Leaking TPP

was the subject of my Trade Tripper column in the past weekend's issue of BusinessWorld:

One denunciation made (from among the many) about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the alleged secrecy enveloping it. So supposedly secret that even US members of Congress reportedly complained about being in the dark regarding its contents. So secret that purportedly only three persons from each TPP negotiating country has access to the full text of the trade agreement.

Your Trade Tripper found all this clandestineness a bit puzzling ("TPP. RCEP. WTH?? LOL!", 02 August 2013) as US President Barack Obama will eventually need to have the good graces of Congress anyway to have the trade promotion authority to enter the US into the TPP. So, perhaps there was a hint of inevitability about WikiLeaks lifting the cloak surrounding the TPP, releasing 95 pages of the trade agreement’s intellectual property provisions.

It all the more was to be expected because if there was any part in the TPP considered truly contentious then the intellectual property chapter has to be it. This particularly so because of the TPP’s perceived possibly damaging effects on medicine prices, coupled with the criticism that the TPP empowers multinational corporations to sue States directly (thus overriding State immunity). 

International Business Times ("WikiLeaks Releases Draft Chapter For Trans-Pacific Partnership On Intellectual Property, 13 November 2013) reported that the TPP "could create tougher laws on digital copyrights and freedom of speech." Quoting WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange: "If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons." Thus, "if you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs."

And building exactly on fears that the enforcement provisions of the TPP could override State sovereignty, the IBT’s article ominously states that: "The section entitled ‘Enforcement’ outlines new policy measures, including a proposal for supranational litigation tribunals to which national courts are expected to defer but which have no human rights safeguards, the press release said. The chapter states that these courts can conduct hearings with secret evidence, and replicates many of the surveillance and enforcement provisions from the shelved SOPA and ACTA treaties."

Even more trenchant is RT.Com’s take (TPP Uncovered: WikiLeaks releases draft of highly-secretive multi-national trade deal; 13 November 13) on the matter: "Public Citizen, a Washington-based consumer advocacy organization, has warned that US Trade Representatives privy to the TPP discussions have demanded provisions that ‘would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.’ Indeed, the leaked chapter suggests drug companies could easily extend and widen patents under the TPP, prohibiting other countries from producing life-saving pills and selling them for less. Outside of the world of medicine, though, the implications that could come with new copyright rules agreed upon my essentially half of the world’s economy are likely to affect everyone."

The concerns regarding the TPP cannot be said to be without basis. It’s breadth and scope are truly staggering: the TPP is an expanded version of the 2005 Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement and currently includes as parties or potential parties Australia, Brunei, Chile, Canada, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam. Japan and China are also considering or being considered for TPP membership.

The foregoing is to be contrasted with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which is a proposed FTA between the ASEAN members (Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Burma, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam) and Australia, China, India, Japan, South Korea, and New Zealand. Both the TPP and the RCEP claim to remove the problems that a "noodle bowl" of trade agreements brings. But the more important consideration for the Philippines perhaps lies beyond merely trade but rather the bigger picture: the TPP has the US in it (and perhaps Japan) but not China, while the RCEP has both China and Japan but not the US.

Going back to the leaked documents: although other TPP documents have made their way to public scrutiny, the recent WikiLeaks release is significant for including details of the different country’s negotiating positions.

From Info.Org ("Visualizing Negotiating Positions in the TPP IP Chapter"; 17 November 2013), we see the relative isolation (in negotiating positions) of the US and Japan. More, interesting, however, is how some countries have consistent patterns of similarity in negotiating interests, among which include: Malaysia-Singapore, Malaysia-Vietnam, Brunei-Vietnam, Brunei-Malaysia, Chile-Singapore, Chile-New Zealand; with a negotiating core of New Zealand, Singapore, Chile, and Malaysia. Surprisingly, Australia-New Zealand does not seem to have such high similarity in positions as is generally supposed.

Ultimately, however, the truth about the TPP is likely in the middle. Undeniably, there’s a need to study it from a particularly developing-country perspective. Interested readers are invited to go to https://wikileaks.org/tpp to see for themselves the TPP’s merits or lack thereof.