Trans Pacific Partnership Deal is "Getting Closer"

The end of 2014 marks an important deadline for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). It is a deadline set by the interested countries as a target date by which to have negotiations completed. The cynic will note that this is the third such “deadline” that has been imposed on the TPP negotiators, the first two having been missed altogether. This deadline, though, is being described as “crucial”.

What is the TPP? My previous article, “Trans-Pacific Partnership: Why it Should be on Your Radar” will get you up to speed.

The deal is being hammered out in extremely secretive negotiations, and continues to be dominated by special-interests. The latest round of high level negotiations happened Monday, November 10 in an auditorium in the US Embassy in Beijing under an exceptionally high level of security.

How high level was it? Monday’s meeting involved the 12 heads of state of the countries negotiating the deal. The chief negotiators from each country have hit some roadblocks, obstacles that can only be overcome by these high-level discussions. The White House photo above shows U.S. President Barack Obama with U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman at the talks in Beijing on Monday. Once those wrinkles are removed, the negotiators can get back to business on completing the deal.

Log Jams

One of the big ones is Canada’s dairy and poultry farmers.

140 members of the United States Congress are telling Obama to boot Canada out of the TPP negotiations if they don’t drop the tariffs on its protected staple dairy and poultry markets, or get some other sort of concession from Canada. Canada protects its market for two reasons. The government feels that the market needs to be protected for the consumer so that prices for quality products remain affordable, and it also needs to be protected for the farmers so that they can get a fair price for their products and not have to rely on government subsidies to produce a good quality product and remain afloat.

The American dairy and poultry markets are heavily subsidized, and that gives American producers a major competitive advantage over Canadian producers since they can offer cheaper products at cheaper prices. A flood of cheap products would be devastating for Canada’s farmers, and the Canadian farmers would have to rely on government subsidies to maintain a competitive stance with the subsidized American farmers.

The Biggest Stumbling Block

The biggest “log jam” that needs to be cleared is between the U.S. and Japan, with the U.S. insisting Japan must open its borders to U.S. farm exports. Japanese farmers are protected much in the same way that Canadian dairy and poultry farmers are, and as they are with Canada, the U.S. is pressuring them to take substantial cuts in protective tariffs. The Japanese are resisting this demand.

Speeding Up the Fast Track

President Obama and other world leaders have already sought the go-ahead to fast-track the negotiations on this trade partnership. The fast-track is a measure that allows the agreement to be negotiated and signed without input or debate from the government’s opposition or legislative bodies. That is already in place, but now, the negotiators have been instructed by their various heads of state to make concluding the deal on the TPP their top priority. The heads of state want this in place ASAP.

Updated Intellectual Property Section

Despite the “Ultra Top Secret” designation, Wikileaks has been posting sections of draft copies of the agreement as they get them, and On October 16, 2014, Wikileaks released an updated version of the Intellectual Property (IP) section of the TPP to little fanfare.

The new release is from a draft dated May 16, 2014 and the updated IP section is even worse than the original release. Emma Woollacott, who writes for Forbes.com, has written a quick summary of the updated section. The Electronic Frontier Foundation has also provided their take on it.

In a nutshell:

  • The agreement seeks a far broader application of the existing DMCA “takedown” mechanisms, forcing ISPs – even at the level of a wireless hotspot in an internet café – to assume liability for and be responsible for enforcement, flag and remove copyright-infringing content.
  • Copyright terms could be enforced far longer. It seems that all parties are now agreed that there should be a minimum length of copyright term, they’re just deciding whether it will be Life +50, +70, or +100 years.
  • Wide-ranging criminal penalties for anyone caught to be infringing copyright, even for those not seeking financial gain. Canada seems to be the only country opposed to this.
  • Journalists and whistleblowers could face criminal penalties for accessing, acquiring or disclosing “trade secrets” (and “trade secrets” has a pretty broad definition).
  • Adoption of the U.S.’s currently failing laws that are intended to prevent circumvention of DMCA protections.

The U.S. is pushing for all of those items. In most of these cases, where laws already exist they include civil penalties. This agreement seeks to increase those penalties to the criminal level.

The leaked document also revealed some interesting information, such as the fact that Canada seems to be the country pushing back against the TPP the most, with their negotiators opposing proposals 56 times so far. No other country has opposed it more.

Public Domain Recognition, Sort of…

A new article has been included in the IP section that consists of just two lines. The first line says, “The Parties recognize the importance of a rich and accessible public domain.” That sounds promising. The second line says, “The Parties also acknowledge the importance of informational materials, such as publicly accessible databases of registered intellectual property rights that assist in the identification of subject matter that has fallen into the public domain.” Again, that sounds promising, but the article fails to describe any kind of specifics or mechanisms that would actually protect the Public Domain. Perhaps it’s just my skepticism showing through, but I think that second line could be read as
the corporate interests that are dominating these negotiations positioning themselves to create a mechanism that allows them to better exploit the Public Domain. That could be just me.

Everything Else Still a Going Concern

All of the concerns lodged in previous leaks are still a going concern. FOr example, Medicins Sans Frontiers (Doctors Without Borders) are concerned that the new copyright extensions will restrict or eliminate the availability of generic drugs for developing nations who cannot afford the brand-name counterpart.

What is “everything else”? To see all of the issues of concern already raised with the TPP, please read my previous posts on the topic:

Trans-Pacific Partnership: Why it Should be on Your Radar
Trans-Pacific Partnership: The Future is Now
Trans Pacific Partnership: Bad for the Environment, Too
Trans-Pacific Partnership Steams Ahead

So What Can I do About it?

For Americans, you may recall there was a midterm election and you have some new Congressmen (and women) …Congresspeople? Anyway, a good place to start is by contacting your congressperson and voice your displeasure since they seem to be the ones pushing the President on specifics of the deal. You can also contact the White House at that link, if you’re feeling ambitious.

Online petitions have a limited effect since they are as easy to ignore as they are to sign, but there is one petition site that the White House observes. There is currently no petition on the White House’s petition site to stop or affect the TPP negotiations. You can change that.

More links:

The Electronic Frontier
Stop the TPP
Popular Resistance
Flush the TPP
Our Fair Deal: (petition and information)
Public Citizen
Open the TPP!
Avaaz.org
Public Knowledge
It’s Our Future (NZ)
Public Knowledge’s site on the TPP
The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s video on the TPP
Knowledge Ecology International’s list of leaked documents on TPP
The US Government’s official site on the TPP
Government of Canada TPP page
Online petition to stop Eli Lilly’s $500 million NAFTA lawsuit of Canada

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