A few weeks ago the twelve participating countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership reached an agreement, a treaty that has been shrouded in secrecy and even after this agreement still isn’t available to the public. The stated purpose of this trade agreement is to reduce tariffs between the countries and promoting industry by making it cheaper for importers and exporters to engage in business between these countries, and to have easy guidelines that businesses can follow when interacting with these countries. The treaty is however heavily criticized due to negotiations which have been kept secret from the public, whilst large Multi-National Companies have had a seat at the negotiating table throughout the process (Carter, 2013). An argument one can make is that these corporations and business have to generate as much money as they can for their shareholders, as is the nature of capitalism (Ravenhill, 2014, p.295), and therefore can be argued that the treaty has been negotiated around the interests of business, and perhaps at the lesser care of ordinary citizens.
One of the clauses of the TPP explains that companies have the opportunity to fight the laws that affect them, which means companies will be able to sue countries their governments. This is already happening in other trade deals between countries. One notorious example is the trade investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong, made in 1993. (AFTINET, n.d.) Australia mandated in 2012 that all cigarette packaging needed to be uniform, plain, and standardised, which lead to the removal of all the branding and marketing of the cigarette companies off the packaging. The US-based Philip Morris tobacco company sued the Australian government over this matter by using this treaty, even though the tobacco company couldn’t sue under the Trade Agreement between the US and Australia, it became an investor in Hong Kong to make use of this treaty. Although Philip Morris didn’t successfully sue the Australian government, you can only imagine what an MNC could do to a less prosperous country, a country with a lower GDP than the value added of a major MNC. These countries would be forced to settle.
The TPP could also spell trouble for copyright laws and the freedom of speech online. The TPP would enforce copyright law by the U.S. standards by internationalising it. The law in the U.S. is that after the copyright’s holder’s death, the copyright would remain for 70 years. The Joint Center for Regulatory Studies did an economic analysis of the Copyright Extension Act in 1998 and argued that term extensions did not help create new works at all, and that it even would build additional costs. Such extensions are merely in place to milk out money for the executives and does not promote any innovation, and innovation builds the economy.
This copyright act would also limit the freedom of speech on the internet, as Internet Service Providers (ISPs) will be forced to remove user generated content online whether it’s infringing or not, as ISPs will start to receive letters from right holders claiming their work.
Because of this, perfectly legal content could be removed as a way of silencing the freedom of speech.
While the TPP will be beneficial in sectors such as labour mobility and boosting the GDP in several participating countries, I do worry about the interpretation of some of the clauses in this trade agreement. The secret nature in which this treaty has been discussed and the warning signs of other existing trade agreements could be disastrous in terms of freedom and innovation.
Mario van der Meer
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AFTINET n.d. Australian High Court rules against big tobacco on plain packaging. Accessed on 27 October 2015.
Carter, Z. (2013). “Obama Faces Backlash Over New Corporate Powers In Secret Trade Deal”. Huffington Post, 12 August.
Ravenhill, J. (2014). Global Political Economy. Oxford University Press 2014. Oxford, pp. 295.