The recently concluded Transpacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) will expand corporate profits at the expense of people’s rights. A new addition to the growing number of free trade agreements (FTAs) took centre stage last Monday as the United States and 11 Pacific Rim countries announced the conclusion of a mammoth trade deal that covers more than 40% of the global economy.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) has engendered strong opposition from countries involved in the negotiations, as well as from people’s organisations around the world. Today, it is rightly condemned as a US-conceived treaty that is part of its pivot to Asia in an attempt to maintain its economic clout and counter the rising Sino-centrism in the region.
Why so secret?
Like all other FTAs, the TPP is negotiated behind closed doors—only corporate advisors and lobbyists are given exclusive access to the text. In 2010, TPP member states agreed not to release the negotiating text until four years after an actual agreement has been made and/or abandoned. Which elicits the obvious question—Why keep it a secret? What is in the text that compels negotiating governments to hide it away from public scrutiny?
Here’s a hint: The only way to complete the deal is too keep it hidden from the very people who would have to live with its consequences.
ISDS and expanding corporate rights
Often dubbed as ‘NAFTA (North America Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA - is a trade agreement signed by Canada, Mexico and the United States creating a trilateral rules-based trade bloc in North America) on steroids,’ the TPP includes a scandalous clause on investment that would give enormous powers to corporations. Albeit negotiated in secret, leaked sections of the agreement indicate the TPPA’s full endorsement of the notorious NAFTA corporate tribunals, otherwise known as the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
The ISDS is a dispute settlement modality that allows corporations and foreign investors to sue governments over actions perceived as detrimental to expected future profits. In other words, the TPP would grant corporations the right to file legal complaints against governments for policies inimical to profit-making, such as raising the minimum wage or increasing the quality of basic social services, as both actions would cost corporations more capital outlay and therefore less profit.
Under TPP rules, signatory countries would be obliged to conform their domestic policies, laws and regulations in accordance with the agreement. Any constitutional protection afforded by national laws would be wiped out to give way for greater corporate control.
Privatisation and diminishing state regulation
Based on the leaked drafts, it would also appear that one of TPP’s key objectives is to diminish the state’s role in national development. Under the guise of ‘regulatory co-operation’, enormous pressure is coming from big US businesses that want to ‘level the playing field’ between the private sector and state-owned enterprises (SOEs), citing the unfair advantage given to the latter.
SOEs play an important role in providing public goods to citizens at a cheaper price – all because of the preferential treatment and subsidy provided by the government. By regulating SOEs to comply with open market standards, procurement rounds would be overrun by big foreign corporations that can freely dictate prices for consumer goods and services. In addition, social services that are deemed non-profitable would be eliminated. Ultimately under TPP conditions, SOEs will be privatized and its structure will be overhauled to align itself with commercial objectives, effectively subsuming any prior commitment to provide public service.
Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) and its impact on health, farming and internet freedom
Perhaps one of the most dangerous elements of the TPP is the section on IPR rules that contain far-reaching implications across sectors. For farmers, this would entail restrictions in the use of seeds that have patented materials. IPR rules will also extend medicine patent rights for up to 25 years, enabling big pharmaceutical companies to monopolize the drug market and keep charging high prices without generic competition. Lastly, the TPP provision on data privacy will severely limit internet freedom by compelling internet service providers to spy on user activity, and cut user access to common-generated content such as YouTube among others.
APEC Manila: A prelude for things to come
The APEC Ministerial meetings scheduled in Manila for 18-19 November come as an opportune moment for the US and its cohorts to celebrate their recent victory with the signing of the largest single FTA concluded worldwide for more than a decade. With the TPP now in place and, more importantly, open to new members, APEC Manila is expected to serve as a victory lap that aims to encourage other APEC member countries to join this emerging trade pact. In effect, it becomes a prelude to cement a larger (or even an APEC-wide) trade deal that serves the interests of US and its corporations.
On the eve of the APEC ministerial, peoples organisations, women, youth, indigenous peoples, migrants, workers, farmers and international activists will gather in Manila for the International Festival for Peoples Rights and Struggles (IFPRS 2015) as part of a series of anti-APEC/TPP activities and protest actions to register the people’s demands for a socially just world. Following IFPRS is the People’s Campaign Against Imperialist Globalization-- a two-day mobilization parallel to the APEC ministerial on 18-19 November.
As the experiences of the world’s poor and working class have shown, the TPPA and other free trade agreements in the offing could only mean one thing: a new world trade disorder where corporate privileges continue to expand at the expense of people’s rights and welfare.
(Mark Moreno Pascual, The author is with IBON International and writes for Citizen News Service - CNS)