Over 300 protesters on Wednesday blew conch shells on the Hawaiian island of Maui to demonstrate against a controversial trade deal being negotiated here by the United States and 11 other countries in the Asia Pacific region.
The protesters, including advocates for the environment, labor, health and native Hawaiians, blew their shells and spoke out against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal on a beach in front of the Westin Maui Resort and Spa, where 12 TPP trade ministers were holding a four-day meeting towards substantially concluding the free trade talks.
As part of the demonstrations, the protesters attempted to break the Guinness World Record for most conch shell blown at once, with the hope of attracting public attention to the trade deal and relaying their messages to the negotiators.
"This is the only place we'll get them to hear us," Trinette Furtado, one of the event organizers, told Xinhua. "Our United States negotiators seem not to care about what the popular says. I think it's the very dangerous thing to have because we have people who are negotiating on our behalf but not listening."
"I want to be part of the protests to let the people that inside the hotel making decision on our behalf," echoed Mr. Breitbach, a Hawaiian protester holding a sign reading "No TPP Stop Secret Trade Deals", complaining that TPP negotiations have been conducted in secret.
"Even senators and congressmen are not allowed to talk in the public" about provisions of the trade deal, Breitbach told Xinhua. "There's something absolutely wrong about that in a constitutional republic."
Peter Maybarduk, global access to medicines program director of the Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy organization in Washington D.C., also participated the protest here, voicing his particular concerns about access to affordable medicines.
"The pharmaceutical industry has been working very hard for many years to use this agreement to rewrite the laws of the 12 countries that are negotiating. They want to essentially expand their monopoly power, their ability to exclude generic medicines from the market," Maybarduk told Xinhua, warning that "people are going to suffer or probably die for lack of access to affordable medicines" if the TPP is signed.
Furtado also believed the TPP agreement would be in favor of a few big corporations at the expense of consumer benefits, public health and environment protection. "If the TPP passes, these big corporations will have more power now and be able to sue countries. That's not right," she said.
The TPP, covering about 40 percent of global economy and believed to be the biggest trade agreement in the world in the past two decades, is central to the Obama administration's policy of advancing economic engagement in Asia and writing the rules for international trade and investment in the 21st century.
The Obama administration is under pressure to seal a TPP deal and get it passed in Congress as soon as possible, securing the president's trade legacy before the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign heats up.
The TPP talks involve Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.