Introduction to the Pacific Trade Negotiation


The discussion about the closed process around a trans-Pacific Partership was mildly of concern, though not totally surprising.  In general though there isn’t much in the way of issues raised just:  There might be something bad here…

My cousin has been asking me if I’m up to speed on the dangers of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). I explained to him that Paul Krugman had just declared that the TPP was no big deal, so I assumed it must be awful, but no–I didn’t really know much about it. After reading some of the information he sent my way, I am glad he alerted me to this important issue; I can see why Dean Baker chastised Krugman for his nonchalance, though Baker and I are worried about (slightly) different aspects of it. In this post, I just want to “introduce” Free Advice readers to the TPP, to make sure you know why more and more people are warning about it.

Here’s Wikipedia’s opening description:

Since 2010, negotiations have been taking place[9] for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposal for a significantly expanded version of TPSEP. The TPP is a proposed trade agreement under negotiation by (as of August 2013) Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.[10]

The TPP is intended to be a “high-standard” agreement aimed at emerging trade issues in the 21st century.[11] On November 13, 2013, a complete draft of the treaty’s Intellectual Property Rights chapter was published by WikiLeaks.[12][13] This and other leaks have drawn criticism and protest of the negotiations from global health experts, internet freedom activists, environmentalists, organized labor, advocacy groups and elected officials, in large part due to the secrecy of the negotiations, the expansive scope of the agreement, and controversial clauses in the drafts leaked to the public.

The website The New American has a lot of good coverage of the TPP, but this essay from August 2013 is the single best one that gets one up to speed on some of the essential concerns. Here are some key excerpts (bold is mine):

The USTR [U.S. Trade Representative] “Fact Sheet” cites as evidence of its transparency efforts the number of consultations it has held with its selected trade advisory committees and privileged “Civil Society stakeholders.” It states, for instance:

Over the course of the TPP negotiations, USTR has conducted more than 147 meetings with the trade advisory committees. Since June 11, 2010, USTR has posted 110 TPP documents to a website for cleared trade advisors to review and provide comments.

This transparency boast actually exposes a dangerous feature of the TPP process: The TPP documents are not available to the average American citizen, only to “cleared trade advisors.” And who are the “cleared trade advisors”? According to the USTR, these are “representatives from industry, agriculture, services, labor, state and local governments, and public interest groups.” But, apparently, that does not include elected representatives of the American people, since members of Congress have been forced to plead, and threaten in order to get a peep at the secret TPP texts.

For instance, Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, requested copies of the TPP draft documents but was stonewalled by the USTR. When Senator Wyden threatened to propose a measure in the Senate that would force transparency on the proc­ess, the USTR agreed to grant the senator a peek at the documents, though his staff was not permitted to see them. This type of secretive process has no legitimate place in our system of government, and it obviously puts Congress at a distinct disadvantage in the TPP process, since the real work of examining the detailed legal texts normally falls to congressional staff members who are often experts in particular areas of domestic and foreign policy.

Wyden spokeswoman Jennifer Hoelzer…pointed out, “An advisor at Halliburton or the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America] is given a password that allows him or her to go on the USTR website and view the TPP agreement anytime he or she wants.”

As just one example of the enormous dangers that are lurking in the hundreds (or thousands) of pages of still-secret texts, consider the leaked TPP draft text on intellectual property that would threaten Internet freedom — as well as American sovereignty — with new TPP surveillance requirements. As The New American reported last year, the leaked document would mandate that TPP member nations enact regulations that require Internet service providers (ISPs) to privately enforce copyright protection laws. “Current U.S. law,” noted The New American’s Joe Wolverton, “specifically the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), would be supplanted by TPP Article 16.3. This provision in the TPP draft document paves the way for a new copyright enforcement scheme that extends far beyond the limits currently imposed by DMCA.”

The Electronic Frontier Foundation pointed out the TPP threat to Internet freedom:

Private ISP enforcement of copyright poses a serious threat to free speech on the Internet, because it makes offering open platforms for user-generated content economically untenable. For example, on an ad-supported site, the costs of reviewing each post will generally exceed the pennies of revenue one might get from ads. Even obvious fair uses could become too risky to host, leading to an Internet with only cautious and conservative content.

The net effect would be to squeeze out the smaller, independent ISPs, further cartelizing our communications and news media, and eventually wiping out the burgeoning alternative Internet-based news media.

I’ll be returning to this topic in the future, but I wanted to at least make my readers aware of the controversy. The Obama Administration is seeking to restore “fast-track approval” powers on this, which would allow an up-or-down vote on the whole TPP without discussion of its individual components.

As a final point in this introductory post, let me say this: The problem with these “free trade” agreements is that some critics rely on centuries-old protectionist fallacies; they are afraid of “cheap imports.” Anyone familiar with Bastiat understands why such worries are misplaced.

However, those of us who believe in genuine free trade shouldn’t trust government officials when they title something a “free trade” agreement. It doesn’t take years of backroom negotiations to reduce tariff rates. No, something is really fishy with this TPP and other such deals.

Introduction to the TPP
Bob Murphy
Thu, 26 Dec 2013 22:38:01 GMT

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