Activists are planning demonstrations around the world on Saturday, in what organizers anticipate will be one of the largest collections of protests to date against an emerging free trade pact.
Called the Global Day of Action, the international protests — primarily in Europe and U.S. — come ahead of the ninth round of talks for the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which begin in New York City on April 20.
U.S. and EU negotiators are hoping to conclude talks on the deal by early 2016. Proponents say the pact will be a major boon for participating nations, possibly boosting their economies by $100 billion per year combined.
But labor and environmental groups fear the pact amounts to a giveaway to corporate interests in the West that will weaken labor, environmental and consumer protections.
“For the last decades, secret trade and investment agreements have been pushed by corporations and governments, damaging our rights and the environment,” GlobalTradeDay.org, a group co-hosting the worldwide protests, said a statement. “For the last decades, we have been fighting for food sovereignty, for the commons, to defend our jobs, our lands, Internet freedom and to reclaim democracy.”
If a deal is reached, it would cover a market with a combined population of over 800 million accounting for approximately 46 percent of global GDP, making it the largest free trade agreement of its kind.
The global day of protests is tapping into public discontent over another major multinational trade deal in the works among the U.S., Japan and 10 other nations, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which could be completed this year and would cover some two-fifths of the global economy.
The planned day of protests elicited a response from Cecilia Malmström, the European Commissioner for Trade, who wrote on Thursday that while she found it “inspiring that trade policy is garnering this type of far-reaching, heated debate,” some of the opposition to the TTIP was rooted in arguments that “do not have a basis in reality.”
“TTIP can help us deliver better public services like health, education or water, by lowering the costs of the goods and services that governments have to buy — like uniforms, furniture or medicine,” she wrote on the website of the European Commission. “TTIP will not force governments to open public services to any new competition from private providers, it won't force the government to privatize any public service, and it won't limit governments’ freedom to change its mind about public services in the future.”
President Barack Obama has made securing trade deals a major priority of the final two years of his administration. It is one of the few areas where he and Republicans have been able to find some common ground.
The Obama administration’s efforts to conclude the two agreements were given a major boost on Thursday when U.S. lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation that would give Obama fast-track authority, or trade promotion authority, which makes it much easier for him to finalize a trade deal by overcoming congressional amendments or filibuster.
"Now that Congress is considering important bipartisan legislation for trade promotion authority, TTIP negotiations need to make major progress this year," Obama said during a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi on Friday.
The planned day of protests will feature demonstrations against the legislation that would guarantee president’s fast track authority.