What is the Trans Pacific Partnership and why should it matter to Indigenous Communities

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which evolved out of the round of global trade talks in Doha, Qatar in 2001; could be considered a new and much improved North American Free Trade Agreement.  It begins with United States and Japan followed by Canada, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei and hopes to serve all countries goals of lowering trade barriers.  The TPP’s main objectives could play an important part by including new free trade provisions of both services and agricultural support to many of its members, which make up 40% of global GDP.  For example, countries such as the United States might see some benefit in opening up new trade with emerging economies such as Malaysia and Vietnam.  This objective could help the United States limit Chinese influence in this all-important region of the world where China will soon threaten the US in taking over as the world’s largest economy.  Alternatively, some believe that this trade deal just might be an opportunity for China itself to join.  The service sector on one hand is responsible for over 84% of all GDP within the United States (2010), and must help to boost people out of poverty into middle class status in some of these Asian countries.  

Closer to home, not all people believe that the TPP is good for Canada where supply management regimes for poultry and dairy products could now be opened up for Australian farmers to enter new markets such as in Canada and the US.  Similarly, it allows Transnational corporations the ability to sue governments for legislation or policies that are made in the public interest.  Important topics such as delaying the introduction of lower cost generic drugs may negatively affect the affordability of pharmaceuticals delivered within the Canadian healthcare system.  The agreement also seems to be about limiting protectionism in the awarding of government contracts, along with other commodities traded under NAFTA.  It must be pointed out however, as the US becomes less dominant, Canada might be wise to ensure that there are new markets open to exporting Canada’s vast natural resource wealth.

So you are probably asking by now why is this important to Indigenous peoples?  As the new Trudeau government contemplates the entire TPP agreement, it may also want to ensure that it’s support of fully implementing the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples isn’t contradicted by similar provisions under NAFTA. For example, under NAFTA Structural Adjustment Programs or SAP’s allowed for foreign governments to capitalize on loans granted by the World Bank and therefore increasing an emphasis on privatized land, which in turn contributed to the drying up of micro-loans to small Zapatista farming communities in southern Mexico, where 70% of the population in Chiapas is Indigenous.  Previously, the Mexican Constitution as it does now in Canada allows for the protection of communal lands set aside for the use and benefit of Indigenous communities.

There are many ongoing nation-building megaprojects such as oil and gas pipelines across Canada, or tanker routes of liquefied natural gas off the west coast of British Columbia that are still a cause for great concern.  Will the Trans-Pacific Partnership and its member states take into consideration the rights and responsibilities to Indigenous Canadians?  As conservatism in Canada maintains its stronghold on the development agenda, will governments look for avenues to better serve the Indigenous underclass which in places like Saskatchewan and Manitoba face alarming incarceration rates, unemployment, addiction and child poverty circumstances not unlike those in other developing countries around the world?   Only time will tell.

Other Questions to Ponder

All western premiers have been touting the lasting benefits of the TPP and megaprojects.  When and where do Indigenous communities benefit and where do they go to settle disputes on land degradation issues when dealing with Foreign Transnational Corporations?

What role do Indigenous communities see themselves playing in sustainable development that is consistent with United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (Article 26) ?

If so, will key investments be made eagerly enough so that education, economic and community development programs correspond with a booming population in various regions of our country? (UNDRIP Articles 4 & 5)

Does the passage of Bill C-51 in current form present challenges for indigenous communities to protect their environment, livelihood, land’s and resources? (UNDRIP Article 3)

By Guy Lonechild