America’s ambassadors to Brunei and Malaysia were in Portland March 21 — for a panel presentation sponsored by Nike. Brunei and Malaysia are considered serious human rights abusers, but they would join the United States in a 12-nation Pacific Rim free-trade zone if the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement is approved by Congress and other nations. Nike is strongly in favor of the TPP, which would eliminate tariffs on its shoes made in Vietnam and elsewhere.
The ambassador panel — “What’s Next for the TPP?” — was hosted by the non-profit World Affairs Council of Oregon and “co-presented” by the trade promotion arm of the U.S. Commerce Department. Michael Shannon, director of the Oregon Fair Trade Coalition, didn’t attend the panel, and instead protested outside with several dozen others. But Shannon thinks he already knows “what’s next for the TPP” — President Obama will wait until after the November election to schedule a vote on the agreement in the lame duck session of Congress. That’s because the TPP is unpopular with the American public. Both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have campaigned against it, and Sanders’ pressure on the trade issue has led even Hillary Clinton to say she’s opposed to it, after having praised it as the “gold standard” of trade agreements when she was serving as Obama’s secretary of state.
Notably, one of the protesters outside would like the chance to vote on the TPP: Former state representative Dave McTeague, who’s challenging Congressman Kurt Schrader in the May Democratic primary, turned up at the protest wearing an ILWU baseball cap. ILWU — which opposes the TPP despite the fact that it might mean more work for its longshore worker members — has endorsed McTeague.
“What phrase is missing from the over 5,000 pages of the TPP?” Shannon asked protesters via bullhorn. “Human rights.”
Malaysia was widely criticized for its record of tolerating human trafficking after mass graves of trafficking victims were discovered last year. And in 2014, the Sultan of Brunei announced that the country will adopt sharia law, including whipping for alcohol consumption, jail time for Christian missionaries or for Muslims who miss Friday prayers, and death by stoning for those convicted of adultery or homosexual acts. Under the TPP, Brunei would get tariff-free access to the U.S. market.
That bothers Oregon state representative Rob Nosse, who says passing the treaty will lessen America’s ability to pressure countries like Brunei and Malaysia to improve human rights.
“As a gay man, a union representative, and a state representative, I ask our members of Congress to oppose this trade treaty,” Nosse told protesters.