Despite its best intentions, there are reasons to worry about the TPP.

MDRTB patient Seikholien, 45, is showing his daily dose of pills given to him by the MSF staff nurse. Churchandpur, Manipur, India. Photo By Sami Siva.

The TPP is a free trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries in Asia and the Americas. The stated goals of the treaty are to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in [signatory countries]; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” The claim of ‘transparency promotion’ being slightly ironic considering the text of the treaty is a highly guarded secret.

After the TPP was signed on October 5th, Wikileaks promptly released a leaked section [PDF] of the final agreement on Intellectual Property. Reviewing that document leads to more flowery claims about the agreement’s intentions. According to Article QQ.A.Z, the Intellectual Property chapter of the TPP was written in order to “promote innovation and creativity; facilitate the diffusion of information, knowledge, technology, culture and the arts; and foster competition and open and efficient markets.” The most reasonable sections of the Intellectual Property Rights chapter aim to protect legitimate American business interests by regulating trademarks, industrial design, and geographical indications on products. This type of regulation could help American companies profit in Asia, where intellectual property theft [PDF] is an issue that costs American businesses hundreds of billions of dollars. Despite some reasonable laws, there are plenty of compelling reasons to worry about the negative effects the TPP could have across the globe:

Reason #1: The TPP undermines signatories’ national sovereignty by allowing multinational corporations to overturn local regulations and impose hefty fines on governments.

Senator Elizabeth Warren wrote an OP-Ed in the Washington Post detailing how the TPP will allow multinationals to extract taxpayer money with fines and overturn domestic environmental/health regulations under a provision called “Investor-State Dispute Settlement,” or ISDS. She writes, ” ISDS could lead to gigantic fines, but it wouldn’t employ independent judges. Instead, highly paid corporate lawyers would go back and forth between representing corporations one day and sitting in judgment the next. Maybe that makes sense in an arbitration between two corporations, but not in cases between corporations and governments. If you’re a lawyer looking to maintain or attract high-paying corporate clients, how likely are you to rule against those corporations when it’s your turn in the judge’s seat?”

Under separate free trade laws, corporations have already begun suing governments:

  • U.S. tobacco company Philip Morris International is currently using ISDS to sue the governments of Uruguay, because of their tobacco regulations, and Australia, because of their cigarette plain packaging law (to curb cigarette smoking). Despite the World Health Organization’s praising of Uruguay and Australia’s initiatives as model public health efforts, Philip Morris is able to demand compensation for lost profits. These pending lawsuits are keeping other nations from enacting similar tobacco regulations. In February 2013, New Zealand announced that it would wait to move on plain packaging legislation until the lawsuit with Australia had been resolved.
  • The Peruvian government is now being sued for $800 million by Doe Run – owned by the U.S.-based Renco Group Inc. – because it asked Doe Run to clean up its metal smelting plant that had caused 99 percent of the children in the town of La Oroya to have unsafe levels of lead in their blood.
  • Vattenfall, which is a Swedish energy company, is now suing Germany for over one billion dollars over their decision to phase out nuclear energy, following the Fukushima disaster in 2011. This is after it successfully forced Germany to roll back environmental requirements for a coal-fired power plant also owned by Vattenfall.
  • Lone Pine Resources, a U.S. – based oil and gas company, is now suing Quebec for $250 million worth of “lost profits” after the citizens of Quebec passed a moratorium against fracking under the St. Lawrence river.
  • “Under U.S.-Ecuador’s Bilateral Investment Treaty, which mimics the investor-state system enshrined in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the largest ever reward from one of these tribunals has hit the poor country of Ecuador hard. In a decision by a World Bank tribunal last year, Ecuador lost to Occidental Petroleum and now is being forced  to pay a penalty of $2.4 billion for ending their oil contract. Ecuador, reeling from decades of environmental pollution by Chevron/Texaco in the Ecuadorean Amazon, had concerns with Occidental illegally selling off portions of the agreed-upon oil contract without government authorization, a move that abrogated the contract. Now the country is billions of dollars in debt.” Source.

Reason #2: Under Article QQ.G.6 the TPP internationalizes the US law extending copyright to 70 years after the creator’s death.

Leading economists agree that extending copyright dates to 70 years after the creator’s death does not benefit innovation [PDF]. In 1909, the US Congress passed a bill that protected copyrighted works for “a period of 28 years from the date of publication.”  The current length of copyright has an interesting backstory, and can be traced to Disney’s aggressive lobbying to protect its profits on Mickey Mouse every single time the copyright was set to expire. Copyright that extends to 70 years after the creator has been long dead might help the pocketbooks of wealthy corporate executives, but it doesn’t promote innovation. In fact, it stifles innovation and impedes the economy.

Reason #3: The TPP would limit online free speech.

