As Obama visits Southeast Asia, activists draw attention to human rights, trade deal in region
- Year: 2012
- Length: 5:50 minutes (5.34 MB)
- Format: MP3 Mono 44kHz 128Kbps (CBR)
Today, leaders of 16 Asian nations gathered in Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a final day of talks on trade, security and territorial disputes. US President Barack Obama also joined the meeting. He urged more support for a regional trade deal, called the Transpacific Partnership, or TPP. Some experts say that Obama’s push to develop trade relations with China’s neighbors may be part of a strategy to develop a U.S.-influenced trading bloc in the region that could reign in China’s growing influence. US officials travelling with Obama said Japan had expressed interest in joining talks on the deal. On Sunday, Thailand’s prime minister said the country would join negotiations, but the trade deal also drew protesters in Thailand who gathered at the airport. And the extensive trade pact has drawn criticism from watchdog groups who say it could weaken environmental, labor and consumer protection laws. Arthur Stamoulis is director of the Citizens Trade Campaign. He said the deal would undercut safeguards in the Asia region.
“The TPP is about setting the rules of the game for trade and investment throughout the Pacific Rim and by extension for the rest of the world. And unlike many countries the US agenda is not so much about a national agenda as a corporate agenda. It’s about handing a schmorsgasbord of new rights and privileges and powers to corporate interest groups.”
Finding out the content of the trade deal has been a challenge, says Stamoulis, as much of the negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. But through leaked documents, the watchdog group has found that the proposed deal covers a range of important issues, such as access to pharmaceuticals and labor regulations.
“What we know comes from a handful of documents that Citizens Trade Campaign were the first to publish showing that the US is pushing a radical big pharma program of expanding drug patents, beyond the 20 years, that they’re expanding NAFTA’s infamous state program which would grant individual corporations virtually any new law, regulation or even court decision that negatively affects their expectation of profits and challenge them through a process that circumvents judicial systems, primarily through a World Bank tribunal.”
According to the documents, oil and energy companies are also pushing to ease restrictions to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, in Asia. The Office of the US trade representative said the agreement would make the regulatory systems of TPP countries “more compatible so US companies can operate more seamlessly.” The next talks on the deal, according to the trade office, will take place in New Zealand in the first week of December. During President Obama’s visit to Cambodia, human rights groups also called on the US to condemn abuses under the leadership of Hun Sen, a former Khmer Rouge leader and current prime minister. According to Human Rights Watch, more than 300 people have been killed in politically motivated attacks in the country since 1991. Ahead of Obama’s visit to Cambodia, the advocacy group released a report. Brad Adams, director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division, is the author of the report. He spoke to FSRN about the record of Prime Minister Hun Sen.