The TPP: What we don’t know can hurt us
January 28, 2014
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade agreement being negotiated by a number of Pacific Rim countries — Australia, Canada, Mexico, the United States, etc. The extreme secrecy of their proceedings has kept virtually everyone in the dark, and this is one of those cases where what we don't know can hurt us — very badly.
The small amount of information that is available has come from leaked portions of ongoing drafts. Even a cursory reading of those details shows TPP provisions favoring big business and their profit margins. This should not be a surprise because more than 600 corporate advisers have been included in the negotiations at various times. Meanwhile, all others have been refused access to agreement provisions.
If even a fraction of the emerging picture is valid, there are lots of reasons to be concerned. For example, leaks from the Intellectual Property chapter reveal that it creates a path to patent everything imaginable, including genetically modified organisms, medical procedures, and even mathematical and scientific methods that, until now, have been considered to be in the public domain. Exclusive rights over clinical trial data are also permitted, prohibiting firms that develop generic drugs from using such data to prove efficacy and bioequivalence of their products.
Another hard-to-believe provision makes standards established by the agreement mandatory for member nations. This means that, if those provisions specify safety levels that are lower than ours, we will be required to adopt the lower levels. In the case of food, those lower standards could result in us accepting items that we now reject because they are raised in contaminating conditions. Similarly, TPP provisions dramatically change regulation of our financial sector, weaken our environmental policies, and adversely impact our use of data via the Internet.
“Under this ‘Fast Track’ authority the president can negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries without consulting Congress, and he may sign such an agreement before Congress votes on it. The associated rules then give Congress 90 days to vote up or down on the deal
— no amendments or wording changes allowed.”
Other leaked documents indicate that under the section titled Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), corporations and investors are given the right to sue governments; not in conventional courts, but in extrajudicial tribunals where corporate representatives will act as "judges" empowered to award unlimited cash damages from us, the taxpayers, to associated corporations for any government action that undermines "expected future profits." Thus, if our government decides to ban a particularly dangerous pesticide, the U.S. could be sued for "lost profits" by the pesticide company's investors.
Keeping in mind that Congress has constitutional authority to regulate commerce with foreign nations, it's hard to believe that our elected representatives would accept this trade agreement as it is unfolding. However, both the House and the Senate are considering legislation that hands their trade-negotiating power over to the White House. Under this "Fast Track" authority the president can negotiate trade agreements with foreign countries without consulting Congress, and he may sign such an agreement before Congress votes on it. The associated rules then give Congress 90 days to vote up or down on the deal — no amendments or wording changes allowed.
If you find the above information difficult to believe, you are not alone. Indeed, it appears that most Americans have not even heard about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, much less any of the insidious provisions being considered. And, very few of us seem to know what "Fast Track" is, or that it is now being considered by our Congress.
One might wonder why, during the four years that TPP has been under development, major news networks have literally ignored it. Or, one could ask why members of our Congress would consider relinquishing their authority to negotiate anything that has so much potential to impact their constituents adversely.
Some might note that major portions of the media are owned and controlled by moneyed interests, and others might point to a likelihood that, in an election year, politicians need the corporate donations made possible by the Citizen's United decision. Of course that type of speculation would be cynical, and the truth is, with all the secrecy, we don't know enough to be cynical — yet.
Clearly, we need to be better informed. To that end we need to insist on public release of the entire TPP text. Then we need to read it and make informed judgments about it. Until that happens you are urged to type the acronym "TPP" into your search engine and read what you find there. Do the same with "Fast Track" and "Trade ISDS."
If what you learn convinces you that something needs to be done to preclude U.S. participation in this partnership as it is currently unfolding, inform others, especially our congressional representatives. Keep in mind that, in our form of government, bad things can happen if good people do nothing.
— John Palmer is a retired college professor and a member of the Post Independent editorial board.