This week, officials from 12 countries across the Pacific Rim are meeting behind closed doors in a posh New York City hotel in an attempt to finish negotiations of the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). If concluded, the TPP would set binding rules for nearly half of the global economy.
Yet, while these negotiations have gone on for more than five years, many have never even heard of the TPP due to the secretive nature of the negotiating process and the lack of reporting by much of the mainstream media.
Meanwhile, the nations working on the deal, which in addition to the U.S. includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam, are moving quickly to finalize the agreement before the public is aware of what they are doing.
After missing previous deadlines, President Barack Obama is now pushing for talks to wrap up in the next few months.
Although it is called a "free trade" agreement, the TPP is about more than just trade. It is impossible to know everything that is hiding in the text, since civil society and the press are locked out from the negotiating process, and texts are kept completely secret (though more than 500 so-called advisors the vast majority representing corporate interests, have access to the texts). However, what we do know based on leaks is that the agreement is being negotiated to benefit corporations at the expense of workers, consumers, and the environment.
Of 29 known draft chapters, only five deal with traditional trade issues. The remaining chapters aim to write binding global rules that will impact a range of other important issues affecting our daily lives.
The chapter on intellectual property would grant new rights to big pharmaceutical companies to increase the cost of medicines and limit access to generic drugs – harming HIV/AIDS and cancer patients’ ability to afford life-saving medicine. It also threatens to stifle Internet access and innovation by introducing crippling new copyright rules and penalties.
A leaked chapter on the environment indicated that the TPP would not include adequate environmental protections or likely even mention climate change. Environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club have also expressed concern that the TPP would allow for an increase in the exportation of liquefied natural gas and the controversial extraction process known as “fracking.”
The TPP threatens consumer protections by allowing entry of imported food that does not comply with domestic safety standards. The TPP could also be a setback for important food labelling policies, such as with Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).
And if those concerns are not alarming enough, a leak of the investment chapter confirms that the TPP contains the controversial Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, which allows corporations to challenge any public interest laws that they consider to be detrimental to their profits.
Using this provision, foreign corporations are able to skirt domestic legal systems and sue governments before tribunals of three private-sector lawyers to demand taxpayer compensation for domestic laws that the company claims will harm their “future expected profits.” The tribunals are unaccountable to any court system, are authorized to demand payouts of any sum, and do not provide an opportunity for outside appeal.
Unfortunately, this is not an empty threat – under U.S. trade and investment pacts alone, more than $430 million has already been paid out to foreign investors, and over $14 billion remains pending in ongoing cases. In one ISDS suit, Ecuador was ordered to pay $2.4 billion – the amount Ecuador spends on health care each year for almost half of its population – even though the tribunal admitted that the company broke the law. This provision has been used to attack environmental policies, health and safety laws, natural resource protections, and more. And it also has a “chilling” effect. Countries may be less likely to pass important protections if they are concerned about a costly lawsuit, and the threat of a multibillion dollar case may be enough incentive for a country to think twice before enacting an important public interest policy.
In addition, there is reason for those outside of the 12 countries currently negotiating the agreement to be concerned. The TPP is designed as a “docking agreement,” meaning that other countries – such as China or the Philippines – could potentially join after the agreement has been negotiated. Further, officials and leaders are touting it as a “model trade agreement” being negotiated with the intention of replicating its rules in other agreements worldwide.
Although the TPP is one of corporate lobbyists’ best kept secrets, experts, lawmakers, activists, and citizens are joining together in opposition to the pact and fighting back against the corporate agenda. In the United States, in part due to the tireless advocacy of their constituents, lawmakers of all political stripes are announcing their refusal to grant President Obama’s request for Fast Track – the extreme legislative procedure that allows a president to sign a trade deal before Congress has voted on it, and then railroad the deal through Congress with limited debate and no amendments.
In New Zealand, more than 10,000 protesters took to the streets to express their outrage late last year. Peruvians are using the “No Negociable!” campaign to demand that their government protect crucial health policies. And these are only a few examples of the many actions and voices speaking out against the TPP.
But time is running out, as corporations and business leaders are putting immense pressure on negotiators and trade ministers to deliver a deal. And because the TPP is a threat to all, now is the time to raise the alarm across the entire globe. There is simply too much at stake to remain silent.
Jessa Boehner is International Program Associate at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch.