If you haven’t heard of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), you are not alone. Over the last seven years, 12 nations, including the U.S., New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, Mexico, Japan and Canada, have held secret meetings and conducted hushed negotiations working out the 30 chapters of this so-called free trade agreement. A deal was finally reached on October 5, and in June of 2016, because of President Obama’s decision to fast-track it, this controversial, potentially damaging deal will likely be signed into effect, thus essentially becoming global law.
Critics of the TPP say that it is worse than anything they could have imagined. Charles Chamberlain, executive director for Democracy for America said, “This agreement would push down wages, flood our nation with unsafe imported food, raise the price of life-saving medicine, all the while trading with countries where gays and single mothers can be stoned to death.” Nick Dearden of Global Justice Now charged that, “on issues ranging from climate change to food safety, to open Internet access to medicines, it is a disaster.” Evan Greer of Fight for the Future stated that, “If Congress signs agreement despite its blatant corruption, they will be signing a death warrant for open Internet and putting the future of free speech in peril.” And in response to the final text of the agreement, Friends of the Earth said that it “is designed to protect ‘free trade’ in dirty energy products such as tar sands oil, coal from the Powder River Basin, and liquefied natural gas shipped out of West Coast ports,” warning that the result will be “more climate change from carbon emissions across the Pacific.”
Throughout the negotiations, the text of the treaty was kept from the public. The only people who knew what it said were the 550 corporate lobbyists that had been drafting it. Over the years there have been numerous leaks of various chapters, all of which have been met by harsh criticism and protests. Said by many to be “NAFTA on steroids,” all 6,000 pages were finally released on November 5, confirming its critics’ worst fears. According to stoptpp.org, “The Trans-Pacific Partnership would create a super-treaty which would jeopardize the sovereignty of the nations involved by giving that power to large corporations like Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, Pfizer, Halliburton, Philip Morris, GE, GM, Apple.”
According to USTR.gov, the deal was originally intended to, “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.” However, it seems as if it will do just the opposite. Also, this bill of goods that the American public was sold is not the real reason why the U.S. wants to adopt it. The TPP will give the United States, as opposed to China, the ability to set future rules. Or at least that is what we have been led to believe. The fact is that whether or not the TPP is signed, China will still have a major hand in setting the rules of 21st century trade. Just because the U.S. is signing a free-trade deal with the Pacific Rim nations doesn’t mean that China can’t, and won’t do so in the future as well. China is already doing the majority of trading with many of TPP’s signatories. It would be much smarter to work with the Chinese than to delude people into believing that the “United States will really set the terms of Asian trade and thereby court a rising contest with China that could ultimately turn into competing trade blocs or worse,” says Jeffrey D. Sachs in his analysis in the Boston Globe.
There are four main parts to this agreement. The first is a free-trade deal between all of the signatories. The second is a set of standards that said trade must adhere to. The third is a set of supervisory regulations for intellectual property, investor rights and key service sectors, and the fourth deals with labor and environmental standards (yet there is no mention of climate change).
The following are just some of the main problems with the deal:
Sovereignty and Democracy are being Undermined
Chapter 28 deals with ISDS – Investor State Dispute Settlement mechanisms. Under this process, governments can be taken before tribunals made up of corporate lawyers if they believe that their rights or laws are being violated, or if they feel future profits are being limited. Yes, you read that correctly, future profits! Let’s take a guess how they will rule. And there are no appeals either. According to citizen.org, “This extreme ‘investor-state’ system already has been included in a series of U.S. “trade” deals, forcing taxpayers to hand more than $440 million to corporations for toxics bans, land-use rules, regulatory permits, water and timber policies and more. Under a similar pact, a tribunal recently ordered payment of more than $2 billion to a multinational oil firm.” Individual foreign corporations are given the ability to go over domestic courts and challenge any policy enacted by a sovereign nation if they feel they will lose money in the future. This gives foreign companies greater rights than domestic ones, and the rulings, which will undoubtedly favor the corporations, will be binding.
