A secret trade agreement is designed to prolong trade secrets, not free trade. It has the capacity to operate above national laws, and use flimsy excuses to snuff out local competition. The Slog investigates the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
What are we to make of the Trans-Pacific Partnership? Until recently it has been little more than a fringe blogosphere libertarian bogey-man: perhaps just another whacknut conspiracy theory, perhaps something vaguely mysterious like Common Purpose…or perhaps just a trade agreement, and nothing more. The original goals, for example, seem benign enough:
‘The goal of the negotiating process of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement is to create a platform for economic integration across the Asia Pacific region. The countries participating in the negotiations of the TPP intend to design a high qualilty, inclusive agreement that lays the foundations for economic growth, the development and generation of employment in the member countries, and that in turn become the basis for the future Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement (FTAAP).’
But in recent months – peaking in the last few weeks – concerns about TPP (and disturbingly facile defences of it) have begun to appear here and there in the MSM. I think there are a number of reasons for this:
First, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei and Singapore were the early start-up nations involved. Somehow, it seems impossibe to build a world domination conspiracy theory around New Zealand, outside of the game of Rugby. There, the Kiwis are definitely plotting to have a team by 2020 that will defeat any and all opposition simply by sitting on them. But a pernicious trade agreement designed to control the citizenry? Not really.
But then an odd thing happened in September 2008. Right at the end of the Bush term, the United States suddenly announced it would enter negotiations to join the TPP. That’s like Wayne Rooney joining Dorchester Town: it evokes the obvious question, why?
It was the big question Barack Obama asked as he entered the Oval Office. He had, after all, made a campaign promise to do away with the sort of crony capitalism that besmirched the Bush era. He was clearly suspicious of the TPP plans. And then suddenly, he was all for it. Just as he was innately suspicious of the banks, and then left them well alone.
Second, there’s nothing more likely to fertilise the soil of a conspiracy theory like obsessive secrecy. So far, Trans-Pacific Partnership talks have taken place behind closed doors, and no draft texts have been formally released. This includes draft texts on key provisions such as foreign investment and financial services that were initially
written in 2008 and reportedly serve as the basis for current negotiations. Or do they? Nobody seems to know….but the suspicion is that the original goals have been perverted by corporate America lobbying for its ‘neocon’ ideals.
Multinational companies use the Soviet approach to syntax spotted early on by George Orwell. They talk about deregulation and freedom, but the result somehow tends to be a position above the law, and a licence to keep out competition.
That leads us to the third problem some folks have with the TPP – and here the gripes are much more specific. Fine, there is still the American Left putting out announcements like this one:
‘Civil society organizations will be holding a “TPP: Out of the Shadows! Rally for Good Jobs, Affordable Medicine and a Healthy Environment” at 3:00pm on Sunday, September 9 outside the Lansdowne Resort to demonstrate public
opposition to business-as-usual trade policy and to make basic demands of negotiators regarding labor rights, the environment, access to medicine, financial regulations and other social and economic justice issues — including, especially, transparent public policymaking.’
I’m always wary of that kind of huffery-puffery, because it reads like Oliver Stone & Michael Moore Go Plot Hunting. Much as I enjoy their movies, the hypotheses they raise hardly ever bear a lot of investigation. And yes, I admit it, I’m never sure about organisations that casually stick in the word ‘environment’ to ensure a high level of self-sanctification.
But these days, even those of us in the agnostic tendency are taking such things more seriously. We have seen entire global constructs like the Gold market and the Libor rate criminally manipulated to secretly bail out sovereigns and banks, stock markets and multinationals. And of course, we have drilled down into the GCHQ-style gangsterism of Newscorp. More to the point, however, we have also watched as their creatures – the legislators and the police – have taken the corporate shilling and effected the cover-up.
Digital rights, for example – the fight for one-speed, neutral and universally affordable internet access – seemed to be one of those occasions when the Forces of Good had triumphed. But then the big boys like Verizon started shelling out megamoney on Congressional lobbying , and before too long the Murdoch-promoted idea of an Establishment internet elite was hiding its goals behind prissy copyright principles.
I first blogged about ‘net neutrality’ just over two years ago, when Google reneged on various promises and signed a ‘stitch-out’ two-speed internet deal with Verizon. The effect of my post outside the thinking blogosphere was about -5 on the Richter scale: I put together two pieces for the MSM, and both were rejected. “You’re exaggerating,” said one editor, “None of my readers will know what you’re on about”. Wasn’t that the original reason for…oh never mind.
