The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is coming, and it could give multinational corporations even more influence over global policy.
That's what critics of the trade deal between 12 countries along the Pacific Rim (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam) are saying. It's not helping that the contents of the agreement have largely been kept secret, even though the TPP is the biggest trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995.
The TPP partner countries are currently conducting their 20th round of talks, scheduled to last until July 12, in Ottawa, Canada. The venue was moved from Vancouver at the last minute, which critics of the agreement are saying was a calculated move to avoid protests. (Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government has stated that the event was moved solely to save more than $150,000 in hosting costs.)
'It would be a punch in the face to the middle class of America. But I can't tell you why.'
Both President Barack Obama and Japanese negotiator Koji Tsuruoka have stated that the Canadian meetings will be a crucial step toward a planned November finish for the talks, which largely hinge on negotiations between the US and Japan.
What's known about the TPP's 29 chapters — of which only five cover trade, and only three have been leaked — has sent chills through activists on both ends of the political spectrum. Here's a breakdown of the five biggest issues the TPP presents:
It's Being Kept Secret From the World
Thanks to leaks published by Citizens Trade Campaign and WikiLeaks, we've seen draft chapters of the environmental, investment and intellectual property sections of the TPP. But the rest is a mystery, and mainstream media coverage has been scant.
Obama himself has remarked that "objections, protest, rumors" and "conspiracy theories" around the TPP are inevitable, reflecting a "lack of knowledge of what is going on in the negotiations."
That "lack of knowledge" isn't elective, however. Though TPP stakeholders, including 600 corporations and multiple labor unions, including the AFL-CIO, are allowed access to the draft, the public is not. Even Congress is being kept on a short leash — while a few Congress members have been allowed to read draft text of the trade agreement, they've also been sworn to secrecy about what they've seen.
'Staffers from the Trade Representative's office insisted on staying in the room and looking at me as I read the document.'
"I read some sections of a draft of the TPP that identified sections that were still being negotiated, that did not identify what positions were being taken by which countries," Florida Representative Alan Grayson told VICE News. "I was the first member [of the House] to read it; since then, other members have read it. Aides were excluded on all counts, and I was told I couldn't discuss it or shouldn't discuss it with aides.
"A number of staffers from the Trade Representative's office came, brought the document with them, and insisted on staying in the room and looking at me as I read the document."
His general take on what he read, even if he can't reveal the details? "It would be a punch in the face to the middle class of America. But I can't tell you why."
It Will Extend the Ability of Corporations to Sue Governments
The investor-state dispute settlement provision (ISDS) of the TPP would allow foreign investors to sue governments over domestic policy that might diminish their profits.
Hypothetically, for instance, an agribusiness company could sue a country that bans GMOs in order to recoup lost profits. This has already been possible, to some extent, under NAFTA — as in the cases "Eli Lilly v. Canada" and "Metalclad v. Mexico" — yet these rules do not apply to countries governed by the WTO. The TPP would extend NAFTA-style ISDS to the 12 participating countries.
'A foreign investor could drag governments to face a kangaroo court staffed by three corporate private sector attorneys.'
Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, told VICE News that the ISDS "would formalize the elevation of individual corporations and investors to equal status with nation states."
"It makes a public treaty between two countries privately enforceable by any private investor or corporation… a foreign investor could challenge any government policy or action in an extrajudicial tribunal outside the domestic courts, outside the domestic law, and drag governments to face a kangaroo court staffed by three corporate private sector attorneys."
It Will Put a Stranglehold on Intellectual Property Law
The TPP would potentially make it criminal to break Digital Rights Management restrictions (whether you know it's a crime or not), would extend the length of time companies can hold copyright for, expand the statutory damages for copyright infringement, and even backdoor in a version of SOPA.
Maira Sutton, global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told VICE News that such measures could create a "censorship by copyright" situation in which we'd have "YouTubes, links on search results, academic papers, and posts on Reddit disappearing because rights holders allege it's copyrighted content. And we'd have people being afraid to link to things or share things."
The TPP may also extend patent protection on pharmaceuticals —potentially meaning that crucial, life-saving medicines could be kept out of the price range of the developing world, with generics delayed or blocked from coming to market.
It Will Allow Open Season on the Environment
The TPP's environment chapter isn't disturbing as much for what it contains as what it doesn't contain. Though the Obama administration previously took a hard line on environmental protections, those measures have become a casualty of the TPP negotiation process, as partner countries have protested that environmental protections would limit economic growth.
As such, only suggestions for environmental protection are included in the TPP — no binding obligations or enforcement policies.
It Will Allow Multinationals to Brutalize the Partner Countries
It's not hard to extrapolate how the global situation might shift if what we've seen of the TPP were fully exploited by multinationals. Tight controls on pharmaceutical patents could potentially lead to a resurgence of HIV/AIDS and other diseases in developing TPP countries.
The ability of the internet to bring information and education to developing countries could be shuttered. The environment of the partner states could be destroyed without remorse or recourse. And due to fear of economic assault under the investor-state dispute settlement provision, national governments would likely be unable to effectively fight back against multinational rule.
'In large part, what you'd see is something between corporate rule and anarchy.'
Domestically, the US could also be flooded by dangerously sub-standard products, lose more jobs to offshoring, lose "Buy American" procurement policies, and face the rollback of climate and financial protections.
Grayson is ferociously clear about what the effect will be: "The TPP would destroy our ability to govern ourselves. In large part, what you'd see is something between corporate rule and anarchy… It establishes a Hobbesian war of all against all."