Rally Outside APEC Meeting in Palm Springs Calls for Better Trade Policies

As senior officials from throughout the Indo-Pacific region gathered today for the start of a two-week Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting, labor, environmental and other civil society organizations rallied outside the Palm Springs Convention Center urging that any trade pacts negotiated for the region benefit working people and the planet.

“As lobbyists for Big Tech and other sectors try to influence the new Indo-Pacific trade agreement under negotiation between the U.S. and other APEC countries, we’re here to remind everyone that any deal needs to be truly worker centered and climate friendly if it’s going to gain working Californians’ support,” said Will Jamil Wiltschko, director of California Trade Justice Coalition, which helped organize the demonstration.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) is a trade agreement currently under negotiation between the U.S. and thirteen other nations. Poised to set rules governing approximately 40% of the global economy, IPEF has real implications for jobs, wages, labor rights, climate action, consumer privacy and monopoly power in California and throughout the Indo-Pacific region. While trade is not the only item on the APEC agenda, IPEF is expected to be featured heavily — whether formally or informally — throughout the series of APEC meetings the U.S. is hosting in 2023.

“If an Indo-Pacific trade agreement is going to work for working people, it can’t be another back-room deal that helps big corporations offshore jobs, drive down wages and ignore environmental rules,” said Michael Milan, Inland Empire chapter leader of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance. “We’re troubled by the horrific and ongoing labor rights abuses in many of the countries involved in these talks, and are anxious to see any Indo-Pacific deal make real advances in labor rights enforcement.”

“Outdated trade deals are being used right now to attack both the green jobs initiatives in President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act and California’s own solar programs,” said Samuel Sukaton, a local environmentalist. “We’re calling for any IPEF pact to reverse the old ‘profits before the environment’ trade paradigm with addition of both binding, easily-enforced climate standards and a Climate Peace Clause.”

Beyond making calls for IPEF to include strong labor and environmental measures, many of the activists in Palm Springs carried signs reading “No Rigged Trade Deals for Big Tech.” They said they were paying close attention to the proposal’s “digital trade” provisions, which they warned could help companies to offshore consumers’ personal data and undermine attempts to end algorithm discrimination.

“At a moment when policymakers are finally paying attention to the oversized role that Big Tech has over our economy and society, we can’t let trade deals set binding rules that undermine attempts to protect consumer privacy, algorithm transparency and gig economy worker protections,” Jamil Wiltschko added.