Maira Sutton, a global policy analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is quoted in the International Business Times saying, “The risk with the TPP is that it’ll increase incentives for ISPs to remove content to make sure they’re not liable for what users post. In the U.S., we’ve seen rights holders sending letters to ISPs saying something is infringing, and ISPs will remove content whether it’s infringing or not.” This policing of online content would be Orwellian considering the treaty’s stated goal of  “facilitating the diffusion of information, knowledge, technology, culture and the arts.” Having said that, political manipulation using the pretext of transparency would not be novel for the Obama administration, which was elected on promises of unprecedented transparency and then (under the Espionage Act) prosecuted more whistleblowers who leaked to journalists than all previous US administrations combined. In 2013, after the Edward Snowden leaks, the Sunlight Foundation noted that the Obama government quietly removed its campaign promise to protect whistleblowers from its own website.

Reason #4: The TPP would raise drug costs for people in the developing world, potentially obstructing access to life saving medicine that millions depend on.

In Article QQ.E.17 the treaty authorizes the creation of “procedures, such as judicial or administrative proceedings, and expeditious remedies, such as preliminary injunctions or equivalent effective provisional measures, for the timely resolution of disputes concerning the validity or infringement of an applicable patent claiming an approved pharmaceutical product or its approved method of use.” These procedures could effect the wellbeing of the disenfranchised who are benefiting from cheaper generic alternatives. Doctors Without Borders (a heroic charitable healthcare provider that is known by the acronym derived from its French name MSF) is unequivocally against provisions in the TPP, saying, “Generic competition has proven to be the best way to reduce drug prices and improve access to treatment. MSF began providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment for HIV/AIDS in 2000 when the cost of treatment was more than 10,000 USD per patient per year. MSF now treats 285,000 people in HIV/AIDS projects in 21 countries, mostly with generic drugs produced in Asia. These generics have reduced the cost of treatment by nearly 99% to less than 140 USD per patient per year. Ministries of health, humanitarian medical treatment providers like MSF, and donors routinely rely on affordable quality generic medicines to treat a variety of health needs.” Doctors Without Borders argues that provisions in the TPP that use and expand on the TRIPS Agreement would threaten their ability to provide healthcare to underprivileged people in many different nations. The very first article (QQ.A.1) in the IP chapter of the TPP references TRIPS when defining what the treaty means when it says Intellectual Property. MSF says that, “The TPP represents the most far-reaching attempt to date to impose aggressive TRIPS-plus IP standards that further tip the balance towards commercial interests and away from public developing countries,where people rarely have health insurance and must pay for medicines out of pocket, high prices keep lifesaving medicines out of reach and are often a matter of life and death.” They have even come out with the statement that, “the TPP has the potential to become the most harmful trade pact ever for access to medicines.”


Reason #5 The history of free trade agreements.

The idealistic explanation of free trade agreements is that every country has something to offer. Portugal has fine wines because of its favorable grape growing seasons, while England has an abundance of coal and steel. Everyone has something they do best, and if they trade with each other their lives will improve. But free trade agreements have historically been used to fuel a race to the bottom. The Economic Policy Institute has documented the negative effects of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), siting the growing trade deficits and loss of employment opportunities for vast amounts of people in the American workforce. I will end this piece with a revealing quote from MIT professor Noam Chomsky outlining his opposition to the TPP, “The words “free trade agreement” should bring to mind the response attributed to Gandhi when he was asked what he thought about western civilization: “it might be a good idea.” Same with “free trade agreements.” Maybe they would be a good idea, maybe not, but the question scarcely arises in the real world. What are called “free trade agreements” have only a limited relation to free trade, or even trade at all, and are certainly not agreements, at least if the people of a country are regarded as its citizens.

The FTAs are investor rights agreements, negotiated mostly in secret by representatives of transnational corporations and the few powerful states that cater to their interests. The public is largely excluded, and often opposed. The agreements include highly protectionist elements, such as the monopoly pricing rights that impose enormous costs on consumers and have no legitimate justification. They interpret “trade” to include actions internal to command economies, as when a giant corporation produces parts in Indiana, ships them to a subsidiary in Mexico for assembly, then sells the product in California, with each border crossing called “trade” — a very large component of world “trade.” We did not call it “trade” when parts were produced in Leningrad, assembled in Poland, and sold in Moscow, all within the Soviet command economy. The concept of “trade” is further illuminated by events taking place right now. The World Bank has just ruled that the Canadian mining corporation Pacific Rim can proceed with its case against El Salvador for trying to preserve lands and communities from highly destructive gold mining. Under the investor rights agreements, the crime of imposing environmental constraints can be punished on the grounds that it harms potential profits. Predatory corporations must be guaranteed the right to destroy for profit, whatever the human cost. That is only a tiny sample of what is called “trade,” a category designed, not surprisingly, to enhance the power and privilege of the designers. The public should be concerned, informed, and engaged.”





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