TPP Tiptoes into Town

By A. G. Moore 1/3/2013

Representative Louise Slaughter, Speaking in Opposition to Fast Track Status
Picture Attribution: Louise Slaughter
Uploaded from Wikimedia Commons on Creative Commons Attribution License

After much procrastination, I’m finally sitting down to write a blog about the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). As is my custom when preparing a blog, I referred to a number of sources to get a balanced view of the behemoth that is TPP.  Going through this exercise made me realize why I’d been avoiding the topic: there isn’t much I can say for certain except that the treaty’s negotiations have been top secret. I think this is the most important aspect of the treaty right now–nobody knows, for sure, what’s in it. As the former policy director at the Australian Institute of Public Affairs, Tim Wilson, has said, “…people are shadow boxing and discussing what could be in the agreement rather than what’s actually in the final agreement. We won’t know about that until negotiations are concluded.”

At that point, of course, we’ll be stuck with whatever the trade negotiators have agreed to.

The genesis of the TPP is interesting; it started out as a trade agreement between three nations–New Zealand, Singapore and Chile. Brunei joined quickly. Then, fungus-like, the idea spread. Today, 12 nations are negotiating terms. The combined wealth of these nations represents about 40% of global GDP.

With this kind of economic muscle, the TPP would change the international economic landscape–for everyone.

So exactly what are the provisions of the agreement? There are a few U. S. elected representatives who would like to know the answer to that. For example, Senator Ron Wyden said, “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations…”

I know that import and export restrictions would likely mean a net increase in prices for some domestic products. I know that food labeling and environmental laws would be affected–as would labor laws and wage standards. I know this because these issues are being addressed in the pact. But I don’t know exactly what the stipulations would be. As Mr. Wilson, the former Australian policy director said, I’m merely shadow boxing.

A while back WikiLeaks managed to let out the draft copy of just one of 30 chapters in this agreement, the chapter that deals with intellectual property rights. From this leak, a few objectives of the TPP negotiators were revealed.  Among the provisions included in the draft were weakened standards for patentability (making it easier for companies to patent ideas); increased copyright restrictions (making terms of copyright longer and penalties for violation more severe); and strengthening drug patents (so that generics would effectively be less available to poor populations). As one commentator has suggested, TPP looks like SOPA on steroids. 

It’s obvious that while the TPP is marketed as a “free trade” agreement, nothing in the pact–or at least the parts that have been leaked so far–increases freedom for anyone but large corporate entities. The provisions of the pact would also give freedom to governments, more freedom to enforce laws that punish those who violate the pact’s provisions.

Although the TPP will affect virtually ever aspect of commerce, it has been given a “pass” by Congress; a bi-partisan Congressional committee approved it last month to be “fast tracked” for passage. This means, if the whole Congress endorses fast track status, there will be a limited period for review, restricted debate, no opportunity to amend and, finally, a strict up or down vote (simple majority required for passage).

The U. S. has been negotiating the TPP since 2008. Provisions and discussions have been hidden–hidden even from members of Congress. The few provisions that have been learned are alarming many. In addition to the violations of personal liberty that seem to be tucked into this agreement, there is the issue of sovereignty; the authority of the TPP would take precedence over domestic law.

The TPP is an economic freight train that is about to arrive in the U.S. very soon. Somehow the noise that should accompany such an event has not been heard. Except for a few highly motivated groups, little coverage of the TPP has been evident. There needs to be a public vetting of this agreement’s provisions. There needs to be an informed debate. In order for that to happen Congress and the president need to hear some thunder.

Right now, all I hear is silence.

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