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Environmentalists, unions protest Pacific trade pact in Maui

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LAHAINA » Opponents of a Pacific Rim trade deal being negotiated at a Maui resort demonstrated against the proposed pact Wednesday.

A couple dozen members of locally based labor unions and environmental groups gathered at Kaanapali Beach fronting the Westin Maui hotel in Lahaina to listen to brief speeches and prepare to blow conch shells.

Protest organizers say the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would benefit a few major corporations while sacrificing protections for public health, the environment, local jobs and indigenous rights.

“It’s pilau, pilau, pilau,” said veteran Hawaii activist Walter Ritte, using the Hawaiian word for rotten.

A former agriculture minister from Japan, Masahiko Yamada, shared how he had been fighting the agreement back home for the past five years. He led the crowd in chants of “Stop TPP” and “gambaro” or “Let’s do it” in Japanese.

The agreement would lower tariffs and other trade barriers while setting labor and environmental standards for its participants. The Obama administration said the pact would boost U.S. economic growth and help keep high-quality jobs in the country by increasing exports.

The protesters later planned to blow conch shells, called pu in Hawaiian.

“We chose the pu for this demonstration because in ancient times, the sound of the pu was a call to attention — a kahea (call) to recognize something important is about to occur,” event organizer Trinette Furtado said. “Today is a call to attention, to join together against this attempt to put profits over people.”

Marti Townsend, director of the Sierra Club of Hawaii, said the state has some of the strongest environmental laws in the world, but they would be “gutted” if the agreement is adopted.

“We are calling on elected leaders around the world, all 12 countries, to recognize that the public interest in this situation is higher than the corporate interest,” Townsend said.

The 12 nations negotiating the pact are: the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

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