In the US, however, the outcry was big enough for the Federal Control Commission (FCC) to step in and water down the duopoly. Almost two years ago, the FCC adopted a ‘neutrality lite’ in its “Open Internet” order. That order is still under legal and lobbyist attack from Verizon, which argues that it exceeds the agency’s authority; but as with many things
half-cocked and too little too late governmental, it has been greeted with scepticism not only by Verizon, but also by the net neutrality supporters at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). EFF leaders have warned that the FCC’s argument is a “trojan horse” that could be used down the road to justify unilateral FCC regulation of topics such as online indecency or even piracy.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) in fact is pretty good at what it does – ie, fight controlling neocons without getting too aux barricades about it. Its website rightly points out that from the Internet to the iPod, technologies are transforming our society and empowering us as speakers, citizens, creators, and consumers….but there are plenty of men in Black Hats who would like to keep that Right entirely to themselves.
That resonates hugely with my feelings, having bored loyal Sloggers for years about just how important the internet could be as a mass and immediate expression of peaceful unrest among the governed: as a Channel Four anchor-person once memorably remarked, “The internet is for opposition”. It should be, but too much of the time it is naked and unregulated sell. What the Verizons of this world would like is for the internet to be regulated tell.
It’s this sort of ‘let’s regulate all those who want to stop us being deregulated’ bollocks that has the same opponents of creeping internet control worried in 2012 about the TPP.
The nine partners now in the body have a combined GDP of more than $17 trillion. If, as seems likely, Canada and Mexico join, that will grow to around $2o.5 trillion. But in Canada, Citizens’ organizations and public advocacy groups generally oppose the deal. “It’s really a trade agreement for the one per cent and their corporate interests,” said Maude Barlow, the National Chairperson of the Council of Canadians.
Is it? What does the evidence suggest?
Well, since the advent of America into the mix, much stronger provisions on intellectual property (copyright, patent protection and so forth) have begun to dominate the discussions. This is, as always, the No Man’s Land where communitarian and libertarian groups point out just how easy it is for such clauses to morph into protectionism, whereas global neocon business argues that it protects the individual creator of something. Rupert Murdoch delivers this argument at every available opportunity, omitting to mention that the intellectual property on all staff hacks in Newscorp resides with the company, not the individual. He also talks a good game about freedom of the press, and the reader’s right to see Prince Harry naked, omitting to mention that those readers had already seen the photos free, on the open internet he so hates.
The impossibility of stopping Asian outfits from producing knock-offs of famous brands and ignoring copyrights is a very real problem for Western businesses. Nobody is denying that: but drill down into some of the proposals being pushed within TPP, and it sometimes feels like what global corporates are after is a broadening of the definition of ‘copyright’ – not the prosecution of breach of copyright. I find that worrying, because it raises doubts about the motives of those doing the pushing.
One area of great suspicion concerns those paragons of virtuous above the table dealing, the pharmaceutical companies. Having invested years in hugely expensive research and endless regulation committees, they quite understandably want to maximise their ROI by having long periods before coming out of copyright and facing generic competition using that formulation. But leaked TPP papers proposing a wholesale alteration of such intellectual (media) and copyright property standards (pharmcos) have fuelled fears that the agreement would lead to Newscorp’s legal low-life getting sites taken down, and longer monopolisation of drug production keeping prices at an unaffordable level for many sufferers.
It does smack of bottom lines, shareholders, paywalls and news police. Add this to an Establishment internet duopoly, and it smacks of malign protectionism – and the active control of free speech. Recognising this, in May this year US Democratic Senator Ron Wyden introduced legislation specifically designed to force the Black Dude in the White House to open up on the TPP detail. Although Wyden serves as the Chairman of the United States Senate Finance Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, he has been largely left uninformed about all the TPP talks. Multinational corporations expected to profit through the proposals, however, have been in and out of the Oval Office in a steady stream.
It’s at this point that even old cynics like me start to smell a rat. Over the last fortnight I’ve been digging and phoning, emailing and wondering. As a result of that, here’s a real TPP lulu that I am assured is part of what US corporates want to be a conerstone of the group’s modus operandi: that multinational and/or foreign businesses will be granted rights to sue local competition for copyright/formulation/design etc theft even if the sovereign State’s laws forbid such actions.
I think we can all see where that’s going: the further dilution of Equality before the Law, enabling globalist bullies to snuff out local competition. Just imagine what such a ‘fast-track’ legal facility could do if armed with an extended definition of copyright infringement: coporate lawyers would have a coach and four through it before you could say Pottersville.
Having cottoned on to these unplanned mechanisms that seem to have arrived with the candidature of the US, the Kiwis are getting somewhat restive. Opposition parties are at last calling on the Government to pull out of international trade talks on TPP, despite assurances that New Zealand isn’t going to sign away sovereign rights. All we europhobes will read that and smile. But the latest leaked documents from the TPP negotiations appear to confirm that states that sign up to the deal could be sued by foreign investors over unfavourable laws.
In short, as part of the unlimited rights granted to us by ourselves within the TPP, we will sue the arse off your poxy Government if it tries to stop us flogging cancer sticks to the very stupid.