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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 13, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 46
TPP treaty shortchanges LGBT people
Section One
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TPP treaty shortchanges LGBT people

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Despite the Obama administration's commitment to LGBT rights, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) trade treaty it is promoting fails to protect LGBT people in the countries that are set to sign on to the deal.

The TPP is a free trade agreement that will include 12 Pacific Rim countries, much like previous trade treaties - NAFTA and CAFTA, for example - but much bigger. When all the papers are signed, fully 40% of world trade will come under the agreement.

The countries involved in the deal are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the U.S. and Vietnam.

In some of those countries, however, same-sex relations are illegal.

In Brunei, for example, the reigning sultan has enacted a law in the country, which punishes 'sodomy' with stoning to death.

As part of TPP agreement, Brunei will 'prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, including on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion and extraction,' but it will not guarantee the rights of LGBT residents.

In Singapore and Malaysia, remnants of British colonial-era law make it illegal for men - but curiously enough not for women - to have sex. Gay sex is punishable by a sentence of two years in prison in Singapore, and up to 20 years in Malaysia, although the law is reportedly not enforced in Singapore, and is only enforced on Muslims in Malaysia.

Neither country has promised to lift bans on Gay sex, although Malaysia has said it will 'remove the prohibitions on employment of women in certain occupations.'

But even in the countries that have laws protecting their LGBT residents, the TPP will put those laws at risk. Several chapters of the TPP treaty impose limits on what participating government can do, if their laws in any way restrict trade. For example, regulations that guarantee safe food, a clean environment, worker health and safety, and workers' rights - including protections against discrimination - could limit the ability of companies to invest and trade, so they might be overruled by the treaty.

All U.S. federal, state and local policies would be required to comply with TPP rules, which do not include protections for LGBT people.

The treaty would also give corporations standing to sue participating governments to overrule laws or policies the corporations believe interfere with trade. Courts would also be authorized to order taxpayer compensation to the foreign corporations for the 'expected future profits' they claim they would lose because of the challenged policies.

Even worse from a legal point of view, the U.S. Constitution makes treaties 'the supreme law of the land' along with constitutional provisions, so once the TPP is ratified U.S. citizens can't sue for redress if the treaty violates their rights.

No wonder LGBT rights groups have criticized the TPP. In 2014 HRC, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality petitioned the White House to require Brunei to address its human rights violations as part of the deal.

Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton are both opposed to the treaty and Sen. Elizabeth Warren has condemned it, both for involving countries with poor human rights records, and fear of what it will do to the domestic job market and manufacturing.

Sanders described the deal as 'disastrous' for workers' rights.

The TPP must be ratified by the U.S. Senate. Both of Washington's senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, voted to fast-track the treaty and are considered likely to vote to ratify it.

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