After another round of meetings in Hawaii, it was reported that negotiations between several representatives of Pacific Rim countries had not succeeded in closing one of the biggest possible free-trade talks in history. The Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb stated that the deal was, “..98% complete, but we haven’t concluded it.” Supposedly, Australia had “walked out” on finishing the deal after being unable to negotiate an entrance into US dairy markets. These setbacks are merely the latest of many that are challenging the completion of this free trade agreement that has the ability to span a large portion of the world economy. The implementation of this agreement is in the interest of the Obama administration and the US government as it would provide the United States a much-needed financial pivot into Asia in order to counteract spreading Chinese influence in the region as well as provide a financial boost to American markets. Nevertheless, the deal has various opponents who are claiming that if passed, the deal will have adverse impacts on important issues like healthcare, Investor-State Arbitration, and intellectual property.
In June 2015, an article in the New England Journal of Medicine expressed concern that various clauses concerning copyright laws pertaining to pharmaceutical drugs could affect healthcare in numerous countries. According to the article, the TPP had the potential to prevent the production of cheaper generic drugs through stricter patent laws. This would create a risk in developing countries like Vietnam, where a large portion of the population cannot afford expensive “brand name” drugs and instead relies on cheaper drugs. This could also affect developed countries like America as state sponsored healthcare systems like Medicare and Medicaid would be forced to buy the previously mentioned brand name drugs, thereby raising the price of medical care. Arguments have arose against the TPP over concerns of increasing healthcare costs and it seems to be that this hurdle will prove difficult to get over.
Another controversial aspect of the agreement includes the writing concerning Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). Simply put, ISDS allows a foreign company to sue member countries of the TPP for money in cases where they could argue that future profits were lost due to government policy, effectively circumventing government law and receiving money for it. It is no surprise that countries would be reluctant to agree to this provision after hearing about Occidental Exploration and Production Company vs. The Republic of Ecuador, in which Ecuador was ordered to pay approximately $1.76 billion in reparations to an American oil company. ISDS has been present in previous free trade agreements between other countries and has been an extremely contentious topic due to the fact that it can overcome government law in the name of free trade. Therefore, it is no surprise that TPP member and negotiators are cautious when dealing with this problematic law.
Despite the aforementioned worrisome parts of the TPP, the most questionable provision is arguably the Intellectual Property Chapter. This part of the agreement requires that global intellectual property rules be rewritten in a more restrictive format, like the United States’s Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). An obligation like this would require countries to place liabilities on internet intermediaries like Google and Facebook and thereby restrict privacy and expression of users. It would also compel the extension of copyright laws, suppressing any possible innovations. And last but not least, it would adopt criminal sanctions for any copyright infringements not done for “commercial purposes” (That means that the police really will arrest you for illegally downloading that Beyonce song).
It is no question that the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement poses a multitude of risks to the countries that it seeks to facilitate free trade with. Yet, the important thing to ask ourselves as people affected by global actions is, “Is it worth it?” Will the increasing globalization of trade ultimately harm or help us? Living in the USA, I can see that many of the things I use on a daily basis like my phone, my clothes, even my food, are the products of an world that is growing smaller through increased trade. I can see that free trade between countries can raise the standard of living and I can see that it is extremely beneficial to the economy. But it should not empower the businesses and corporations that control production to restrict basic human rights like freedom of expression nor should it allow a business to dodge the law for profit. If the TPP cares more about protecting a business’s ability to increase profits through economic liberalization instead of allowing people of all countries to mutually benefit from trade, then in my humble opinion, it should not be supported by anyone