Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trade Minister Ed Fast are headed to Malaysia and Indonesia this week, and one of the main issues on their agenda is a trade deal that would cover one-third of the world’s international commerce.

But what the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will contain is so far a matter of rumour, conjecture and guesswork — nowhere more so than in Canada, where the government has kept a tight lid on news coming out of the talks.

Negotiations on the TPP, covering 12 Pacific Rim countries including Canada, are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Kyodo News reports that officials from the negotiating countries will issue a statement next week announcing negotiations are headed for the finish line. Along with Canada and the U.S., negotiating countries include Australia, Japan and Mexico, but not China.

The Financial Times describes the TPP as being “billed as a 21st century trade deal aimed at setting new high standards for future agreements.” But critics, such as the Council of Canadians, say it sets a new standard for prioritizing “corporate rights” over the rights of consumers.

Particularly worrying for some consumers’ advocates are reports that the deal will force participating countries to significantly tighten controls over the internet.

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  • 1. It Could Criminalize Small-Scale Downloading

  • 1. It Could Criminalize Small-Scale Downloading

    Canada’s new copyright laws, passed last fall, cap the liability for unauthorized downloading of copyrighted material at $5,000, so long as the downloading is not for commercial purposes. But the TPP could force Canada to institute criminal penalties even for small-time downloaders, according to a number of consumer advocacy groups. Canada’s top negotiator at the talks last fall <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/12/13/trans-pacific-partnership-tpp-canada_n_2294153.html" target="_hplink">refused to say whether Canada would fight for its new copyright laws in the TPP deal</a>.

  • 2. It Could Reduce Or End CanCon Rules

  • 2. It Could Reduce Or End CanCon Rules

    An umbrella group of U.S. media companies has been<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/10/04/trans-pacific-partnership-cancon_n_1940312.html" target="_hplink"> lobbying the U.S. Trade Representative to pressure Canada into repealing Canadian content rules as part of the TPP</a>. That has raised significant concerns among music and film and TV groups that Canada’s cultural industries could be threatened by the TPP.

  • 3. ISPs Could Become Internet Cops

  • 3. ISPs Could Become Internet Cops

    Article 16 of a leaked 2011 draft of the TPP <a href="http://keionline.org/sites/default/files/tpp-10feb2011-us-text-ipr-chapter.pdf" target="_hplink">mandates that countries create “legal incentives” for internet service providers to do their own copyright policing online</a>. That is interpreted by many to mean that ISPs could be held legally accountable if their subscribers download illegally. Consumer groups fear this will mean expanded monitoring of web users’ online habits, and the possibility of three-strikes-and-you’re-out rules that would cut off internet services to subscribers alleged to have engaged in unauthorized downloading.

  • 4. Critics Call The TPP A Corporate Giveaway

  • 4. Critics Call The TPP A Corporate Giveaway

    U.S. House Rep. Alan Grayson, who rose to fame four years ago with his quip that the Republican health care plan amounts to hoping you “die quickly,” was recently allowed to see a draft copy of the TPP. While he’s been banned from divulging any details, the populist Florida Democrat described it in a recent blog post as an agreement that “<a href="http://alangraysonemails.tumblr.com/post/53325968066/i-saw-the-secret-trade-deal" target="_hplink">hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests</a>.” He told HuffPost: "Having seen what I've seen, I would characterize this as a gross abrogation of American sovereignty … And I would further characterize it as a punch in the face to the middle class of America. I think that's fair to say from what I've seen so far. But I'm not allowed to tell you why!" He added on his blog: “There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.”

  • 5. It’s Not Secret To Lobbyists

  • 5. It’s Not Secret To Lobbyists

    While politicians like Grayson have to keep quiet in public about what they’ve seen, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/11/30/trans-pacific-partnership_n_2218417.html" target="_hplink">a “consultation group” likely composed of lobbyists has had access to the talks through the Canadian delegation</a>, critics say. OpenMedia reported it received a non-disclosure agreement the group said was mistakenly sent to them, and was apparently meant for industry insiders. “It appears ... the Canadian government got confused about which contacts were industry lobbyists and which are from public interest groups,” OpenMedia stated. The Harper government had previously denied that such a group existed.

  • 6. It Could Mean Foreign Telecom Coming To Canada

  • 6. It Could Mean Foreign Telecom Coming To Canada

    This might not be something the Harper government wants to keep from the public, which is largely unhappy with the state of telecom in Canada, but it could be something it’s trying to keep out of sight of Canada’s telecom companies. The U.S. Trade Representative recently criticized Canada’s protectionist telecom policies, along with policies in a number of other countries negotiating the TPP. That has led some to conclude Canada will come under pressure to relax restrictions on foreign ownership of telecoms. The Tories have previously loosened foreign ownership rules in order to spur competition in the wireless market, so there is a good chance they will be receptive to further liberalization of telecom regulations.

  • 7. Corporations Could Control Your Browsing History

  • 7. Corporations Could Control Your Browsing History

    One of the clauses being debated in the TPP would allow corporations to decide themselves<a href="https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/temporary-copies-another-way-tpp-profoundly-disconnected" target="_hplink"> whether internet browsers can make “temporary copies” to your computer’s history folder</a>. Temporary copies are a basic element of how web browsers work (it's what they use to remember your browsing history). Critics say allowing companies to control what is and isn’t copied could harm the ability of search engines to become more sophisticated. It could also have a chilling effect on tech innovation, as it could halt the development of apps that, for example, use a picture of a book cover or a part of a song to identify that book or song.

