Friday, 25 May 2012

TPP: Why Is The USTR In Such A Rush?

We've got till the end of this year to get the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, a dreadful corporate power-grabbing treaty that is being negotiated in secret despite claims of transparency, stopped before it does untold damage to the developing countries caught up in its wake.

On 13th May at a venue outside Dallas, the USTR announced that the nine TPP country Chief negotiators had just awarded a prize to the first negotiators to finalize their chapter: rules on small and medium enterprises (SMEs). Meanwhile, those who appear to be taking the time to read through the proposals that would affect things like generic medicines and internet freedom have apparently been called out by the USTR for dragging their feet, a tactic that even the Chief Negotiator describes as a “heavy-handed approach.” The last round has just finished and they're hoping to get back into negotiations in San Diego in July, from 2-10.

What they say

Critics such as InfoJustice have complained of being shut out and though they have had the time usually alloted to stakeholder sessions cut in half, they have been permitted to set up exhibition tables so they can make their cases as effectively as possible. Although it's not as effective as presentations, it's better than nothing. Surprisingly, USTR has actually provided details of the next round of negotiations this time around. Usually, public interest groups have to find out from sympathetic sources. However, USTR is being tight-lipped as usual when it comes to answering questions about the US position in the trade agreement. It's best, therefore, to assume the worst in the absence of any meaningful information.

Ron Kirk's department made a statement available to Infojustice, which I will break down here.

TPP partners

  • Australia

  • Brunei

  • Darussalam

  • Chile

  • Malaysia

  • New Zealand

  • Peru

  • Singapore

  • United States

  • Vietnam

They've been discussing SMEs, which account for 2/3 of job creation in the US, and are heading towards the final stages of the agreement. In a PDF provided to the Congressional Research Service, writers Ian F. Fergusson and Bruce Vaughn give an overview of the gist of the TPP's scope and the agreement. Page 14 provides for alarming reading:

The United States has sought increased intellectual property rights (IPR) protection in its FTAs... to apply the existing IPR protection to digital media... in terms of IPR that “reflect a standard of protection similar to that found in U.S. law.” This... [goes] beyond the level of protection provided in the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) agreement... USTR’s 2010 U.S. Foreign Trade Barriers Report (FTB) noted that New Zealand is an active participant in efforts to strengthen international IPR enforcement by participating in [ACTA]...

That, in light of the view of IPR being pushed by every branch of the US government that IPR enforcement is essential to the growth and prosperity of the US economy, can only mean that there's only one way to go with all this ratcheting: upwards. And behind it the real IPR growth industry will follow: registration, enforcement, and surveillance. Since they honestly seem to believe this is true, why would they even consider reforming it? As it is, it's the goose that lays golden eggs over and over and over again, as far as they're concerned. And since they refuse to let the public know what the terms of the agreement are — shutting out the very SMEs they've been discussing — we can only guess that if they made the text available, we'd probably call for the immediate resignation of all concerned.

The USTR's press release declared,

The discussions focused on ensuring that the commitments best encourage growth, development, and innovation; ...goods, services, investment, telecommunications, and e-commerce to customs, intellectual property, labor, environment, and competition... the U.S. proposal on State-owned enterprises, a new and challenging issue intended to lay out rules to ensure that these enterprises compete fairly with private companies.  The teams had similarly productive exchanges on new issues related to trade and the environment, the digital economy, and the development of supply chains in the region.

Honestly, I dread to think what's in there. There's a leaked version of the text available, and that was pretty bad, but it's sure to have changed significantly since then. The intellectual property parts are the ones that affect me most; the US has been exporting its law enforcement overseas — to the detriment of civil liberties and due process — and I can only see more and more of those incidents occurring while I'm being told on all sides not to worry my pretty little head about it. And the big rush? Precious few people are doing anything about it except as small protest groups. There are articles on the Huffington Post and the digital rights blogs, but for the most part, the media isn't really running with it. If they can get this done and dusted before the Presidential elections in November, there won't be much we can do about it. If we're going to derail this, it has to be in the next few months.

The implications

This is all part of a US-led global trend of upward-ratcheting of IPR to push the surveillance and enforcement industries that go with it behind an alleged interest in local jobs and economies. A report from tech blog CNET about the efforts of New York legislators to push through bills aimed ostensibly at bullying but really about "mean-spirited and baseless political attacks."  You know, like the Occupy movement and its supporters. Given that it's Republicans (is anyone surprised?) behind it I can only guess that it's yet another plank in the overall strategy of shutting down all opposition now that they've pretty much silenced dissension in their own party. Wired confirms that this is in both legislative houses in New York. Forcing people to disclose their real identities could chill free speech (and of course it means no VPNs) by making it harder to express yourself on a public forum if you were concerned about the consequences of expressing a political opinion that differed from the norm where you live. More surveillance would certainly make it awkward to complain about the new digital environment. Now wait till that goes nationwide (assuming that it doesn't get shot down on First Amendment grounds, as it should), then global.

Meanwhile, just in case you thought we had only got CISPA to worry about (it's in the Senate and they're planning to debate it in the next few weeks), SOPA 2 is on its way even though some of the backers of the first version realise it went too far.

What we can do

Tweet @USTradeRep to let him know how you feel about TPP. Be civil; you don't want to lose your account for being abusive. Use the form on EFF to contact US lawmakers and ask them to demand transparency. Keep up with the latest news on the Internet Freedom Movement's page on Google Plus. Join the Pirate Party and take part in their activities. But don't just sit there, do something.

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