For months now, I’ve been writing about the Trans-Pacific Partnership without knowing precisely what of provisions were contained within it.
Negotiated under intense secrecy, the TPP has for a long time been like an ominous raincloud on the horizon, looming and threatening in an indistinct and distant way. Occasionally a draft chapter would make its way into the hands of Wikileaks, and experts in the field would carefully parse through the dense legal language and pronounce the agreement dangerous and a threat to (sovereignty/democracy/the environment/ labour/creativity/etc.), but for all intents and purposes the TPP was a black box.
That in itself was reason to be suspicious. The high-level access to negotiations which was granted to over five hundred of the world’s largest corporations, and the complete and total lack of access granted to pretty much every other affected group, was a pretty strong tell as to whom this deal was going to favour.
As you’ve likely heard, the full text of the deal was finally made public last week. And now that we can actually read the damn thing, all the experts who thought they were alarmed before are having to redefine their definition of “alarmed” to accommodate their new levels of alarmedness.
Chris Hedges, for instance, says of the deal that it is “the most brazen corporate power grab in American history”, adding:
These three agreements [the TPP, TTIP, and TISA] solidify the creeping corporate coup d’état along with the final evisceration of national sovereignty. Citizens will be forced to give up control of their destiny and will be stripped of the ability to protect themselves from corporate predators, safeguard the ecosystem and find redress and justice in our now anemic and often dysfunctional democratic institutions. The agreements—filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing—can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement.
And before you go and call Hedges an alarmist, consider these facts:
The deal’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism – which I’ve written about before – represents a blatant erosion of national sovereignty in the face of ascendant corporate power, as the inestimable Lambert Strethers exhaustively details over at Naked Capitalism. ISDS will allow corporations to sue governments for any action which leads to a perceived loss of profit, including the imposition of environmental, consumer safety, and labour-protecting regulations. Furthermore, these suits will be heard in courts presided over by corporate lawyers.
Under similar provisions in NAFTA, Canada has to date been the most-sued nation, and has been forced to pay corporations large sums of money, including one case in which it was forced to apologize and make a USD$13 million payout to Ethyl Corp. after new regulations banned a known neurotoxin produced by the company from being added to Canadian gasoline. Under the TPP, the number of corporations with standing to sue our government would massively increase, as would their grounds to launch legal action: our labour/environmental/consumer safety/etc. standards are quite stringent compared with those of TPP nations like Vietnam or Malaysia, and are therefore arguably “unfair barriers to trade”.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital rights, has thoroughly detailed several issues they have with the TPP, including what they call the “most shocking revelation” in the release of the 5000+-page document: how the TPP’s Investment chapter defines “intellectual property” as an asset that can be subject to the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) process. What this means is that companies could sue any of the TPP nations for introducing rules that they allege harm their right to exploit their copyright interests—such as new rights to use copyrighted works for some public interest purpose…the Investment chapter reinforces our fear that new, democratically-decided user protections within copyright can be attacked by an ISDS challenge. This is far from just a hypothetical threat. A good example of just how far companies might go in enforcing their claimed rights using ISDS is the claim brought by Philip Morris against Australia under a similar free trade agreement, alleging that its trademark rights were infringed by the country’s cigarette plain packaging laws. This ISDS mechanism can be characterized as a tool for private industry to directly undermine democracy and any public interest rule.”
Several organizations have charged that the TPP is basically SOPA in camouflage. As advocacy group ExposeTheTPP notes, Internet service providers would be expected to police their users for any sign of copyright violations, and be empowered to unilaterally take down internet content.
When it comes to intellectual property, this deal has every expert’s hackles raised. It’s a difficult subject to get your head around, because it’s hard to see how it interacts with your everyday life, but it could quite seriously jeopardize the internet as we know it: T”he TPP affects website owners too, and threatens online privacy by requiring countries to publish databases of real names and addresses associated with certain web domains. This is particularly dangerous for dissenting voices in repressive countries, but it will also leave many average website owners exposed to scammers, online harassers and trolls. The corporate wish-list continues. A dangerously broad “trade secrets” section endangers whistleblowers and journalists by prescribing harsh penalties for anyone accessing or exposing corporate secrets (or wrongdoing) “through a computer network”. Another article vaguely criminalizes tinkering with, unlocking or modifying your phone or other devices you own.”
No less an establishment figure than Jim Balsillie is issuing dire warnings about the IP implications of the TPP for Canada, saying that “I think in 10 years from now, we’ll call that the signature worst thing in policy that Canada’s ever done”, and estimating the deal could ultimately end up costing the nation hundreds of billions of dollars.
