Boring acronyms — like WTO — sometimes represent and often disguise hugely political and complex issues of great importance.

Most of us know that jargon and acronyms are standard tools used by politicians, bureaucrats and corporations to obfuscate, discourage public scrutiny or cause your brain to seize up.

Here’s a new one of those potential brain-freezers: TPP, aka the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

It’s about almost everything and anything that can be bought or sold. What it will cost, where it will be made, who benefits. As one writer in Slate noted, it’s being done mostly in secret.

So the activist community, especially some of the old Seattle WTO protest gang, is now gearing up to ‘raise awareness’ of the TPP.

You probably haven’t heard of the TPP and would prefer not to hear more. But if you want to know why your prescription drugs could cost more, what a global “corporate tribunal” will be or at least sound smart and cool within the activist set, read on ….


WTO used to be obscure and wonky, too. Before 1999, few in the public were aware of WTO, the World Trade Organization, an international organization that sets (or tries to set) the rules for international commerce.

After the 1999 WTO meeting in Seattle, which spawned massive street protests, many if not most people today (certainly in Seattle) have at least some idea of what the organization does and why it can be controversial.

The Battle in Seattle was billed, simplistically, as the culmination of the American ‘anti-globalization’ movement. It sounds stupid today to be anti-global. The protests weren’t really against globalization, I would argue, so much as they were for things like fair trade, environmental protection, corporate transparency, human and worker rights and so on.

A big point of the protests was about the poor world’s outrage at exploitative trade practices mostly benefiting the wealthy nations.

Lori Wallach of Public Citizen

“The way to think of TPP is that it’s WTO on crack,” said Lori Wallach, an activist with Public Citizen. Wallach was in Seattle Monday night to speak at a gathering of global do-gooders, fair-traders and WTO protest veterans gathered at, of all places, the Queen Anne office of an investment management firm.

At first glance, the gathering at Newground Social Investment might prompt some snide remark about wine & cheese Seattle liberals. They did have a lot of wine and cheese and, presumably, liberals.

Tom Paulson

Fair trade activists gather in Seattle

But the co-founders of Newground, Bruce Herbert and Larry Dohrs, in addition to being financial investment guys, were gassed by the police during the WTO protests and have remained active in a number of local causes. They now seek to work within the financial system to push for social and political change, while still enjoying a good protest when they can.

“We like to say we’re money managers and investment provocateurs,” said Herbert, who with Dohrs and others recently succeeded in getting legal status for an innovative new kind of business entity, the social purpose corporation. Interesting guys, but that’s another story….

Bob Gorman, with IBEW local 46, at fair trade event

The point here is that some powerful folks within the Seattle do-gooder community think the TPP (what’s been leaked about it anyway) appears to be bad for most people and bad for lots of business as well. So they hosted this event, sponsored by the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, featuring Wallach, an expert on global trade. Members of the fair trade group and a local labor union rep also spoke.

“Most of the TPP is not actually about trade,” said Wallach. Of the 28 chapters in the proposed trade agreement, she said only two actually pertain to trade.

The rest of this international agreement being negotiated behind closed doors, Wallach said, tends to be concentrated on things like requiring all participating countries to agree to longer-lasting drug patents, to reducing regulatory restrictions on corporations on many fronts including the ‘outsourcing’ of jobs and governments ability to regulate corporations.

“This agreement would actually set up a parallel court system, of corporate tribunals run by corporations but paid for by taxpayers,” Wallach explained. “We would call it a kangaroo court if it wasn’t such an insult to marsupials.”

Remember SOPA, she asked the crowd? The Stop Online Piracy Act sounded at face value like a good thing, much as it sounds nice to have a ‘trans-pacific partnership,’ Wallach said. But parts of SOPA turned out to be very consumer-unfriendly and, fortunately for consumers, it was also viewed as very unfavorable to a lot of big corporate players online such as Google. So it got killed.

“The TPP, so far as we can tell, just puts all that back in,” Wallach said. “It’s the ultimate corporate power trip. This is so far-reaching and grandiose, it should be easy to stop. But it’s going to require that people become aware of what’s going on.”

Seattle, she said, played a critical role in limiting the potentially harmful actions of WTO by raising public awareness through protest. Wallach said she hopes this community will again play a leadership role again and make TPP a household word — if not a movie starring Chalize Theron. The health and welfare of billions of people around the world may depend upon it, she said.

“We need to drag this thing into the sunshine and tell people what it will really mean to them and how it will affect their lives,” Wallach said.