TPP headNews broke late last week in a few subscription-only, on-line, trade journals that while the next full round of negotiations of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are slated to take place in Malaysia in mid-July, “the negotiating group on rules of origin will meet June 23-29 in San Francisco, according to Peruvian government resolutions published on June 16 and 17 in the country’s official newspaper.”

Often occurring under the radar, intersessionals, meetings that take place between official TPP negotiations, are happening in advance of the session in Malaysia to try to keep the free trade talks on track for conclusion this fall. Last month, negotiators of the ever controversial investment chapter met in Vancouver and were challenged with a teach-in on TPP, a night-time light projection of anti-TPP messages and a protest organized by the TPPxBorder Network.


Protest projection in Vancouver B.C. June 2013

A  meeting in San Francisco on Rules of Origin? As Arthur Stamoulis from the Citizens Trade Campaign explains,

One of the least talked about chapters of the TPP is something called ‘Rules of Origin’. Rules of Origin are the standards that must be met in order for a product to be labeled “Made in the USA,” “Made in Brunei,” “Made in Vietnam” or wherever in order to qualify for the provisions set by the overall TPP Agreement.

There are different ways of evaluating a product’s origin, but one common way is by looking at the value of the parts that make up a finished product that’s to be exported. So, for example, if the Rule of Origin on cars is set at 50% — at least half of the parts in a finished automobile need to come from Japan in order to be labeled “Made in Japan” under the pact. If the Rule of Origin is only set at 30%, up to 70% of the parts can come from elsewhere and the car can still be labeled Japanese.

We thought that the Rules of Origin negotiators would like to hear from former sweatshop worker Chie Abad, who once suffered under an earlier version of these Rules of Origin in the U.S. protectorate, Siapan. Working for GAP, and other U.S. retailers through the SAKO garment factory, she sewed “Made in the USA” labels into clothing, yet enjoyed none of the worker protections which U.S. workers do. In fact, she was fired for attempting to organize a union. Again, Arthur explains how the TPP takes advantage of the experience Chie had, and make it worse,

Brand-name product companies, as well as retailers like Walmart and Target, want low Rules of Origin that enable them to source parts from wherever in the world they can get them for the cheapest price and then assemble them in low-wage TPP countries and still qualify for the zeroed-out tariff rates and quotas the TPP will provide. Often this means sourcing production wherever labor is the most exploited and environmental regulations the weakest.

Because the government of Vietnam, which promotes it’s country as a low-cost labor alternative to China, is siding with the major transnationals in pushing for much lower Rules of Origin than most other countries within the TPP negotiations, we’d heard that the Rules of Origin negotiations are very heated. Despite photos of friendly handshakes after the recent full round in Lima, Peru, countries are far from reaching agreement, and continued disagreement over the chapter possesses the potential to sink the entire pact.

We tried for days to contact the Rules of Origin negotiators, but with no luck. We called the top hotels in the city and found that not only did most people not know where the negotiatiors were meeting, they also didn’t know what the TPP is, so we decided to take to the streets and look ourselves (and do some public education at the same time!). Here’s what happened:


When we fight Free Trade agreements, we often struggle to make it ‘real’ for people. What does downward standards harmonization look like? What does unaccountable behind-closed-doors arbitration really mean? What impacts do corporate driven agreements have on public services? What links can be directly drawn between free trade and quality of life?

Devastatingly, as we follow, protest, monkey wrench and resist the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiation round taking place in Lima, Peru this week, we have a concrete example. Free Trade looks like the 1,127 workers who perished in the sweatshops in the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh.

Since April 24, corporations have rushed to distance connections with the fugitive owner of the unsafe building, pledged compensation to the grieving families, and stepped up to act more responsibly. And while the negative PR from the disaster was enough to finally break European companies like H&M, Zara, Primark and Canadian grocery giant, Loblaws into signing a legally binding agreement to pay for third party safety inspections of their operations, the underlying cause of this, and other disasters, has yet to be challenged.

Across the world in countries like Bangladesh, companies operate to supply the North with cheap clothes made in sweatshops, made ‘competitive’ in the global market through corporate globalization.

Thanks to Free Trade agreements, companies pay workers less than a dollar a day (the workers in Rana Plaza were making $38 a month, an amount considered high – after it was raised following protests a year ago), make the right to organize illegal, ignore safety and environmental rights and sometimes bribe local officials to override local law to reap in billion dollar profits.

So, while the effort to rescue survivors and recover bodies from Rana Plaza now becomes an effort to clear and demolish the site, corporations like those that operated in Rana Plaza are, right now, lobbying for more Free Trade, for the TPP.

