An Open Letter to Congress from Franciscan Action Network
I recently marched with other people of faith, labor leaders, and concerned citizens to the United States Trade Representative's (USTR) office in Washington, D.C. We went there to peacefully request the opportunity to read the draft agreement. President said that if anyone wants they can go to the USTR offices and read what is in the agreement. We were met by locked doors and police. Corporate executives and lobbyist have been allowed to read and participate in the discussions. But ordinary citizens and representatives of faith rooted organizations are locked out of the building. I can only ask: "What are they hiding?" Stopping the fast track of the Trans Pacific Partnership deal has become the priority of many non-profits due to questions it raises when it comes to important issues such as labor, the environment, human trafficking, and immigration. Trade deals this big are too important to be done in secret--especially when potential partner countries do not have the same standards as the United States. Signing off on such a deal could even look like the United States is condoning bad behavior.
As people of faith we're concerned about the human rights records of these counties, as well as the secrecy in which this deal is being done. President Obama has even said that concerned citizens are allowed to read it. But the USTR's office wouldn't even let us into the building. As Rep. Marcy Kaptur stated on social media that she "Had to leave her cell phone in a locker and was not allowed to take away any notes, photos, or copies. She is not allowed to talk about what she read with anyone unless they have Top Secret clearance." She called the deal "Not good" as she had to be? Called? "into the secure room in the basement of the U.S. Capitol where Members of Congress are allowed to read the nearly 1000 page Trans-Pacific Partnership draft agreement." The Obama administration doesn't even want members of Congress to know what's in the potential agreement, let alone the general public. One has to ask, "Why not?" What is in the agreement that the general public shouldn't know about?
While members of Congress or the public may not know what's in the TPP, what's almost certain is that the corporations who will be set to profit from this potential agreement do know what's in it because it's almost certain that they wrote it. The Obama administration needs to stop listening to corporate CEO's on this issue and do what's best for the American people. Trade deals in and of themselves are not bad, but deals such as NAFTA and CAFTA have hurt workers both in the United States and overseas.
As Franciscans, we recognize the interconnectedness of each and every human being. The actions that we take often have a ripple effect on others, and fast tracking the Trans Pacific partnership would create a potentially terrible ripple effect that could negatively impact people around the world. As a person of faith I want to ensure that the dignity of others is put first above profit. That's why I knocked on the door of the United States Trade Representative's office. It's time to end the secrecy and let the American people know what's in the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. And it's time to ensure that the rights of individuals are taken into account when discussing the potential deal. Each and every human being is created in God's image and has worth. And we shouldn't put the worth and dignity of human beings ahead of corporate profits.
Patrick Carolan is the Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network - a grassroots organization amplifying the justice efforts of Franciscans and Franciscan-hearted people around the country. He resides in Stratford, CT and is a parishioner at St. James Catholic Church.