When the Obama Administration pushed fast-track approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) through Congress last spring, it did so with troubling disregard for the rights of First Nations people. The initial secrecy of the TPP’s deliberations, and its approval process thus far, have entirely disregarded the principle of Free Prior Informed Consent central to the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Earlier this month, the U.S. government and its fellow signatories to the TPP continued this shameful trajectory toward their ultimate aim of immediate action on the agreement. Meeting in Auckland, New Zealand with as little notice and fanfare as possible, they sent representatives to sign the TPP ahead of time, so that if and when their individual governing bodies do pass the legislation, it will already have an executive signature in place.
The Maori people customarily greet visiting dignitaries to Auckland with a traditional welcome ceremony, called a powhiri. However, according to Mihingarangi Forbes of New Zealand Radio, in the case of the TPP delegation in early February, the groups who would ordinarily be expected to perform the powhiri withheld it, because they believe the TPP will interfere with tribal sovereignty.
It is clear that the Obama Administration considers the benefits of the TPP to U.S. business interests to be greater than the obvious harm to other stakeholders that it will doubtless cause. This calculus is cringe-worthy, quite difficult to understand when measuring in any terms other than private economic gain to the shareholders of those businesses. Where do we start? There is the devastation caused by the removal of natural resources without replenishment. There is commonly a disregard for indigenous cultural traditions and places considered sacred. There is ignorance of the wise balance involved in healthy and sustainable operation of local ecosystems, some of which involves ancient wisdom going back thousands of years.
If that sounds too much like the story of what happened to Native American people when European colonizers came west, that’s because it is. The story of colonialism repeats itself in a new corporate form with multi-national trade agreements, and the TPP promises to be the worst one yet. One could go on. Suffice it to say that the Obama Administration’s recent actions are indeed a puzzlement coming from a President who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Bernie Sanders remains steadfast in his opposition to the TPP for a host of reasons. When balancing the interests of stakeholders on the question of international trade policy, the rights of indigenous people to preserve their ways of life while living peacefully among others need to be recognized, protected and given a fair hearing. The TPP does not even come close to doing so.