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‘Secret’ Trade Pact Stirs Up Suspicion

Posted on Feb 3, 2015

By Thor Benson

  A supporter wearing a Guy Fawkes mask during a rally to protest the proposed TPP trade agreement and NAFTA Agreement on January 31, 2014 in Toronto, Canada. Shutterstock

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The new Republican majority in Congress is oiling its trickle-down economics machine in the hope of passing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an action that would have far-reaching impact.

The TPP is a massive and secretive trade agreement that would bring together the United States, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Singapore, New Zealand, Canada, Mexico and Brunei. The U.S. has strongly supported its passage since talks began in 2010. If the pact is adopted, all countries involved will have to adhere to its rules, meaning some of their existing laws could be nullified and replaced by the dictates of the agreement. Copyright and environmental laws would be among the most affected statutes, according to the TPP’s most vocal critics. All the potential effects of the deal are not publicly known this point.

Based on leaked drafts—the text of the TPP has not been disclosed by those involved in its creation—the agreement contains what have been called “draconian” copyright laws. Like SOPA and PIPA, the TPP legislation would allow websites to be shut down in any of the participating countries if there was any copyrighted material wrongfully posted on one of their pages. “It could remove whole websites from the Internet with next to no due process or judicial involvement,” David Christopher, communications manager at the Internet freedom organization OpenMedia, told Truthdig. He calls it a “wish list for the big Hollywood conglomerates” and others that want their products protected from piracy.

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The TPP’s proposed copyright changes wouldn’t affect just the Internet. The leaked drafts contain provisions that would extend drug patents beyond the World Trade Organization’s 20-year limit, delaying generic medicines from entering the market. It’s not known how long the patents could be extended. The copyright rules would also allow certain surgical procedures to be considered intellectual property.

The leaked environmental chapter shows little or no regulation of many industrial practices that can damage local ecosystems; there are no protections against overfishing or rampant logging. “The fabled TPP environmental chapter turns out to be a toothless public relations exercise with no enforcement mechanism,” WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange said when his organization published the draft in January 2014.

Now that Republicans have taken control of Congress, many political observers believe that the TPP could be set for “fast-track” authorization, which Democrat Harry Reid, then the Senate majority leader, helped block last year. Fast-track would mean the House and Senate couldn’t amend the agreement, and it would allow only 20 hours of debate on each side of the aisle before members had to vote. President Barack Obama has been an advocate of fast-track. “It’s one of the few parts of the president’s agenda that would be easier to get through with a Republican majority,” Christopher said. Democrats including Rep. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Rep. Barbara Lee of California are fighting fast-track, but many Democrats in Congress have not spoken out.

In an effort to make the proposal available to the public, OpenMedia has teamed with more than 40 other organizations in 11 of the 12 nations involved with the TPP, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fight for the Future, Creative Commons and SumOfUs. Each signed a letter to the agreement’s parties asking that the text be released, and OpenMedia’s free expression campaigner, Meghan Sali, delivered the letter directly to the key negotiators during a TPP meeting in mid-December. AIDS and health organizations in Malaysia and some other developing countries—many of which rely on generic drugs—also have signed the letter.

“We strongly urge you to release the unbracketed text and to release the negotiating positions for text that is bracketed, now and going forwards as any future proposals are made,” the letter reads. “The public has a legitimate interest in knowing what has already been decided on its behalf, and what is now at stake with our various countries’ positions on these controversial regulatory issues.”

The letter notes that the European Commission recommended Nov. 25 that the European Union’s Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership text proposals be released and urges that the same action be taken with the TPP. There has been no response.

“They know what they’re cooking up here is so ridiculous and so extreme that it would never get through if it was in the light of day,” Christopher said.

“This really is not a trade deal at its very basis,” Emma Pullman, a senior campaigner at the activist group SumOfUs, told Truthdig. “It involves so much more than trade. It’s thousands of pages of non-trade law.”


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