The TPP Bumbles Along

port, shipping, cargoThe Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, is supposedly nearing its finalization today before being turned over to a vote by the governing bodies of the various 12 countries involved. Among the final hurdles recently cleared and those yet to be cleared are environmental-protection conditions, and dairy products and pharmaceuticals respectively. Late yesterday at their reportedly final meeting in Maui, negotiators reached agreements on environmental protections although organizations such as the Sierra Club continue to say not enough is being done or committed to in this vein. The Sierra Club is not alone; aside from the remaining hurdles, there are many other concerned parties sounding off, to put it mildly.

Meanwhile, Australians, New Zealanders, Canadians, and Americans are at conflict over opening dairy markets further to imports (with the Canadians screaming the loudest against further liberalization and Australians screaming the loudest for it) and Australians, New Zealanders, Americans, and those from the developing world are at odds over how long to protect new pharmaceuticals from the introduction of generics (the US of course wants to protect Big Pharma for as long as possible, while the other nations want shorter patent expiration periods). Then there’s the issue of complying with international standards on organizing labor, with Mexico, Vietnam, and Brunei far behind the rest.

Apart from the secrecy that has shrouded the TPP, with the only views into the documentation and deliberations coming from documents leaked to WikiLeaks in recent years, there is much that has put people on edge. For instance, Malaysia’s human rights record was recently upgraded, much to the uproar of activists, politicians, and just about anyone else who was paying attention. Malaysia has a terrible record on human trafficking, including sex slavery and forced labor. Mass graves of victims have been uncovered recently on its border with Thailand. And yet, somehow, Malaysia’s record has been upgraded a tick by the State Department. How convenient as with a poor human rights record rating, the US would not be able to do business with Malaysia. Now they can as their rating has been raised just enough.

Others, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF, are concerned about draconian intellectual copyright regulations and enforcement being expanded and pushed out, as well as the agreement’s potential to hinder journalists and whistleblowers. And how about the whole issue of the extrajudicial system that the US wants to impose to “resolve disputes investors might have with government decisions.” Wait, what? Companies and investors would be entitled to legally challenge court rulings, rules and regulations, and government actions that could undermine expectations of return and otherwise “hurt” their business dealings. These challenges would be brought before tribunals of the United Nations or World Bank, effectively creating a world court for financial and investment disputes.

While politicians in the US run around expressing their concern over their country’s sudden loss of sovereignty and vulnerability to offshore lawsuits that this would possibly create, the real concern should be the additional power that this might actually give multinationals based in the US to push their weight and agenda around even further in other member countries, given that these real mammoths have the biggest legal budgets and teams by far. However, to be fair, some have pointed out that previous trade agreements already in effect, like NAFTA, have similar provisions built in, and indeed such lawsuits have already taken place.

In any case, see the NYT breakdown of what the TPP is and what little is known about it, and stay tuned as the promise of more trade and, ultimately, more money, makes leaders more comfortable with things that normally might make a person squirm just a bit.