The latest round of negotiations to complete the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement ended without the deal being completed. The negotiators will try again as soon as the end of August.
TPP is the largest “trade” agreement in history, covering 40% of the world’s economy. It will “write the rules for doing business in the 21st Century,” covering everything from patents to internet rules to labor standards to whether countries are allowed to write laws and make regulations that might limit what corporations do.
The agreement is being negotiated entirely in secret, largely by former (and, they presumably hope, future) corporate representatives; while other “stakeholders” like consumer, labor, health, faith, environmental, LGBT, human rights and other non-corporate groups are kept away from the process. The agreement itself is secret. When completed the public will only be given a limited time to read, analyze and discuss it before it is passed into law by our Congress.
Called “Trade” But Not About Trade
TPP is called a “trade” deal, even though we already trade with most of the countries involved. Only a portion of agreements like TPP are even about most people would consider to be “trade” issues. Other items in these agreements include limits on laws and regulations that governments can put on corporations, the length of time copyrights and patents are valid, rules for internet service providers, and all sorts of things that the corporate representatives negotiating these agreements want.
The reason TPP and other “NAFTA-style” agreements are called “trade” deals is that most people believe trade is always good for economies. This also justifies trade deals receiving a favorable “fast track” process in Congress. Under Fast Track so-called “trade” deals get special rules not given to other kinds of laws or treaties. Congress cannot amend them, even to fix problems that might show up once it comes under public scrutiny.
The agreements must be voted on within a limited time so that the public does not have the opportunity to fully organize public opposition. The amount of time legislators are allowed to debate the agreements is restricted, in order to further conceal from the public what is in these agreements. The Senate is prevented from filibustering, even though there is an informal “60 vote rule” on all other legislation. In general the scrutiny, transparency and public debate involved in lawmaking in democratic countries is limited when “trade” deals — and only “trade” deals are considered.
TPP Sticking Points
Even though the negotiations are held in secret, the main “sticking points” holding up completion are reported to be:
Tobacco “carve-out” – In “NAFTA-style” agreements like TPP, corporations are able to sue to block governments from doing things that might limit their “expected” profits. This currently includes tobacco companies blocking governments from educating children to the dangers of smoking and helping citizens quit. Some TPP participants want to “carve out” tobacco companies from being able to block this because this might alert the pubic to how TPP protects other corporations that have products or services that harm the public in other ways. Several Republicans have threatened to oppose TPP is there is a tobacco “carve out.”
Pharmaceuticals – TPP gives pharmaceutical corporations extended patent protections that will take “generic” medicines off the market and cause drug prices to skyrocket. Australia, Chile and New Zealand continue to resist this.
Dairy, poultry, sugar and rice market access – Canada wants to protect its dairy and poultry corporations, Japan its rice corporations, and the US its sugar corporations from competition.
Autos – Mexico wants to keep a requirement that 65% of the parts of automobiles come from TPP countries. The big automobile corporations want to be able to put more cheap, Chinese-made parts into cars.
Negotiators had hoped to get TPP completed in July so they can push it through the US Congress before the end of the year.
Fast Track requires the President to give Congress 90 days notice before he can sign trade deals.
Thirty days after the President gives this notification, the text of the agreement must be released the to the public. This way, the public only gets 60 days to read the agreement, analyze and discuss it, and for activists to start getting the word out to larger circles and try to organize opposition, if enough people decide that opposition is warranted.
Then Congress will take up whether to approve the agreement. As happened with Fast Track, this will be rushed through in the shortest possible time-frame, again to keep activists from having time to make noise and organize the public.
There is still time to squeeze this through Congress before the real Presidential campaign season begins, if they can complete TPP in August.
(Note: Bernie’s reaction to August’s unsuccessful trade talks can be found here.)
This article was originally published by the Campaign for America’s Future. The opinions are those of the author.