  • 8. It Could Change Your Grocery Bill

  • 8. It Could Change Your Grocery Bill

    Canada was reportedly <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/sara-zborovski/tradenegotiations_b_1876833.html" target="_hplink">kept out of TPP negotiations at first because of its supply management system</a>, which controls the price of some basic grocery goods like milk and eggs. Canada’s acceptance into the talks has been interpreted by some as meaning the Tories are willing to put the supply management system on the table. (<a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2012/07/31/wheat-board-monopoly-over-date_n_1722357.html" target="_hplink">The Tories have already ended the Wheat Board’s monopoly</a>.) Many Canadians would like to see the end of the “milk and eggs monopoly,” and supporters of change say freeing up the market would result in lower prices. Supporters of the current system say there is no reason to believe prices will go down without supply management, and it will make business less stable for farmers.

  • 9. Copyright Terms Will Likely Be Expanded

  • 9. Copyright Terms Will Likely Be Expanded

    The Electronic Frontier Foundation reports the TPP would amount to <a href="https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp" target="_hplink">the most significant expansion of copyright terms in two decades</a>. The group says the TPP proposes to extend copyright on works created by individuals to life plus 70 years. (In Canada, it’s currently life plus 50 years). It would also expand copyright owned by corporations to 95 or 120 years after creation, depending on which proposal is accepted. This would ensure that Mickey Mouse (born 1928) would continue to be owned by Disney and would not become part of the public domain. Critics of lengthy copyright terms argue they are bad for economic development because they restrict innovation.

  • 10. You May Have To Do Less Copying And Quoting

  • 10. You May Have To Do Less Copying And Quoting

    The U.S. and Australia apparently want tougher rules for “fair use” exceptions from copyright law. Currently, people are allowed to copy parts of textbooks for educational purposes, or quote copyrighted materials in news articles. But <a href="https://www.eff.org/issues/tpp" target="_hplink">a proposed “three-step test” for fair use</a> could make it considerably harder for people to use parts of copyrighted materials in these ways.

  • 11. Even Politicians Are Fed Up With The Secrecy

    Pictured: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

  • 11. Even Politicians Are Fed Up With The Secrecy

    Some U.S. politicians have been pressuring President Barack Obama to open up the TPP talks to greater public scrutiny. The latest is Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Democrat of Massachusetts, who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/06/13/elizabeth-warren-free-trade-letter_n_3431118.html" target="_hplink">sent a letter to the Obama administration earlier this month asking the U.S. Trade Representative to make a copy of the negotiating text available to the public</a>. “<a href="http://big.assets.huffingtonpost.com/EWFromanLetter.pdf" target="_hplink">Without transparency, the benefit from robust democratic participation — an open marketplace of ideas — is considerably reduced</a>,” she wrote.

According to consumers' groups citing an early draft of the deal leaked in 2011, the TPP could mean criminal penalties for even small-scale unauthorized downloading; could result in “three strikes” laws that would see households kicked off the internet for copyright violations; and could mean expanded copyright and patent terms that would mean lessened access to generic drugs.

The humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders issued a statement on Thursday urging governments “not to make political trade-offs during trade negotiations that will harm access to affordable medicines for millions of people” in the signatory countries.

Despite moves by the U.S. to soften the drug patent provisions, “this is still a terrible deal that will continue to delay the entry of affordable generic medicines that [Doctors Without Borders] and millions of people rely on,” said Judit Rius, manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign in the U.S.

The consumer advocacy group OpenMedia has launched a campaign opposing the copyright and internet-related provisions in the trade deal, under the moniker “say no to internet censorship.” The group says more than 100,000 people have signed the letter to TPP leaders so far.

U.S. President Barack Obama is under pressure from industry groups to stick to the provisions being proposed in the TPP, the Financial Times reported last week.

“A massive percentage of the world’s explosion in growth and trade is going to happen in the Pacific Rim. We’re concerned that in the excitement to get that deal people may compromise too much,” Tom Donohue, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, told the newspaper.

The White House announced on Thursday that, due to the ongoing U.S. government shutdown, President Obama would not be attending the APEC summit in Indonesia, with Vice President Joe Biden attending in his stead. It's unclear whether the decision will have any impact on TPP negotiations.

The Harper government has kept a very low profile on the TPP, despite its overall high-profile pursuit of free trade deals. When a round of TPP talks was held in Vancouver this summer, the media didn’t know about it until after the fact, when it was reported on in the Peruvian press.

Critics say the low profile may be due to concerns the deal could prove unpopular among Canadians. Tech law expert Michael Geist said documents he obtained under the Access to Information Act showed “the government was overwhelmed with negative comments urging officials to resist entry into the TPP.”

But for the Harper government, opening up new Asian markets to Canadian exports — particularly energy exports — is a top priority. With the Keystone XL pipeline held up in the U.S., the government has hinted it wants to ship Canadian oil to booming Asian economies. Recent plans by Enbridge, TransCanada and others to reverse cross-country pipelines and send oil to east coast ports is part of this shift in strategy.

Bank of Canada deputy governor Tiff Macklem illustrated the challenge facing Canadian exports in a speech this week, where he noted that 80 per cent of global economic growth is taking place in emerging markets, particularly in Asia, but only 12 per cent of Canada’s exports go to these countries.

“There is much ground to make up,” Macklem said.