Trade ministers from nine Pacific Rim countries and an assortment of corporate lobbyists will meet near Dallas for 10 days starting May 8 to continue negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Trade Agreement. The Obama Administration is calling TPP a trade agreement for the 21st Century that addresses many of the concerns raised by critics of past trade agreements. But critics, including labor, environmental, farmer, and consumer protection groups, remain sceptical.
This scepticism has been fueled by a leaked draft of the proposed agreement. According to the Citizens Trade Campaign (CTC), the leaked draft does not include any enforcement mechanisms to ensure that stringent labor standards are met, allows corporations to challenge government regulations that interfere with maximizing corporate profits, and restricts the ability of governments to curb excessively high costs of medicine.
The Texas Fair Trade Coalition, a CTC affiliate, has called for a May 12 demonstration in Addison, Texas, a Dallas suburb where the TPP meeting is taking place. Organizers have called the demonstration “TPP: Out of the Shadows” because they want the negotiations, which could result in a super-charged NAFTA type trade agreement, to be more transparent.
“Despite having already concluded eleven major rounds of negotiations, the Office of the US Trade Representative has refused to let Americans know what they have proposed in our names,” said Bob Cash of the Texas Fair Trade Coalition. “The public has literally been barred from reviewing the negotiating texts. Meanwhile, approximately 600 corporate lobbyists have been given ‘cleared advisor’ status giving them regular access to the documents and the negotiators.”
After reviewing the draft that was leaked last October, trade agreement critics raised a number of concerns. For instance, Doctors Without Borders said that if implemented in its present form, TPP would delay the introduction of generic medicines and drive up their cost.
“Our experience around the world shows that (Doctor Without Borders’) treatment programs – and our patients’ lives – depend on the availability of quality and affordable generic medicines,” said Sophie Delaunay, executive director of Doctors Without Borders-USA. “What we’re seeing here is the US and the pharmaceutical industry looking to impose some of the most stringent patent protections we’ve seen to date, significantly delaying introduction of generic medicines in the countries that sign up to the TPP and creating a fundamental contradiction between US trade policy and US commitments to global health.”
Doctors Without Borders said that generic competition has made medicine more affordable especially in poor countries. For example, generics brought down the price of the first HIV/AIDS medicines from about $10,000 per year to about $60 per year.
The proposed TPP would also limit governments’ ability to control the cost of medicine by limiting the use of formularies, which governments use to give them leverage when negotiating prescription drug prices.
Other critics say that the draft if implemented would make it harder for countries to regulate their economy. Jane Kelsey, a law professor at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, writes that the leaked draft text “has substantive biases in favor of light-handed regulation–a model that has proved highly problematic in many countries and sectors, not least the financial industry.”
Labor has raised concerns too. The AFL-CIO said that TPP labor chapter appears to back pedal on some of the gains made in previous trade agreements. The AFL-CIO has criticized the document’s lack of enforcement mechanisms that hold corporations accountable for implementing the International Labor Organization’s conventions on labor standards.
If fair labor standards are not enforced, corporations have even more incentives to ship US jobs overseas.
The Texas Fair Trade Coalition is organizing bus rides from Austin and San Antonio to the May 12 demonstration in Addison.
The nine countries that will be represented at the Addison meeting include Australia, Brunei Darssalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the US. Canada, Japan, and Mexico have said that they will join the agreement. China, Indonesia, the Philippines, and Russia have expressed interest.