The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is yet another corporate empowering deal that is being negotiated behind firmly closed doors, in various countries throughout the world.
Not only is public input not welcome, but even the pretense of public participation has been lifted. Despite the lack of transparency, some documents have been leaked, and the "omissions" revealed speak loudly to the conspiratorial nature of the "partnership."
Countries currently involved in the U.S-led negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Equally significant is that 600 industry lobbyists and "advisers," as well as unelected trade representatives, are at the table, while representatives from the public at large and businesses other than huge monopolies, are conspicuously absent.
This distorted representation necessarily means that those who are represented are empowered, while those who are absent, are disempowered.
Corporate giants such as Monsanto and Walmart are well-represented at the table, and the track record of such corporations over the last 30 years or so shows that they are devoted to a de-humanizing economic theory known as neoliberalism, which erodes the middle class, creates huge income disparities in the population, and strangles democracy and the economy, by handcuffing economic, social, and political self-determination. Significantly, polls show that the majority of Canadians do not support the consequences of these economic policies.
What does neoliberalism look like on the ground?
In practice, it means that transnational companies such as Monsanto increase their legislative reach so that agri-business flourishes, not only to the detriment of small and medium-sized farms, but also to the detriment of public health. Because while local, sustainable, biologically diverse farming practices produce healthy foods, Monsanto's Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), with their ubiquitous patent protections, have yet to be definitively proven entirely safe for human consumption.
Pharmaceutical monopolies also gain under corporate empowerment deals, by securing extended patents and higher prices for their products. Unfortunately, higher prices and extended patent protections negatively impact not only the health and safety of the population, but also the economy. A universal Pharmacare program, on the other hand, would not only reduce the cost of medications -- and create savings of about $10. 7-billion per year -- but, through the lower-priced medications, would also improve access to life-saving drugs, and save the lives of those with life-threatening diseases who couldn't otherwise afford them (or the insurance offered by Big Insurance -- another conglomerate at the negotiating table).
The surveillance state also thrives and grows thanks to these corporate empowerment "partnerships." Surveillance Inc is lobbying to have service providers collect and hand over data without warrants and/or normal privacy safeguards. Such corporate/state intrusions into privacy impact freedom of expression and have a "silencing" effect on people. It means, for example, that anyone, at any time, can potentially be blackmailed to serve the needs of corrupt entities.
The list of corporate polities that benefit from these exclusive negotiating partnerships (to the detriment of the public) is long, but among the most important of the negative impacts is the toll exacted on democracy, and on the ability of the government to protect its people. Since corporate empowerment deals give corporations rights that supersede existing laws and regulations, train safety, plane safety, food safety, water safety, the environment -- the safety of the population as a whole -- is further imperiled.
Furthermore, the power imbalance that is created, with the metaphorical 1% garnering disproportionate income and power over the 99%, means that the corporate governance model resembles a plutocracy more than it resembles a democracy.
These are all very real dangers that are impacting Canada, and much of the world, by stealth. Several important questions need to be answered. If the "partnership" is a net benefit to the public, then what else is being hidden, and why?
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>.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Pictured: U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)
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.
Follow Mark Taliano on Twitter: www.twitter.com/MaTaliano