From an environmental point of view, advocacy groups are almost universally opposed to the agreement, even down to neoliberal shill Jeffrey Sachs. Defenders of Wildlife CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark, who had been in favour of the deal until actually reading the damn thing, said on its release: “Now that the text of the Trans-Pacific-Partnership is available to the public, it is disappointingly clear that this is not the tougher language we had hoped for…The environment chapter is weak and fails to provide the necessary requirements and stronger penalties desperately needed to better fight poaching, protect wildlife habitat and shut down the illegal wildlife trade.”
This disappointment extends to, for instance, Big Labour:
The whole union movement regards the labor chapter as window dressing,” Bill Waren, trade policy analyst for Friends of the Earth told ThinkProgress. The important chapter, he said, is the investment chapter. Under the agreement, corporations will be able to sue countries that pass laws which infringe on the companies’ investments. (A similar investor protection under NAFTA allowed a U.S. oil and gas company to sue Canada in 2013 after Quebec rescinded licenses to conduct hydraulic fracturing, due to concerned over the province’s water supply.)
And as the Globe and Mail reports, the TPP’s provisions will arguably allow the influx of an unlimited number of temporary foreign workers, both undermining the bargaining power of Canadian labour and negatively affecting job quality and working conditions for those workers who do get brought into the country.
Health and Medicine
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) has been at the forefront of criticizing the TPP on this particular issue, warning that the treaty’s provisions could spell the end of access to affordable medicines for millions:
The TPP is a bad deal for medicine: it’s bad for humanitarian medical treatment providers such as MSF, and it’s bad for people who need access to affordable medicines around the world, including in the United States.
At a time when the high price of life-saving medicines and vaccines is increasingly recognized as a barrier to effective medical care, it is very concerning to see that the U.S. government and pharmaceutical companies have succeeded in locking in rules that will keep medicine prices high for longer and limit the tools that governments and civil society have to try to increase generic competition.
In other words, the TPP is going to be literally deadly for poor people in all of the TPP’s member nations. The kinds of sky-high drug prices we normally associate with the United States are going to be exported globally under this pernicious agreement.
Lack of economic benefits
We’ve known for a long time that the TPP is, at heart, not really a trade agreement. And even establishment voices like the Globe and Mail are acknowledging this reality. Under the headline, “TPP is about many things, but free trade? Not so much“, the Globe asserts that “calling the TPP a free-trade agreement overplays its benefits, plays down its problematic aspects and fundamentally misunderstands what the deal is actually about…Instead, agreements such as the TPP are about implementing policies that have nothing to do with comparative advantage, policies that are often designed to lead to higher consumer costs and concentrated corporate power. Treated as marginal issues, these policies are “free-trade free-riders,” coasting along on an unearned legitimacy.”
And again, this is a piece in the business section of a newspaper whose publisher once explicitly stated that he didn’t care about subscribers who made less than $100 000/year.
Prior to the deal’s being signed, the Globe estimated that it would add a mere 0.1% onto Canada’s annual GDP – and indeed, free trade is already pretty much a reality. With the exceptions of dairy and auto parts, Canada didn’t have to lower any major barriers to trade to join this deal – because that really isn’t what the TPP is about. It’s about implementing a corporate power grab – and here “alarmists” like Chris Hedges and mainstream stuffed suits like those at the Globe and Mail seem to be in complete agreement.
The scope of this deal is huge, and I’m not going to be able to cover everything here, but some other major concerns involve: the fate of state-owner corporations like the CBC and Canada Post; the introduction of banned hormones into Canada’s milk supply; the potential inability of Parliament to tighten regulations over financial firms; and the undermining of food safety by allowing the importation of products that don’t meet domestic regulatory standards.
So what now?
Having read all this, here’s what new Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay had to say earlier today:
Canada’s new agriculture minister said on Tuesday he is likely to support the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the previous government…
“I suspect when I evaluate the whole thing, it will be something I support,” said Lawrence MacAulay, 69, a former potato and dairy farmer who represents Prince Edward Island in cabinet.
“I see nothing today that would make me not want to support the whole package,” he told Reuters in an interview, his first as agriculture minister.
This is by far the most categorical statement that’s been made by a senior member of government since the TPP’s release last week, and it doesn’t bode well for opponents of the deal.
But one thing is absolutely clear: this is the new government’s decision. They can take the advice of the innumerable civil society organizations who are panicking at the implications of this hideous corporate power grab, or they can choose to go ahead and implement a deal they played no part in negotiating. If they choose the second path, they own this deal, and they’ll have to wear it forever.
Because if even a tenth of the dire predictions the TPP’s opponents have made come to pass, then I fear Jim Balsillie will be right in his projection that this will be the worst policy blunder in Canadian history.