As the Lima round of TPP negotiations are underway (May 15-24) corporate interests are lobbying for more access to operate more sweatshops in Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The Citizen’s Trade Campaign factsheet called ‘What Corporations Want With the TPP‘ directly links corporate lobbying to disappear worker protections and rights in pursuit of cheaper manufacturing and higher profits. They say:

Many corporations are looking for ways reduce labor costs and undercut worker power in the United States, China and throughout the world. The TPP would grant corporations easier access to labor markets in countries such as Vietnam where workers are paid even less than Chinese sweatshop workers. Whether or not corporations decide to move their production to these lower-paid countries, the threat of moving there (or of being undercut by competitors who have already done so) can be used suppress employee compensation virtually anywhere in the world.

We cannot let the victims of Rana Plaza be forgotten. The U.S. retail giants like GAP and Walmart that have refused to sign the safety agreement must be pressured to do so. But the TPP is slated to become the largest Free Trade Agreement in the world, and if we don’t stop it from happening and demand fair trade, we will suffer more even disasters.

TAKE ACTION! (Action items updated on 5/21/2013):Take-Action

The following is a guest post from Kristen Beifus, Executive Director of the Washington Fair Trade Coalition, working on behalf of people and the planet for a fair global trading system and lead organizer of the December 1 Day of Action. Join Global Exchange staff members Hillary Lehr and Carleen Pickard, on the border this Saturday!

Ten Reasons Why the TransPacific Partnership Matters…

  1. It is only getting bigger by the day: Thailand knocking at the TPP Door
  2. We have not learned from NAFTA: Mexico ordered to pay Cargill $95 million for attempting to keep out high-fructose corn syrup
  3. In Free Trade Agreements, corporate profits always trump the environment: Canada/Quebec sued under NAFTA for its ban on fracking by a US corporation
  4. It Doesn’t Matter if you are a sovereign nation with labor and environmental laws: Here is a list of the NAFTA chapter 11 cases
  5. Or just trying to survive with a life-threatening illness on a few dollars a day: Public health advocates in Malaysia protest reduced access to generic medicines in trade deals
  6. Congress is trying, but those who we elect are not part of negotiating this deal-our democracy is at stake! Take this recent Sign-On letter to President Obama from Senator Al Franken on the labor rights concerns in the TPP and urge Senators Cantwell and Murray to sign it!
  7. Sweatshops still exist: Here is a recent report by Right2Work
  8. Companies are willing to invest millions of dollars to keep consumers in the dark: Here are the corporations who defeated the GMO labeling initiative in California
  9. Only when we connect our issues, and combine our strength can we succeed: Dec. 1st is also world AIDS Day
  10. We are not alone, we are the majority, and our voices are needed for trade to ever benefit workers and support healthy communities and a sustainable planet: Sign the Avaaz petition to reach a million who say “Stop the Corporate Death Star”, stop the TPP!


Join Fair Trade bus against the TPP: Join trade justice advocates from Canada, Mexico, and the US from DC to Northern, California, Oregon and WA this December 1st and get on the Fair Trade Bus to the Canada/U.S. border (Peach Arch Park) & take action against the TransPacific Partnership!!

The day of action will include:

  • A rally/action with Seattle’s Labor Chorus
  • Seattle Fandango Project
  • Movitas a radical marching band
  • Speakers from First Nations tribes in Canada fighting to protect their sovereignty
  • Workers from Kimberly Clark’s Mill in Everett who had their jobs off-shored this year
  • Philippine-US Solidarity Organization sharing tales of free-trade in Asia
  • Farm justice advocates from Community to Community and international advocates from the Council of Canadians, the national AFL-CIO, Washington State Labor Council
  • Asuper fun TPP People’s Action!
  • Backbone’s Free Trade My Ass Balloon and Flush the TPP will also be flying along the border and TPP: No New NAFTAs thanks to IBEW Local 46!

Then (there’s more?!):

  • The People will jointly strategize on how to engage with social media with Global Exchange & Witness for Peace
  • Get organizations onto a Tri-National Unity Letter with Citizen’s Trade Campaign
  • Talk about the TPP in 2 minutes or less with SPEEA and develop and implement creative tactics to stop the TPP by the next round in March, 2013!

Want to get on the buses leaving from Seattle? Go to and sign-up.
Buses will be leaving at 10:30am and returning to Seattle at 6:00pm. A delicious hot Mexican meal will be provided for everyone thanks to Community to Community!

Questions? Contact Kristen (at) washingtonfairtrade (dot) org or 206.227.3079

Follow along: Follow protest happenings on Twitter with hashtag #StopTPP.