Economy

Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership Document Raises New Concerns For Progressives

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Under the trade deal, pharmaceuticals prices will likely stay high, longer.

WikiLeaks on Friday published the alleged final draft of one key chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a massive, largely secret deal between 12 countries that represent 40 percent of the world’s GDP.

The intellectual property chapter is dated October 5, 2015, the final day of TPP negotiations, and covers such critical concerns as pharmaceuticals, patents and copyright, and digital rights. According to WikiLeaks, it is the final negotiated document and will be subject only to a “legal scrubbing” before it is up for ratification.

Critics of the TPP have said the agreement is a giveaway to corporate interests. The intellectual property chapter, in particular, raises concerns about healthcare as well as internet freedom.

“The new monopoly rights for big pharmaceutical firms would compromise access to medicines in TPP countries,” Peter Maybarduk, the program director at Public Citizen’s Global Access to Medicines, told The Independent. “The TPP would cost lives.”

Rights guaranteed under the deal could mean that generic versions of life-saving medicines are not developed or available as early, delaying access for poorer people.

Internet freedom advocates, too, criticized elements of the chapter. The countries in the agreement, the United States, Vietnam, Peru, Mexico, Malaysia, Japan, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand, Chile, and Brunei, will be able to force each other to suspend legal proceedings if the proceedings will reveal information “detrimental to a party’s economic interests, international relations, or national defense or national security,” BoingBoing reported.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation, an internet rights group, raised a number of concerns with the new draft. “Perhaps the biggest overall defeat for users is the extension of the copyright term to life plus 70 years (QQ.G.6), despite a broad consensus that this makes no economic sense, and simply amounts to a transfer of wealth from users to large, rights-holding corporations,” the group wrote.

President Obama defended the deal Saturday in his weekly address.

“Now, I’m the first person who will say that past trade agreements haven’t always lived up to their promise,” Obama said. “Sometimes they’ve been tilted too much in the direction of other countries and we haven’t gotten a fair deal. And that makes folks suspicious of any new trade initiatives. But let’s be clear. Our future depends not on what past trade deals did wrong, but on doing new trade deals right. And that’s what the TPP does.”

But the major concern from progressives is not that the agreement tilts towards other counties, per se. It’s that the TPP appears to be a sweetheart deal for corporations. And according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, that concern is strengthened, not allayed, but the most recent document.

“If you dig deeper, you’ll notice that all of the provisions that recognize the rights of the public are non-binding, whereas almost everything that benefits rightsholders is binding,” the group writes, citing access to material in the public domain as one area that has been weakened. “All of that has now been lost in favor of a feeble, feel-good platitude that imposes no concrete obligations on the TPP parties whatsoever.”

Another red flag has been the complete secrecy under which the deal has been constructed. Few people in any country have had access to the deal — even members of Congress have only been able to read the document in a locked, guarded room in the basement of the Capitol. Now that the deal is finalized, Congress has 90 days to review it, but even then the specifics won’t be available to the public, unless more sections are leaked. According to an earlier draft posted by WikiLeaks, the document is classified in the United States for the next four years — whether it is ratified or not.

WikiLeaks has published drafts of much of the deal, but it’s clear from Friday’s leak that significant changes have been made since last year’s draft came out. Meanwhile, environmental advocates and economists await additional details, which may not arrive until the deal is already done.

WikiLeaks is an international media organization that publishes an array of confidential documents, often exposing information governments would prefer to keep secret.