International Forecaster Weekly

What You Should Know About TPP

The negotiating text of the treaty is not only being kept from the public, it is even being kept from members of the US Congress and lawmakers in other countries, despite the fact that leaked drafts of the text make it clear that the agreement will almost certainly require changes to law in order to implement.

James Corbett | June 1, 2013

    Never heard of the TPP? Don't be ashamed. There's a good reason why the vast majority of the American public (and the people of the world, for that matter) have heard nothing at all about this mammoth, plurilateral free trade agreement that's currently being hammered out between the US and several of the Pacific Rim nations at this very moment. You see, the TPP is a lot like Fight Club. The first rule of the TPP is you don't talk about the TPP. The second rule of the TPP is you don't talk about the TPP.
    This might seem strange at face value. After all, this is the first major trade deal to be negotiated since the 2008 financial crisis. Surely this would be a chance for the proponents of the globalist ideology to crow about their successes and “catapult the propaganda” about the wonders of free trade to an adoring public, wouldn't it?
    Well, it would be if there were any successes to crow about, or a public that believed a word of the spin and propaganda coming out of the lying political puppets' mouths. As it is, there is not only a media blackout on the negotiations of this deal, but the negotiating text itself is being kept under lock and key. And the only people that have the key are representatives of the major multinationals and the politicians in their back pocket.
    None of this is hyperbole or conjecture. The negotiating text of the treaty is not only being kept from the public, it is even being kept from members of the US Congress (and lawmakers in other countries), despite the fact that leaked drafts of the text (the only glimpses the public has had into what is being worked on) make it clear that the agreement will almost certainly require changes to law in order to implement. In May 2012 a group of 30 legal scholars issued a challenge to the US Trade Representative (Ambassador Ron Kirk) to release the text for public scrutiny. In response, Kirk feigned outrage, asserting that he was “strongly offended by the assertion that our process has been non-transparent and lacked public participation” despite the undeniable fact that the process has been non-transparent and lacked public participation. In May of last year Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon introduced a bill that would force Kirk's office to disclose its TPP text to Congress, surely the lowest possible bar for a deal that is going to have profound effects on the country. In a statement at the time, Wyden said:
    “The majority of Congress is being kept in the dark as to the substance of the TPP negotiations, while representatives of U.S. corporations—like Halliburton, Chevron, PHRMA, Comcast, and the Motion Picture Association of America—are being consulted and made privy to details of the agreement. [...] More than two months after receiving the proper security credentials, my staff is still barred from viewing the details of the proposals that USTR is advancing.”
    As Kuala Lumpur-based freelance journalist Nile Bowie points out in a recent article on the negotiations, the security measures used to police the treaty's negotiating summits is nothing short of extraordinary, describing how “paramilitary teams scatter outside the premise of each round of discussions while helicopters loom overhead.” Does anyone seriously believe that such unbelievable levels of secrecy and security are necessary for an “open and transparent” process of a simple free trade deal? If you're beginning to suspect that all of this adds up to something more than the powers-that-shouldn't-be would want us to believe, then give yourself a pat on the back and a cookie, because your suspicions are correct.
    So first, let's familiarize ourselves with the basics. The Trans-Pacific Partnership is a free trade agreement that is being built on the back of an older, existing deal (the less acronym-friendly “Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement”) between Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore that was inked in 2005. In 2008, the US opened negotiations with the TPSEP to expand the agreement and since then Australia, Peru, Vietnam, Malaysia, Mexico and Canada have joined on with the negotiations. After much heated domestic debate, the world's third largest economy, Japan, under new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (he of the much-ballyhooed “Abenomics” fame), has announced its intention to join the negotiations at the next round of talks in Kuala Lumpur in July.
    So what exactly do we know about these negotiations, and how do we know anything at all if this is supposedly taking place behind closed doors and all the texts are under lock and key? Good questions. In a word: leaks. As the late great founder of this publication, Bob Chapman, put it to me during one of our interviews a few years ago, “God bless the spy.” Over the past two years of the negotiations, some of the draft proposals have been leaked out online, giving the public their only peek at what is happening in the negotiations other than the occasional tidbit thrown out by the actual participants in one of the occasional press pieces on the subject. In other words, our understanding of what is contained in the proposed agreement is piecemeal and out of date, but even what little has come out has given almost everyone (except for the mega-corporations mentioned by Senator Wyden) the willies. To wit, the major areas being touched on in the agreement read like a wish list of the banksters and their cronies: lowering banking oversight and capital controls, facilitating offshoring of yet more American jobs, “harmonizing” environmental and health standards to the lowest common denominator, increasing the cost of medicine in developing countries, and handing over the reins of international copyright law to corporate lobby groups like the MPAA. Not bad for an innocuous little “free trade” deal that you've likely never heard of, wouldn't you say?
