International News / Uncategorized

Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Tip of the Iceberg

by Julius Eason

There is a secretive multinational trade agreement that threatens to put the rights of profit-driven corporations over the rights of human beings.

Titled the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the TPP is an international trade pact currently being negotiated by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) along with eleven other foreign governments: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Over the last three years, it has been drafted to cover many topics, such as the pricing of pharmaceutical drugs and intellectual property rights, even allowing for the rights of investors to sue states and countries over policies that interfere with their profits.

Despite addressing many important issues that affect the general public, this trade pact has only been made privy to the governments drafting it, along with 600 corporate advisors. Aiming to circumvent the democratic process involving congressional review and public debate entirely, the Obama Administration intends to fast track the agreement to a vote by as early as the end of this year.

Regarded as the largest-ever economic treaty, it has surprisingly little to do with tariffs and “free trade.” Nearly thirty chapters are being discussed, only a few of which have anything to do with trade. With 600 multinational corporations being allowed access to and assisting with the drafting process, the TPP has been referred to as a “corporate power tool” or the “wet dream of the 1 percent.”

Corporations such as Halliburton, Chevron, PhRMA, Comcast, Wal-Mart, AT&T, General Electric, Monsanto and the Motion Picture Association of America have influenced the TPP over the last three years. Everything from labor issues, intellectual property rights, public health and environmental regulations are being forced under corporate rule in a deal that threatens to surrender local, state and national sovereignty.

The TPP has fallen under recent controversy over the lack of transparency with Congress and the general public. Several groups have organized protests, letter-writing campaigns and petitions, and sought to expose details of the trade pact. Members of Congress have requested disclosure of the trade agreement, and the Obama Administration has been criticized for its secrecy.

On November 13, 2013, WikiLeaks released a draft text of the entire chapter pertaining to intellectual property (IP) rights. Expanding significantly upon the language behind such legislation as PIPA, SOPA and ACTA, the TPP intellectual property chapter features excessive copyright proposals and heightened global IP enforcement. The internationally agreed-upon copyright term could extend from the life of the author + 50 years, to life + 70 years for individually owned works; for corporate-owned properties (think Mickey Mouse), that term could extend to up to 120 years after creation.

Copyright infringement would be criminalized under the TPP on even the smallest scale, leaving internet users facing serious jail-time for downloading music. Bans would be set in place to prohibit the breaking of digital locks, even for legal uses of the protected work. This restricts fair use, open source development in regards to innovation and competition, and usage of copyrighted material for educational and socially beneficial purposes.

Internet service providers would also be encouraged to monitor and enforce provisions of the proposed agreement, undertaking a new “three strikes” method. Users facing three separate infringement accusations will have their internet access revoked by their provider, and will be subject to a deep packet inspection.

These provisions only skim the surface of the leaked chapter on intellectual property rights, a chapter of which is merely the tip of the iceberg known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Corporations would be granted legal status equal to sovereign nations. These corporations would be free to sue governments (including state and local governments) whose laws could hypothetically have an adverse affect on their profits. In these international trade tribunals established by the TPP, judges would likely consist of corporate lawyers, and chances for appeal would be low. Food safety laws protecting farmers and their families, environmental regulations that restrict pollution and favor clean energy, and labor laws in regards to jobs both stateside and overseas are all grounds for corporations to sue if there is a perceived risk of the bottom line not being met.

Under the TPP, pharmaceutical corporations will inhibit access to affordable medical treatment that could save lives. “Evergreening,” a process that allows for never-ending patents with statistically insignificant changes in formula will stifle the development and release of generic medicine and keep drug prices high. Even surgical procedures could be patented.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership will serve to nullify multiple areas of US and international law in the name of corporate rule, and will effectively sign away our rights. The countries involved in negotiations already make up for 40 percent of the world’s GDP. With nearly every major corporate player in the world on board, increased pressure will be placed on other countries to accede to the terms proposed in the document, for fear of being excluded from trade agreements with the US and other TPP members.

These issues and more are being negotiated under unprecedented secrecy. More than seventeen rounds of negotiations have been held all over the world since 2010 with virtually no coverage by mainstream media. Information available to us thus far has been thanks to the efforts of WikiLeaks and the Citizens Trade Campaign, among others. With the Obama Administration pushing for fast track authority, the TPP will be signed and placed before Congress for a simple up or down vote, sans congressional approval. No transparency, no public forum, no possibility for amendments, no democratic due process.

Exposure and scrutiny of the Trans-Pacific Partnership is key. Public opposition and grassroots movements have thwarted previous attempts at similar “free trade” agreements in the past. It’s this exact outcome that the Obama Administration and the USTR are hoping to avoid. For more information on the TPP, and how to take action, visit the Citizens Trade Campaign website at http://www.citizenstrade.org

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