As of October 5th, 2015, a final agreement has been reached regarding the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal. For anyone who is unaware, the TPP is a proposed international “free-trade” agreement between 12 pacific nations: Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Vietnam, and the United States. Similar to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the TPP’s goal, according to the Obama Administration, is to:
“Open markets, set high-standard trade rules, and address 21st century issues in the global economy. By doing so, TPP will promote jobs and growth in the United States and across the Asia-Pacific region. The Obama Administration is pursuing TPP to unlock opportunities for American manufacturers, workers, service providers, farmers, and ranchers – to support job creation and wage growth.”
While this sounds really good on the surface, it hardly seems to be what is actually happening. Look no further than the fact that the TPP, a free-trade agreement that covers nearly 40% of the world economy, has largely been negotiated in complete secrecy, with no access for the public. Politicians do have the ability to read the agreement in the Trade Representatives office, but they cannot make a copy of it, take notes, or bring in aids to provide analysis. However, 605 corporate advisors, who stand to gain the most financially, have access to the text and according to many analysts and politicians like Bernie Sanders, these are the people who essentially wrote it. The only reason the public has any knowledge as to the contents of these documents, is because leaked drafts of various sections have been uploaded by Wikileaks.
“I bet that none of my colleagues have read the entire document. I would bet that most of them haven’t even spent a couple of hours looking at it,” said Democratic Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who has acknowledged he has yet to read every single page of the trade agreement.
So behind the smokescreens of promised economic growth, what do the leaked sections of the secret deal, along with past experiences with “free-trade” deals, tell us about what’s really going on with the TPP?
Loss of National/Local Sovereignty:
One of the first major issues is the trade deal’s clear breach of national and local sovereignty of law. In international free-trade agreements, countries agree on a standard set of rules that all countries must adhere to, so as to set the same rules for all. This is supposed to allow “free” trade, but what about individual sovereignty of local or national law? If the TPP were to be signed into law, Investor-State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) would give corporations the ability to sue nations, cities, and even local towns at the taxpayer’s expense, for violating the free-trade agreement standards and affecting their “expected future profits.” These cases are then decided in secret international arbitration courts (tribunals) instead of domestic courts.
For instance, if a city or nation has a ban on certain products, sets minimum wage requirements, or enacts certain environmental regulations, a foreign corporation can sue that nation or city for a loss in “expected future profits” since their sovereign laws went against the international standards agreed upon. These situations have already been demonstrated in reality thanks to the NAFTA free-trade agreement between the United States, Mexico, and Canada, implemented in 1994 by Bill Clinton. A perfect example is when the people of Quebec voted in a referendum to protect the environment against fracking. The fracking corporation then sued the Canadian government for 250 million dollars that it claimed it would have earned had the law not been implemented. Another example is Phillip Morris suing the Uruguayan government for passing anti-smoking legislation that they claim “devalues their trademark and investments in Uruguay.” These are countries attempting to create a better world by taking action that all can agree is not only necessary, but long over due. Yet, these corporations are allowed to sue these countries, effectively stopping any future attempts to better the world in any way that might harm a corporations bottom line, for fear of litigation and financial repercussion.
These are far from the only ISDS cases that have appeared since the implementation of international free-trade agreements. This breach of domestic sovereignty can affect environmental laws, food, product and health safety standards, wage and collective bargaining laws, Internet laws, financial laws, and intellectual property laws. Many who have read the leaked documents, claim that the TPP is NAFTA on steroids. Do people really want to give up their sovereign power to affect domestic policy to international laws, international corporations, and international courts? What freedom do people have left then?
Increase Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights:
Another major issue with the TPP is that it’s a real threat to a free and open Internet, as well as a developing nation’s ability to receive proper medical supplies. According to leaked documents, copyrights would be extended to longer periods of time and Internet service providers would face greater liabilities if they do not adhere to more strict copyright law enforcement. Also, acceleration in protections of Digital Rights Managements (DRM), aka digital locks, is being pushed. This would prevent people from engaging in activities like unlocking phones, sampling online streaming videos, or even allowing companies to block software and content on their digital devices. This combination would inhibit the collective sharing and constant innovation that is so prevalent on the Internet as well as inhibit the functionality of technology.
As Doctors without borders warns, heavy intellectual property enforcement could also prove very detrimental to developing countries and their ability to access adequate medical supplies. Big pharmaceutical companies would get longer patents on medical drugs, allowing them to charge higher prices for longer periods of time as well as prevent or delay the production of cheaper, more generic alternatives. If nations decide to produce cheaper alternatives, they could face potential lawsuits from corporations who lost out on expected profits.
Continuation of Wealth Inequality:
Finally, one of the last major issues is the cold reality that the TPP will probably lead to greater income inequality around the world. This deal could trigger a global race to the bottom for cheap labor, which would result in a domestic loss of good paying jobs as well as continued slave labor jobs for developing nations. In the process, big international corporations would get richer, stifling any smaller challengers, as they just don’t have the logistics and financial capital to remain competitive.
The TPP would also loosen financial regulation by baring countries from “capital controls.” While this might make sense in a perfect society, in today’s world of corporate greed, it simply does not. Wall street would have free rein internationally and their power would only grow, giving rise to greater income inequality.
It seems pretty clear that the TPP is nothing more than a coup-d’état for the massive corporate powers of the twelve nations at the expense of workers all over the world. Although I don’t advocate Bernie Sanders for president, he is right on some issues and I believe him when he says:
“Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a “free trade” agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system. If TPP was such a good deal for America, the administration should have the courage to show the American people exactly what is in this deal, instead of keeping the content of the TPP a secret.”
The mountain is high, but the fight isn’t over yet. The agreement has been reached, but it has yet to be signed into law. Since it was fast tracked through Congress, a minimum notice of 90 days must be given before the bill is signed into law and 30 days after the notice is given, the text of the agreement must by law be posted online. The people could finally get to see what is actually in the text.
In the end, only a massive public outcry will prevent the deal from happening. Once it is in place, there is no end date and the deal cannot be altered unless there is a consensus by all nations. Therefore, it’s time for people to wake up and get involved if this trade deal is to be avoided. No deal done in secret should be considered legitimate. This is our planet too, so people of the world: let’s stand up and reclaim it!