There is not just one country or one issue that is holding up the trade pact
With the approaching U.S. midterm elections making it less likely that Congress will risk voting on any trade promotion authority before November, supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact have little positive news to share. So to fill the time they have turned up the media spin, pushing the storyline that the agreement, a massive 12-nation trade pact opposed by a majority of Americansencompassing 40 percent of global GDP, is almost completed.
But the reality is that the negotiations are not even close to put crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s stage. Each of the participating countries has significant issues still to be resolved. Because the negotiations have been conducted in secret it is impossible to know exactly what is happening, that is unless you are one of the 600 official corporate “trade advisors” that have special access. These trade advisors are fighting each other to make sure their employer’s priorities win out over the wants of another company, let alone the needs of the citizens in U.S., Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore or Vietnam. Without Congress passing fast-track trade promotion authority we can only look forward to more vague statements of progress by U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman.
As progress on one issue impacts every other issues and country, below are a few of the key issues that still have to be dealt with by the TPP negotiators before Ambassador Froman can be truthful when saying they are close to a “landing zone,” “path forward” or conclusion on the whole trade agreement. In the real world “a pathway of intensified engagement” is not the same as real progress.
Ever since WikiLeaks released the secret draft text of the entire Intellectual Property Rights Chapter, Australian activists have rallied around opposition to efforts that would restrict access to life saving medicines to draconian restrictions on accessing content online. These proposals, which are largely pushed by American corporate special interests, have turned up the heat on Australian leaders. In fact, Trade Minister Andrew Robb called medical patents “a line in the sand” for his country.
- The Drum – “The ultimate outcome for low-income Australians and the hundreds of thousands of people in the region who struggle to pay for medicines – or die for the lack of them – may to a large degree depend on which direction Australia takes from this point on.”
- Crikey – “So far, so good, for what amounts to a remarkable attempt by the US government to impose draconian restrictions on intellectual property and the capacity of other governments to change policy, to suit US companies.”
- Choice – Are you concerned about increasing cost of medicines? Would you worry if Australians could be jailed for illegally downloading an episode of Game of Thrones? Do you want to know if your muesli bar contains palm oil?
The oil-rich kingdom of Brunei’s participation in TPP was largely overlooked in the media until Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah helped make it the first East Asian country to adopt strict sharia law, sparking widespread condemnation from international human rights groups. Now members of Congress, celebrities and leading rights groups around the world are calling for the country to be kicked out of the TPP.
- Reuters – “More than 100 U.S. lawmakers and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights groups on Thursday urged the Obama administration to stop trade talks with Brunei unless the country revokes Islamic criminal laws they say jeopardize human rights.”
- Huffington Post – “Rewarding Brunei, the first East Asian nation to follow in the footsteps of Taliban-era Afghanistan by stoning gays to death, will send a grotesque message to the world.”
- FireDogLake – “Hollywood is reacting swiftly to the harsh sharia laws enacted in Brunei by cancelling major events at the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is owned by the Brunei Investment Agency.”
Canada’s biggest unresolved issues with the TPP revolve around its beef and dairy industries. Currently the United States wants even greater access to Canadian markets, which Canada has rejected as their domestic market has grown increasingly stagnant and they look to exports as a source for growth, bringing them into direct competition with U.S. farmers. Recently, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz went so far as to say the U.S. has acted like a “schoolyard bully” on trade issues.
- Reuters – “Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz lashed out at the United States for being a “schoolyard bully” on trade issues, and said he sees more promise in negotiating a bilateral deal with Japan than the more ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
- Reuters – “U.S. dairy farmers and milk processors on Wednesday threatened to oppose a Pacific trade deal if Japan and Canada do not agree to accept substantially more dairy imports.”
- National Post – “Canada was invited in 2012 to enter the talks amid demands from some countries at the TPP table that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government abandon this country’s long-standing supply management system for protecting dairy and poultry farmers.”
Chile’s new government, which assumed office in March of this year, is concerned with every aspect of the TPP. From the expanded power of international corporations under investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses to the increased cost of prescription drugs or the weakening of the nation’s financial regulations, Chile is rethinking every aspect. Since Chile already has trade agreements with the other participating countries their gains may only be marginal at best.
- Techdirt – “TPP has dragged on for so long there’s a new President in Chile, Michelle Bachelet, and she’s more doubtful than her predecessor about the value of TPP to her country and its people.”
- The Santiago Times – “Jorge Heine, former Chilean ambassador and fellow at the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), believes Chile may have more to lose than gain with regards to the proposed policies of the trade agreement.”
- Public Citizen – “Rodrigo Contreras, Chile’s lead negotiator for the TPP until two months ago, published a shakedown of the sweeping deal in a leading Peruvian magazine (Caretas) as TPP negotiations were getting underway in Peru.”
Besides the U.S., Japan may be the leading nation blocking any widespread agreement on outstanding TPP issues. Japanese leaders are seeking to block the lowering or eliminating of tariffs on the five “sacred” goods of Japanese agriculture: rice, wheat, beef, poultry, dairy, and sugar. Additionally, many leaders in Congress want to see more progress in getting Japan to open up their market to American automakers.
- Japan Times – “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is facing severe resistance from his ruling Liberal Democratic Party on plans to potentially scrap import tariffs on some of Japan’s “sacred five” agricultural products.”
