In a fitting, or ironic, move for the World’s Borough, residents nearly packed the auditorium of PS 69 in Jackson Heights last Wednesday evening to protest a proposed international trade agreement: the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
While at first it may seem the pact, which is still being negotiated between North American countries and more than 10 Asian nations surrounding the Pacific Rim, will affect things far beyond the borders of Queens, the protesters who voiced their fears and outrage against the idea said the TPP would affect Queens families if passed.
The concept of the TPP has polarized many residents in America and around the world upon the leakage of information on the agreement’s regulatory and legal issues. Reportedly there are provisions on intellectual property, tariffs, government-owned companies and the tobacco industry.
But, in Jackson Heights, the meeting, held by the Working Families Party, had a clear stance, calling TPP “NAFTA on steroids” in one PowerPoint slide and also featuring guest speaker Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who has been publicly outspoken about the stipulations of the trade deal.
Stiglitz said he is concerned about issues of secrecy and how most of the American people don’t know about the basic details of the agreement, adding that what people know about it so far indicates regulations on intellectual property, health, safety and environmental controls could be undermined.
“This agreement would tie our hands,” Stiglitz said.
Another key focus of the meeting was the president’s aim to “fast track” the TPP, which, if allowed by Congress, would surrender lawmakers’ ability to have a say on the agreement, Stiglitz said. He likened fasttracking to a blank check for trade agreements, also saying TPP could negatively affect the environment, worker safety, consumer safety and the economy.
Speakers from different area advocacy groups, including New Visions Democrats, Terrazza 7, Peruvians in Action and Food & Water Watch voiced concerns over how jobs would go overseas, saying the agreement would give more protection to foreign investors than citizens and that local and national governments would be susceptible to global companies that would have the power to sue if health or safety regulations interfere with their bottom line.
Many speakers called on audience members to tell Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Bronx, Queens) to vote against fast track.
“If fast track passes, it’s likely that the TPP will pass a few months later,” Pete Sikora, a lobbyist for the Communications Workers of America union who emceed the meeting, said.
Following the meeting, a spokesperson from Crowley’s office said the congressman, who voted against fast track the last time it was presented to Congress, has serious concerns about renewing the authority, and will take a position once he knows exactly what is included in the legislation that is ultimately introduced.
Jessica Ramos, a member of Community Board 3 who represented the New Visions Democratic Club Wednesday, connected the TPP to displacement of people from other countries, linking the trade issue to the proposed Jackson Heights-Corona BID.
“And, you’re probably wondering, ‘Well how does this micro thing relate to this very huge global, terrible free trade agreement?’” Ramos said. “Sometimes we forget that immigration is a part of this, A, and also, B, these are both things that have very harmful and important impacts on our daily lives. And they’re both being negotiated and talked about very secretly … We should be very, very careful about economic initiatives that change our livelihood … People should have to immigrate because they want to, not because they have to.”
A woman for the organization Peruvians in Action also spoke about displacement.
“The trade agreement for me brings poverty, destruction, immigration,” she said.