WASHINGTON — After nearly a decade in the works, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is on the brink of significant expansion. The intercontinental agreement, an alteration of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership (TPSEP), is attempting to break down trade barriers and liberate the free market to a risky and unprecedented extent.
The original TPSEP document was drafted and signed in mid 2005, but was contained to Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore alone. More countries have joined negotiations in recent years, and the latest proposed version in 2013 now includes the United States, Australia, Peru, Canada, Mexico, Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and South Korea. If passed, the handful of TPP nations would control 40% of the entire global economy.
As the biggest country involved, the U.S. has assumed the role of leader in negotiations, especially amongst its North American partners. President Obama is currently locked in discussion with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieno and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. Their desire to act as a united front with mutual interests has earned them the title the “Three Amigos.”
Designed as a means to enhance trade and investment amongst participating countries, the TPP promises huge economic and social benefits for those involved. Eliminating all trade tariffs and other market barriers by 2015, which is the TPP’s primary goal, is said in speculation to promote innovation, create jobs, stimulate competition and develop economies.
There might be some hidden problems, though. True, liberalizing trade is good for the economy of the country in control, and will certainly boost their exports and investments. However, it also sets up a framework of indirect economic manipulation over weaker, regional partners. For example, the U.S. has a lot to gain by overtaking Japan’s prized agricultural rice sector.
Renowned intellectual critic Noam Chomsky has spoken out against the TPP, warning that it is “designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity.”
The most worrisome speculations of TPP’s abuses concern the healthcare industry. New intellectual property regulations will enable corporations to drastically increase the prices of medicine, while preventing the import of generic brand name treatments. Affordable healthcare options will be close to annihilated in developing countries like Vietnam and Peru, who depend on western research. Moreover, computer software and information technology will similarly suffer.
Meanwhile, current and new jobs will be subjected to human rights violations not seen since the birth of labor unions. TPP’s supports the free markets to the extent of installing investor-state dispute settlements, which will allow private corporations to sue foreign governments for hindering their profits. Workplace standards for environmental harms and livable wages could be legally argued as marketplace detriments. There has already been talk of U.S. tobacco companies suing countries with smoking public service announcements and high cigarette taxes.
The TPP’s benefits at home are equally suspicious. Some economists predict an increase of $78-217 billion in national income. However, much of that will be reserved for the already wealthy elite, as foreign investments and manufacturing schemes will only send more working class jobs overseas, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. This is exactly what happened with the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, the U.S.’s other major multilateral trade experiment.
Wide criticism is coming in from all angles regarding the signing of the TPP. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), Sen.Bernard Sanders (D) and Rep. Alan Grayson (D) have been particularly vocal, actively advocating against it in congress. Organizations including Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Medicines Sans Frontieres and the Center for Economic Policy and Research are also publicizing their outrage.
A large problem with the TPP has been its longtime secrecy. Very few citizens in any of the 12 nations involved are aware of the agreement, much less its potential economic ramifications. Despite anti-TPP protests in Melbourne, the Australian government estimates that only 1 in 10 of its voters are even slightly informed.
The need for transparency and awareness surrounding the TPP is pressing. Negotiations need to be brought out from behind the closed doors of Washington and back into the public sphere, as the corporate power promoted by the TPP could be significantly harmful worldwide.
– Stefanie Doucette
Sources: Huffington Post, LA Times, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Montreal Gazette, Washington Post