- Kyodo – “Washington wants to introduce a system that would allow it to extend an already proposed period of 30 years for scrapping its auto tariffs if Japanese imports of U.S. autos fall below a set target.”
- Los Angeles Times – “After more than four years and 20 rounds of negotiations, the world’s biggest free-trade deal in a generation has come down in good part to this: the United States and Japan squabbling over beef.”
The issue that Malaysia faces in TPP is its racially-defined “bumiputra” system, which guarantees a certain amount of government contracts and revenue towards state-owned companies go to ethnic Malays, instead of Chinese, Indian, or other ethnic groups also prevalent in Malaysian business. This system is further undermined by Malaysia’s ongoing human rights issues.
- Reuters – “Human rights groups and members of Malaysia’s opposition alliance have urged Obama to speak out on what they say has been a sharp deterioration in religious and political freedoms since the ruling coalition suffered its election setback last May.”
- Bangkok Post – “Malaysia is also reluctant to make a concession on competition as its economy is mostly dominated by companies run by ethnic Malays under its “bumiputra” policy of preferential treatment.”
- Human Rights Watch – “The US plays an important role in Malaysia, strengthening mutual security ties and promoting negotiations on the free trade Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), but says little publicly about Malaysia’s human rights record.”
Mexicans who are afraid that their government has learned from their mistakes from NAFTA have been organizing around almost every issue and topic of the TPP. From the degradation of domestic agriculture system as a result of increased food imports, seed patents, and breeding rights to environmental destruction or the threats to worker rights, Mexican activists have been on the forefront of TPP opposition.
- Popular Resistance – “Farmers, union, environmental and women’s activists gathered in Mexico City last week to take stock of the lessons from NAFTA and plan strategies to confront the next big threat: the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).”
- iPolitics.ca – “Canada, Mexico and the United States are currently embroiled in a bitter trade dispute over mandatory country-of-origin labelling (COOL). In place since 2008, COOL requires all producers and processors identify where an animal is born, raised and slaughter.”
New Zealand’s main objective with TPP is to have increased access to Japanese, American and Canadian markets for dairy exports. This has led farmers in other TPP countries to have great reservations about New Zealand’s impact on their local markets. Also, like in Australia, copyright issues, the increase in medicine prices and the increased power of foreign corporations to overturn New Zealand laws have been focal points. Recently, Prime Minister John Key has grown increasingly frustrated with Japan’s refusal to negotiate on agricultural market access.
- Reuters – “New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said on Thursday Japan should be cut out of Pacific trade talks if it will not open its markets to more farm imports, and he urged the Obama administration to hold firm.”
- New Zealand Council of Trade Unions – “It could also prevent governments requiring suppliers to meet conditions such as paying a living wage, or health and safety initiatives being developed by the government.”
- The New Zealand Herald – “As a first step, the Trade Minister, Tim Groser must respond to the growing calls for transparency and release the negotiating documents so they can be subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and informed public debate.”
Peru’s concerns with TPP center around concerns that the cost of prescription drugs will increase as a result of the creation of a monopoly on medical patents. They are also concerned with limits to expanding free access to the internet.
- Counterpunch – “On June 5, 2009, Peruvian security forces attacked several thousand Awajun and Wambis protestors, including many women and children, who were blocking the “Devil’s Curve,” a jungle highway near Bagua, 600 miles north of Lima. The protestors were demanding revocation of decrees enacted to conform Peruvian law to FTA requirements.”
- Global Voices Advocacy – “The Transpacific agreement (TPP or TPPA) […] is a commercial agreement that is negotiated behind peoples’ backs, practically in secret. […] no one gives up official stories, all we know is through leaks […] Worst of all is that they touch on sensitive topics like freedom of expression, content management with copyrights [es] and, above all, drug patents [es].”
The largest outstanding issue with Singapore and the TPP is by far its state-owned businesses which are involved in everything from wealth-management to telecommunications to a port authority. The U.S. and other nations have been strident in their efforts to contain state-owned enterprises and the special tax incentives, outright support and regulatory advantages they enjoy.
- Center for American Progress – “U.S. domestic and international trade laws are ill-equipped to deal with this version of state capitalism in which transactions are frequently based on a government’s political objectives rather than commercial considerations. It’s time for the United States to stop treating such countries as if they operate under free market rules. They do not.”
- VoxEU – “Today, some contemporary state-owned enterprises are among the largest and fastest expanding multinational companies. They increasingly compete with private firms for resources, ideas and consumers in both domestic and international markets.”
Human and worker rights advocates have been speaking out about Vietnam’s inclusion in TPP negotiations, citing its poor track record of labor rights, as well as its use of forced and child labor. Additionally the Vietnamese are attempting in the treaty to install a “rule of origin”, which would overturn the “yarn forward rule”, that has maintained 2 million American private sector textile jobs and a $25 billion textile industry. Vietnam is America’s second largest garment supplier, behind China.
- Worker Rights Consortium – “In 2012 the U.S. Department of Labor added garments from Vietnam to its official list of products made with forced and child labor, making Vietnam one of only seven countries in the world whose apparel received this designation.”
- Reuters – “U.S. trade negotiators must insist on tough standards on human and workers’ rights in a Pacific trade deal spanning 12 countries, more than 150 Democratic lawmakers said in a letter to the Obama administration on Thursday. The lawmakers, who make up three-quarters of the Democrats in the House of Representatives, urged U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to do more to protect workers and labor standards in the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”
Press Release on June 26, 2014 by CWA and Teamsters