    The part of the deal that is being scrutinized the most closely online (for obvious reasons) is the chapter on Intellectual Property (IP) within the new trade bloc. The wording of leaked copies of the chapter indicate that the corporate lobby groups are trying to hardwire into international law the worst pieces of the US' draconian IP legislation, including the infamous DMCA. If the final draft looks anything like the negotiating text, not only will ISPs be incentivized to invade the privacy of their users and police all of their online activities, they will also be compelled to respond to accusations of copyright infringement by any (alleged) copyright holder. Given the disastrous way the DMCA has been abused in the US, the thought of this becoming the norm amongst such a wide trading bloc should be particularly worrying to those concerned about already-dwindling online freedom. Worse yet, Digital Rights Management software is also being hardwired into the treaty, meaning that users will in many cases be blocked from making legal copies of their own property (software, media, etc.) or modifying their own electronic devices.
    On the economic front, the TPP negotiators are considering hampering signatories' ability to deploy capital controls. In February of last year a prestigious panel of over 100 economists penned a letter to the negotiating lawmakers urging them to reconsider this move. Asserting that, "limits on short-term capital flows can stem the development of dangerous asset bubbles and currency appreciations,” the economists urged the ministers to "permit governments to deploy capital controls without being subject to investor lawsuits, as part of a broader menu of policy options to prevent and mitigate financial crises.” Pointing to the utility of capital controls during crises like the crunch that rocked Asian financial markets in the late 1990s, many economists are worried about how the treaty might effectively tie the hands of nations from preventing asset bubbles or overheating in their economy in the future. As of the latest round of negotiations, the concerns about the capital control issue remains in the text.
    Another key issue in the negotiation is access to cheap generic medicine for developing countries. As Nile Bowie notes in his article, “Washington is demanding aggressive intellectual property provisions that extend existing patents on medicines for up to 10 years in addition to the current requirement of 20 years,” driving Malaysian Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai to remark: “We are against the patent extension. According to the agreement, if a medicine is launched in the US, and then three years later it is launched in Malaysia, the patent would start from when it is launched here and not when it was launched earlier in the US, this is not fair.”
    These are just some of the pitfalls and nightmares that the cloak of secrecy over the TPP process is attempting to obscure. And with an October deadline looming, it seems like there is little for the public to do but wait and hope for the best...but of course, this is not actually the case. This is merely the illusion of powerlessness that the negotiators want to paralyze the public with.
    The fact is that the TPP is on incredibly shaky ground. It has come much too far for the negotiators not to emerge with something, but the final draft of the treaty is far from set in stone, and there is still time to avert some of the most troubling provisions of the agreement.
    The anti-TPP crowd has two things on its side at this point. The first is that there are significant internal divisions in the process. The supposed October deadline is already coming into question, with major players like New Zealand Prime Minister John Key intimating that they are going to need more time to finalize the agreement. Each partner brings its own set of issues and sticking points to the table, and Japan has only come to the table at the last minute after heated political debate amongst the population and vicious opposition from rice farmers and others who enjoy significant tariff protections under the current status quo. The other countries have said that newcomers like Japan can't re-open issues that have already been agreed upon, but that doesn't mean they won't try. There is still the chance that internal disagreements may prove decisive, derailing the process or at least watering down the final treaty to a shadow of its proposed form.
    The other point in the anti-TPP side's favor is that the secrecy surrounding the negotiations itself denotes the Achilles' heel of the entire process: exposure. They desperately want to keep this process under wraps because the negotiators genuinely fear public knowledge, scrutiny and participation. The globalists have learnt their lesson from the anti-WTO, anti-FTAA, and anti-SPP movements of the past decade; namely, that the public will do almost anything to derail the globalist agenda after having being sold a pack of lies with the NAFTA agreement. As a result, they have to try to keep the agreement under wraps until it is a fait accomplis so they can simply foist it on an unsuspecting public wholesale.
    The obvious implication of this is that the single greatest thing anyone can do to help derail the talks is simply to let other people know about what is happening and raise the level of political awareness on the issue. However much of a long-shot that might seem, it must be remembered that the Security and Prosperity Partnership (a type of nascent North American Union that was being hammered out in the middle of the last decade) seemed like a done deal before unprecedented protests brought public scrutiny to bear on the group and caused it to fall apart. There is still a chance for a similar movement to have a similar impact on the TPP.
    For those of us opposed to yet another economy-destroying free trade deal, the path to victory should be clear: spread the word like butter and together we can toast the treaty.