Whose 21st Century Is It?

From my history classes in high school and college, centuries were always introduced broadly by what they were most known for.  The 18th century was host to the enlightenment, while the 19th century introduced European imperialism and the industrial revolution. Many scholars believe the 20th century will be remembered for information technologies and global warfare.

Our current century is still in its infancy but our government is eager to set the tone with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Framed as a ‘21st century agreement,’ the TPP is a free trade agreement being discussed by the United States, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. It is also being used as a docking agreement for China, Japan, Thailand, and South Korea, among others. The negotiation process is expected to end this October, but the consequences of such a free trade agreement will have lasting impacts on the global economy, the environment, and public health.

If passed, the TPP will accelerate ‘a global race to the bottom’ for cheap employment and poor working conditions, undermining labor standards here in the United States.  Like NAFTA, the TPP encourages off-shoring jobs as a low-cost alternative.  Additionally the TPP is expected to limit federal control of banks, insurance companies, and hedge funds.

Also included is a chapter that grants corporations and banks the right to sue governments over laws, regulations, and former court decisions that violate this pact.  This means that corporations, like Milwaukee-based Commerce Group, can sue governments, like El Salvador, for a ban on metallic mining, as this ban would inhibit the corporation’s “right” to mine gold (even when the ban is made for public health and environmental concerns… and yes, this is a current court case[i]).  Such provisions have obvious consequences for the environment as well as localized populations.

The TPP also rewrites the rules for intellectual property, making it harder for everyday individuals to obtain and afford generic medications.  By lengthening the term of drug patents, the TPP makes it difficult to obtain life-saving medicines and is implementing policies that allow drug companies to challenge governmental health programs. The rules on intellectual property are not solely pertinent to healthcare but also for internet users as the TPP will enact SOPA- esque policies, thus undermining users’ freedom of speech, right to privacy and due process.

The cherry on top of the sundae is that all of these provisions are being decided in complete secrecy.  The public, the media, and congress are barred access from the negotiation process and the content of the agreement.  Instead 600 corporate lobbyists are privy to the details within the 26 chapters that are to be included.

Is this really what we want the 21st century to look like? Do we want corporations to determine the rules for all global citizens?  Do we want secrecy from the 1%? It seems that those behind the TPP view the 21st century as a time of continued pillage and plunder in the never-ending quest for profit.

I vision the 21st century as a time in which we use our technology and awareness of the ‘global other’ to connect, and trade projects and ideas justly and fairly.

What do you want the 21st century to look like?


[i] http://www.stopesmining.org/j25/index.php/commerce-groups

For more information about the TPP and other free trade agreements, please attend Greedtopia: A Teach-In on Global Trade and Climate Change.  The event will be held on February 17th at the Forest Park Visitor’s Center from 12:30-4:00pm.  For more information, see www.ifcla.net.

Contributed by Jillian Severinski, Loretto Volunteer for the Inter-Faith Committee on Latin America

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