November 7, 2015 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Controversial trade deal lacks LGBT-specific provisions
Chile, civil unions, gay news, Washington Blade

LGBT rights advocates gather outside the office of the Chilean Civil Registry and Identification Service in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 22, 2015, to celebrate their country’s civil unions law taking effect. The South American nation is among the 12 countries that would join the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

The long-awaited text of a controversial trade agreement the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries released on Thursday indicates it does not include any LGBT-specific provisions.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership requires countries that ratify it to expand bargaining rights to workers and allow them to organize. TPP also contains provisions that are designed to combat forced and child labor.

TPP countries would also need to ensure “freedom from discrimination in employment.”

Brunei agreed to “amend relevant sections” of its labor code to “prohibit discrimination in respect of employment and occupation, including on the basis of race, sex, color, religion, political opinion and extraction.” Malaysia said it would “remove the prohibitions on employment of women in certain occupations.”

Neither provision includes sexual orientation or gender identity.

Trade agreement ‘fails the test’

Brunei and Malaysia would join TPP alongside Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and the U.S. if the countries ratify it.

Consensual same-sex sexual relations remain criminalized in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.

Brunei in 2014 began to implement a new legal code based on Sharia law that punishes those convicted of homosexuality by stoning them to death.

Malaysia’s highest court in February upheld former Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction under the country’s anti-sodomy law. The same tribunal last month overturned a landmark ruling that declared unconstitutional a state law banning Muslim men from wearing women’s clothes in public.

“Now it’s official: the TPP fails the test for important LGBT concerns,” said Pride at Work Executive Director Jerame Davis on Thursday in a statement. “It is troubling that the United States would bring countries such as Brunei and Malaysia, with their state-sponsored persecution of LGBT individuals, into the fold of the TPP.”

Pride at Work in June 2014 signed onto a letter with the Human Rights Campaign, the National LGBTQ Task Force and the National Center for Transgender Equality urging the White House to “require Brunei to address its human rights violations” ahead of any additional TPP negotiations. U. S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Mark Takano (D-Calif.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Sean Patrick Maloney and Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.) earlier this year raised similar concerns to President Obama about the inclusion of the sultanate and Malaysia in the trade agreement.

A State Department official told the Washington Blade last month that TPP would “greatly aid the efforts to advance human rights in the Asia-Pacific region.” The six openly gay ambassadors who represent the U.S. in Vietnam, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Spain and Andorra, Denmark and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and Special U.S. Envoy for the Human Rights for LGBTI Persons Randy Berry also support the trade agreement.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is among those who oppose TPP.

“It is unconscionable that our nation would not use the leverage of the TPP negotiations to insist that these nations (Brunei and Malaysia) make improvements on ending LGBT persecution and discrimination,” said Davis. “Instead of living up to its stated goal to improve the rights and protections of LGBT people throughout the world, the Obama administration is instead offering an implicit ‘okay’ to the LGBT status quo in Brunei and Malaysia.”

Advocates: Agreement will increase antiretroviral cost

Davis and others also argue TPP would increase the cost of antiretroviral drugs to treat HIV because it expands intellectual property protections for “biologics.” They contend these provisions would make the aforementioned medications less available in countries that become part of the trade agreement.

John Sifton of Human Rights Watch noted to the Blade on Thursday during a telephone interview that some people living with HIV only respond to so-called second-generation antiretroviral drugs that cost more than traditional antiretroviral drugs.

He said the patent protections contained within TPP would make it “difficult” for generic drug companies to produce them.

“Somebody is going to die because there isn’t enough to pay for the health care required, whether you’re an HIV patient or a cancer patient,” said Sifton.

The State Department on Friday did not respond to the Blade’s request for comment on Davis’ criticisms of the administration over TPP.

The U.S. and 11 other countries that would join TPP on Oct. 5 announced they had reached an agreement on the controversial agreement. They released the text of it a month later.

Obama has 90 days from the date the U.S. and the 11 other TPP countries announced they had brokered a deal on the trade agreement to sign it.

Congress is expected to vote on whether to ratify TPP sometime next year.

Lawmakers will only be able to vote on the trade deal without amending it.

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

  • NedFlaherty

    The worst 2 parts of TPP (for LGBTs and everyone else, too) are:

    1. Foreign firms can exempt themselves from each TPP nation’s domestic laws about labor, environment, environmental toxins, food safety, copyright, patents, political donations, etc.

    2. Foreign firms can sue a TPP nation, and then get awarded whatever profits they claim that they might have made, without actually earning those profits.

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