Massive Job Loss and Eventual Global Proletarianization
By now, we all have the hindsight to know that NAFTA was bad for jobs. After 20 years, the U.S. has higher income-inequality and has lost around one million jobs. And yet, many of the provisions in the TPP were modeled after it. According to citizen.org, the TPP includes, “special protections for corporations that offshore American jobs to low-wage countries.” In fact, it would expand “privileges for firms that relocate abroad, and eliminate many of the usual risks that make firms think twice about moving to low-wage countries. The TPP’s offshoring incentives include a guaranteed minimum standard of treatment in the offshore venue and compensation for regulatory costs.” Domestic and small businesses are not going to fare well against this. American manufacturing will decrease even more. The TPP makes it so that jobs are moved to wherever they cost the least. In doing so, workers’ rights and protections are completely trampled in the process. Dissidentvoice.org paints this picture: “imagine the Lance Armstrong of neoliberal trade deals: doped-up, ‘roid-flushed, viscous-blooded, deceitful, win-at-any-cost, brazen, in-your-face, winner-take-all, corrupt, corporate leviathan.”
This will additionally add to income inequality. In a report on the TPP by the Center for Economic Policy and Research, David Rosnick estimated that only the top 10 percent of workers would see their wages increase under the deal and that the real wages of middle-class U.S. workers would decline from the 35th percentile to the 80th. According to alternet.org, “NAFTA, contributing to a decline in manufacturing jobs (now only 9 percent of the economy), has forced workers into lower-paying service jobs and resulted in a decline in real wages of between 12 and 17 percent. The TPP would only accelerate this process.” A new study by the Social Security Administration reports that 51 percent of Americans make less than $30,000 a year and 40 percent are making less than $20,000. Since the American government considers a family of four living on less than $24,250 to be at the poverty level, nearly half of the workers in the U.S. are at or below it. The TPP will only exacerbate this.
Environmental Carnage due to Corporate Assault
According to dissidentvoice.org, “The agreement will result in needless, unnecessary death, suffering and risk to the poor, the vulnerable and the sick. Millions will die because of reduced access to basic life-saving generic medicines, medicinal procedures, dismantled public health measures, or because medicines and medical services will be made unaffordable.” Under the TPP, for-profit corporations will gain control. Social assistance programs will either be scaled back on a major level or cut entirely. Pharmaceutical prices will reach astronomical levels. Those countries that have relied on public health care systems will likely see them breakdown under corporate control. Plants and animals will become marketable products because companies will be given the right to patent them. And any time a government dares to push back on drug prices, the tribunals can sue them. In fact, just about everything can be sued into extinction. From health, food and safety regulations, to environmental protections and climate change policies, the rights of consumers will eventually all but disappear.
Privatization and Commodification of Global Commons
Our right to free speech, most Americans would agree, is not something that should ever be tampered with. Yet the TPP will implement restrictions and measures that do exactly that. According to eff.org, countries will have to “adopt many of the most controversial aspects of U.S. copyright law in their entirety. At the same time, the TPP’s IP chapter does not export the limitations and exceptions in the U.S. copyright regime like fair use, which have enabled freedom of expression and technological innovation to flourish in the United States. It includes only a placeholder for exceptions and limitations. This raises serious concerns about other countries’ sovereignty and the ability of national governments to set laws and policies to meet their domestic priorities.” This puts some of our most fundamental rights regarding how we get information at risk. The Internet will become “privatized, enclosed, and surveilled,” according to dissidentvoice.org. Whistle-blowers and investigative journalists may be criminalized based on the extremely vague wording on the misuse of trade secrets. And those that do infringe on copyrights, even without a commercial motivation, will be hit with extremely harsh criminal sanctions, including jail time and exorbitant fines. Even file sharing could result in this, and users “may have their property or domains seized even without a formal complaint from the copyright holder,” according to eff.org. The chapter on Intellectual Property, Chapter 18, is basically a corporate F-U to intellectual, artistic and cultural commons.
