October 5, 2015
(ANTIMEDIA) Atlanta, Georgia – “Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam are pleased to announce that we have successfully concluded the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations,” stated U.S Trade Representative Michael Froman early Monday morning.
The ministerial meeting in Atlanta was expected to conclude on Friday but dragged into Monday morning because of disagreements on dairy products and pharmaceutical regulation. The controversial trade agreement must now be approved by the twelve individual nation-states before it can officially become law.
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In the United States, President Obama must wait a minimum of 90 days before signing the agreement, and the full text of the agreement must be made publicly available for at least 60 days. This means that a congressional vote on the TPP will not likely happen before January.
President Obama promised that “Congress and the American people will have months to read every word” and stated that passing the agreement “can help our businesses sell more Made in America goods and services around the world, and we can help more American workers compete and win.”
In late June, President Obama signed into law the so-called “fast-track” bill that set the stage for approval of the TPP. The fast-track bill, officially known as the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), was one of two bills signed by Obama. The president also signed the Trade Adjustment Assistance Act (TAA), aimed at extending aid to workers who might lose their jobs as a consequence of the TPP or other so-called free trade deals.
At Monday’s press conference in Atlanta, USTR Michael Froman discussed the expected benefits of approving the massive trade agreement that will affect 40% of the global economy.
“We expect this agreement to promote economic growth, support higher paying jobs, enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness, raise living standards, reduce poverty in our countries, and promote transparency in governance and strong labor and environmental protections,” Froman stated.
Critics say the agreement’s Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or ISDS, will give corporations loopholes to escape accountability and empower international bodies, overriding national sovereignty of the signing nations. Under ISDS, foreign corporations would be allowed to appeal legal decisions to international tribunals rather than face domestic courts. Critics fear this could lead to a loss of sovereignty and the enrichment of transnational corporations.
In a recent statement, President Obama did not address critics of the trade deal who believe it will erode the sovereignty of individual nation-states. Instead, he took the opportunity to criticize the Republican Party.
“Within the Republican Party, some of the same impulses that are anti-immigration reform, some of the same impulses that see the entire world as a threat, and we’ve got to wall ourselves off, some of those same impulses start creeping into the trade debate, and a party that was traditionally pro-free trade now has a substantial element that may feel differently,” Obama stated.
Before the conclusion of the trade deal, fifteen different organizations signed an open letter asking TPP negotiators to provide public safeguards for copyrighted works. These groups include Australian Digital Alliance, Consumer NZ (New Zealand), Copia Institute (United States), Creative Commons (International), Electronic Frontier Foundation (United States, Australia), Hiperderecho (Peru), Futuristech Info (International), Global Exchange (International), iFixit (International), New Media Rights (United States), ONG Derecho Digitales (Chile), Open Media (Canada), Public Citizen (United States), and Public Knowledge (United States).
The authors of the letter state that copyright restricts important, everyday use of creative works. The groups call on the negotiators to be open to new changes that require participating nations to develop balanced and flexible rules on copyrights. The letter also highlights four key concerns from the organizations: retroactive copyright term extension, a ban on circumvention of technology protection measures, “heavy-handed criminal penalties and civil damages,” and trade secret rules that could criminalize investigative journalism and whistleblowers reporting on corporate wrongdoing.
As the EFF writes, “Despite its earlier promises that the TPP would bring ‘greater balance’ to copyright more than any other recent trade agreement, the most recent leak of the Intellectual Property chapter belies their claims. The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has still failed to live up to its word that it would enshrine meaningful public rights to use copyrighted content in this agreement.”
The TPP is not only facing resistance from electronic privacy groups, but from grassroots activists and concerned professionals around the world. Both the Anglican and Catholic churches of New Zealand have demanded the government be more transparent about the negotiations. Radio NZ reports that bishops from the churches are concerned with the lack of openness and that corporate interests are influencing the agreement while the people are being excluded. The churches also called on the New Zealand government to make the draft text of the agreement public.
“Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) expresses its dismay that TPP countries have agreed to United States government and multinational drug company demands that will raise the price of medicines for millions by unnecessarily extending monopolies and further delaying price-lowering generic competition. The big losers in the TPP are patients and treatment providers in developing countries. Although the text has improved over the initial demands, the TPP will still go down in history as the worst trade agreement for access to medicines in developing countries, which will be forced to change their laws to incorporate abusive intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical companies.”
In early February, doctors and health professionals representing seven countries released a letter warning the TPP will lead to higher medical costs for all nations. The letter, published in The Lancet Medical Journal, states, “Rising medicine costs would disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations.” The doctors called on the governments involved in the trade deal to publicly release the full text of the agreement. They also demanded an independent analysis of the effects on health and human rights for each nation involved in the deal.
Also in February, an analysis by The Washington Post revealed the U.S. government’s numbers on expected job increases from TPP are not factually correct. The Fact Checker examined several quotes from government officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Both Kerry and Vilsack claimed the international trade agreement would create 650,000 new jobs. However, these numbers do not take into account income gains and changing wages. According to the government’s own sources, imports and exports would increase by the same amount — resulting in a net number of zero new jobs.
What are the people of the twelve nations supposed to do now? The massive trade deal is expected to pass in the United States, and American politicians will do their part to pressure the other eleven nations into approving the agreement. This means one of President Obama’s last measures while in office will be the passage of a corporate trade deal opposed by the majority of Americans who are actually paying attention.
The TPP is just the latest step in a dangerous march towards a global corporate oligarchy.
We must not rely on corporate-state power to build a future worth living. It’s time for those of us who see what is happening to step out of line, start marching to our own beat, and create the path towards the future we want to see.
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