Secret Negotiations TR[a]P Our Rights

Jun 28 2012 Published by under Featured News, Issues, White House

On the surface, you wouldn’t think the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TRP) was a bad thing. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (www.ustr.gov/tpp/):

President Obama announced in November 2009 the United States’ intention to participate in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations to conclude an ambitious, next-generation, Asia-Pacific trade agreement that reflects U.S. priorities and values. Through this agreement, we are seeking to boost U.S. economic growth and support the creation and retention of high-quality jobs at home by increasing American exports to a region that includes some of the world’s most robust economies and that represents more than 40 percent of global trade. The Obama Administration has been working in partnership with Congress and consulting closely with stakeholders around the country to ensure TPP addresses the issues that American businesses and workers are facing today, and may confront in the future.

Reflects U.S. priorities and values. It sounds like a good idea economically and there is no obvious downside. This is what ustr.gov has to say about the agreement. This is the Executive Office of the President, after all, the Obama administration has made a big deal about transparency:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Framework

The United States, along with Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam are working to craft a high-standard agreement that addresses new and emerging trade issues and 21st-century challenges. The agreement will include:

• Core issues traditionally included in trade agreements, including industrial goods, agriculture, and textiles as well as rules on intellectual property, technical barriers to trade, labor, and environment.

• Cross-cutting issues not previously in trade agreements, such as making the regulatory systems of TPP countries more compatible so U.S. companies can operate more seamlessly in TPP markets, and helping innovative, job-creating small- and medium-sized enterprises participate more actively in international trade.

• New emerging trade issues such as addressing trade and investment in innovative products and services, including digital technologies, and ensuring state-owned enterprises compete fairly with private companies and do not distort competition in ways that put U.S. companies and workers at a disadvantage.

Again, doesn’t sound bad at all, does it? Well…there is one thing: intellectual property. Sounds benign the way it is phrased but it turns out there is a bit of a problem.

Which is why I am writing about it. The government may not say anything, but if you go to a group like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) you see things like this, which sound nothing at all like the Executive Office view given above:

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multi-nation trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property laws across the globe.

I got an email the other day from StopTheTrap.net which pronounced even more dire warnings:

You could have to pay a big fine for simply clicking on the wrong link.

Right now, a group of 600 industry lobbyist “advisors” and un-elected government trade representatives are scheming behind closed doors[1][2] to craft an international agreement called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Secretive you ask? How can it be secretive. I just visited the Office of the United States Trade Representative and the site is filled with TRP news and about the next round of talks to be held in San Diego, California from July 2-10, 2012. EFF points out that “TPP is being negotiated rapidly with little transparency.” Nine nations – the U.S., Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, and Brunei Darussalam – have met for 12 rounds of TRP negotiations since 2009, yet we have to rely on information that is leaked to know what they are saying about our rights. Rights should not be spoken of behind closed doors.

Mexco and Canada have since been allowed to join and Japan agreed only when President Obama did a little “arm-twisting”, as the Vancouver Sun puts it.

The Office of the United States Trade Representative says that “The TPP is a key element of the Obama Administration strategy to make U.S. engagement in the Asia-Pacific region a top priority ” But in fact, the Vancouver Sun says there is a good deal of skepticism even among the countries involved and that “outside the 12 countries now brokering the deal with varying degrees of enthusiasm there is grave suspicion that the whole thing is a devious American plot.” This is particularly true of China, where “Suspicion bordering on paranoia is especially strong in China, which is excluded from TPP talks at the minute.” It’s hard to blame them, given the United States is rapidly shifting forces to the Pacific region in an apparent attempt to contain China, rather like our earlier attempt to contain Japan in the 30s.

There is a difference between knowing they are meeting and being able to know what they are talking about. And once you see what’s going on, you understand why they are being so secretive. EFF reveals what’s really going on:

The TPP will contain a chapter on Intellectual Property (copyright, trademarks, patents and perhaps geographical indications) that will have a broad impact on citizens’ rights, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and innovation across the world. A leaked version of the February 2011 draft U.S. TPP Intellectual Property Rights Chapter [PDF] indicates that U.S. negotiators are pushing for the adoption of copyright measures far more restrictive than currently required by international treaties, including the controversial Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement(ACTA).

StopTheTrap.net gives you the nitty gritty in very frightening, no-nonsense terms:

Why the secrecy? We know from leaked documents[3] that the TPP includes what amounts to an Internet trap that would:

1. Criminalize[4] some of your everyday use of the Internet,

2. Force service providers to collect and hand over your private datawithout privacy safeguards[5], and

3. Give media conglomerates more power to fine you for Internet use,[6]remove online content—including entire websites—and even terminate[7] your access to the Internet.

4. The TPP would create a parallel legal system of international tribunals that will undermine national sovereignty and allow conglomerates to sue countries for laws that infringe on their profits.

The TPP’s Internet trap is secretive, extreme, and it could criminalize your daily use of the Internet. You could be fined for simply clicking on the wrong link. We deserve to know what will be blocked, what we and our families will be fined for.

As EFF explains,

In short, countries would have to abandon any efforts to learn from the mistakes of the U.S. experience over the last 12 years, and adopt many of the most controversial aspects of U.S. copyright law in their entirety. At the same time, the U.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 U.S. 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.

It is amazing how much ugliness can be hid behind a simple phrase like “rules on intellectual property” isn’t it? And it’s not even repressive Asian dictatorships behind the move, but American corporate interests.

Seems we concerned citizens are not the only ones looking for more transparency. The Associated Press reported yesterday that,

Two-thirds of House Democrats on Wednesday wrote to the White House’s top trade official complaining they are being left out of the loop as the Obama administration negotiates the most consequential trade deal in decades, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement.

The 132 Democrats, led by Reps. George Miller of California and Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut, urged U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk to make sure “there is ample opportunity for Congress to have input on critical policies that will have broad ramifications for years to come.”

It sounds like there are very good reasons for people to be concerned about TRP, and we should demand more transparency, whatever confidentiality agreements might be in place. We shouldn’t allow corporate interests to decide what freedoms we have and do not have. It is bad enough that the Supreme Court has allowed the Constitution to be re-written on their behalf through the Citizens United ruling. If they can then decide what and cannot be put on the Internet, it will be impossible to raise a voice in protest.

Stopthetrap.net’s Footnotes

[1] Find OpenMedia’s backgrounder on the TPP here, and OpenMedia’s press release about Ottawa’s irresponsible participation here.

[2] The TPP suffers from a lack of transparency, public participation, and democratic accountability. In this letter, a number of U.S. civil society organizations detail and decry the opacity of the process.

[3] Public interest groups have obtained the February 2011 draft of the TPP’s Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. In it, we can see that the TPP would drastically increase Internet surveillance, increase Big Media’s Internet lockdown powers, and criminalize content sharing in general, with a likelihood of harsher penalties.

[4] See the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s analysis to learn more about the ways the TPP increases the threat of litigation from Big Media. Under the TPP, Big Media could come after you in court even “without the need for a formal complaint by a private party or right holder”.

[5] See infojustics.org’s list of the TPP’s effects on the intellectual property law in Canada and Mexico for more information on privacy implications

[6] See infojustics.org’s list of the TPP’s effects on the intellectual property law in Canada and Mexico for more information on penalties.Also see Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch talk about content fines here.

[7] Source: Public Knowledge: What’s actually in the TPP?

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