Now these are just a few of the issues with the TPP. For an agreement that is supposed to promote free trade, it seems to be doing anything but. Take, for example, the expansion of intellectual property rights for big pharma. The TPP is going to restrict open competition and increase prices for consumers worldwide. According to project-syndicate.org, “pharmaceutical companies would effectively be allowed to extend – sometimes almost indefinitely – their monopolies on patented medicines, keep cheaper generics off the market, and block ‘biosimilar’ competitors from introducing new medicines for years.” Regulatory agencies like the FDA will be prevented from registering generic versions of a drug for a certain number of years and the international tribunals (Chapter 28) could require that corporations be compensated for any possible profit loss coming from regulations. This could, in turn, impede domestic health policies.
This brings me (again) to ISDS. Well-known Consumer Rights Activist Ralph Nader told journalist Chris Hedges that, “The TPP, along with the WTO (World Trade Organization) and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), is the most brazen corporate power grab in American history. It allows corporations to bypass our three branches of government to impose enforceable sanctions by secret tribunals. These tribunals can declare our labor, consumer and environmental practices to be unlawful, non-tariff barriers subject to fines for noncompliance. The TPP establishes a transnational, autocratic system of enforceable governance in defiance of our domestic laws.” Essentially, corporations, and even individual investors under the TPP are being given the same status as nations and the means to enforce a public treaty, privately. This puts an overwhelming amount of power into the hands of a single interest. Even when the government wins, they can be ordered to pay for the legal fees and costs of the case, which, according to citizen.org, is usually around $8 million.
Imagine this: It is January of 2017 and the mayor of New York City signs a bill that will raise minimum wage to $20 an hour, starting May 15. However, in February, a Malaysian company that own 10 restaurants in NYC files a lawsuit that says increasing the minimum wage will violate the provision of the TPP that protects investors. This would not be heard in federal or state court, but “by three private arbitrators; the United States government is the sole defendant; and the city can participate only if the U.S. allows it,” according to theatlantic.com. The U.S. would be sued, and though the minimum wage law would not be affected directly, Congress would most likely step in and override it because it opened the door for other foreign investors to bring similar claims.
This is not as far-fetched as one would imagine. In Canada, a similar situation actually occurred. The government reversed a ban on certain toxins and released a worldwide advertisement that claimed the chemical was safe so they could avoid paying substantial damages in the future. Economists Joseph Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh further questioned the TPP provisions on ISDS on project-syndicate.org, writing, “Imagine what would have happened if these provisions had been in place when the lethal effects of asbestos were discovered. Rather than shutting down manufacturers and forcing them to compensate those who had been harmed, under ISDS, governments would have had to pay the manufacturers not to kill their citizens. Taxpayers would have been hit twice – first to pay for the health damage caused by asbestos, and then to compensate manufacturers for their lost profits when the government stepped in to regulate a dangerous product.”
The TPP will lead to the privatization, commodification and monetization of, well, everything! Civil liberties and Internet freedoms are being threatened, as are public and environmental health, bargaining rights, food standards and safety, financial stability, jobs and even our very own democracy. According to the Huffington Post, “The Economic Policy Institute estimates that under the TPP we stand to lose more than 130,000 jobs to Vietnam and Japan alone, with American workers having to compete with their counterparts in Vietnam, where the minimum wage is just 56 cents an hour.”
Truthdig.com sums it up best with these two words: “corporate enslavement.” It is a coup by corporations, which will now become more powerful than nations. Individuals will lose their rights and countries will be forced to serve the interests of companies. The buy-American sentiment that has been building recently will be replaced by the overwhelming need for jobs as we continue along in this global race to the bottom.
With the specter of TPP there has never been a more urgent need for citizen and student activism than now. That’s what it will take to thwart the malignant designs of global corporations vaulting in their bid for dominance and profit at our expense. It is a Pandora’s box of capitalist excess, terrifying for what demons it may unleash in the future.