The Biggest International Trade Deal You’ve Never Heard Of

The Trans-Pacific, and how it’s giving corporations even more control over global policy.
By Leah Ching, Staff Writer

14525599118_8ffddb4e03_zThe Basics

The Trans-Pacific Partnership, or ‘TPP’ is a proposed international trade agreement involving twelve nations in the Pacific Rim. The deal, as signed onto by the Harper Conservatives early last week, is designed to open up new markets and ensure lower trade tariffs for the twelve signatories. The nations in this agreement, Canada and the United States included, reached agreement this month on the TPP after five long years of negotiations.


The recently agreed upon international agreement concerns not only trade, but various areas of economic policy that will no doubt come to affect the lives of citizens in the signatory nations.


Contents of the TPP are unclear, with established goals including: lowering international trade restrictions, establishing common frameworks for intellectual property, creating common standards for international and labour laws, and establishing a mechanism for settling disputes between foreign investors and states.


What We Know

Leaked documents published by Citizens Trade Campaign and WikiLeaks have provided sections of the draft agreement, including chapters about the environmental, investment, and intellectual property sections of the TPP. The rest of the deal remains largely a mystery to the public despite over six hundred corporate executives and TPP stakeholders being allowed access to the draft.


The agreement gives overarching new rights to fossil fuel industries and large multinational corporations.


Their powers include the right to sue the governments of the twelve signatories over laws and policies that hamper profit, or future profits of the corporations in question. The TPP sets up dispute settlement guidelines between governments and foreign investors in secret foreign tribunals that are completely detached from national courts. An “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) provision of the agreement allows corporations to sue democratically elected governments over profit, and corporations have already used ISDSs to challenge governments over six hundred times. The fact that corporations can now attack laws concerning air, water, and climate is being seen as a colossal setback for environmental rights.


This has been happening prior to the advent of the TPP, and can only be expected to speed up after the deal’s inception. Drug Company Eli Lilly sued the Canadian government for $500 million after Canada invalidated patients for their drugs. The Indianapolis based company alleged that Canada violated the company’s rights to free and equal treatment as a foreign investor, requesting half a billion dollars of taxpayer money in compensation.


Where We Stand

It doesn’t bode well that the contents of this agreement have been kept secret from the public. This trade deal is arguably the biggest since the creation of the World Trade Organization in 1995, and the combined GDP of the TTP nations represent over 40% of the global economy.


For Canadians, a CBC poll shows that only 40% of respondents thought that the TPP trade deal would be a “net benefit for Canada,” With nearly half the population not having an opinion, or feeling not knowledgeable enough to take a position, 41% were either neutral or didn’t know.


The public does not know too much about the TPP, other than its supposed benefits to Canadians through equitable free trade, and opening markets to foreign investors and consumers alike. On the surface level, the agreement sounds beneficial to Canadians considering the current low value of the Canadian dollar, which has historically been good for exporting purposes.


Canada’s ruling conservatives are in full favor of the deal, signing on with Conservative Leader Stephen Harper saying “this deal is, without any doubt whatsoever, in the best interests of the Canadian economy.” Still, the question remains, “Who stands to reap benefits of this trade deal?”, and “why does it remain so secretive if its benefits are so apparent?”


Trudeau has also said he is in support of the deal, while NDP leader Tom Mulcair has criticized the deal for the effects it may have on Canadian automotive and dairy industries, and Green leader Elizabeth May has teamed up with the Greens in New Zealand to staunchly oppose the deal.


Why We Should be Concerned


Pharmaceutical patents are being established under the TPP. The agreement grants five-year minimum periods that give brand-name drug companies exclusive selling rights, giving longer patent monopolies for transnational pharmaceutical corporations and delaying the introduction of affordable generic drugs. Doctors without Borders have begun a petition to fight these provisions in the TPP that they believe threaten to restrict access to affordable medicines for millions of people.


In the dairy market, Canada will give other TPP countries duty-free access to 3.25 per cent of its dairy market, and 2.1 per cent of it chicken market. The new imports are expected to come mainly from the U.S. (home of multinational agro-chemical giant, Monsanto), Australia and New Zealand.


In the automotive industry, laws concerning domestic content requirements for automotive parts would be slashed. This means the importing of more vehicles into North America with fewer parts manufactured in Canada. Unifor president Jerry Dias has warned that could cost Canadians over 25,000 jobs.


These are only a few examples of the vast number of policies that stand to effect Canadian citizens directly. The TPP is not solely a free trade agreement and cannot be taken lightly. Areas of policy contained in the deal include; food safety standards, environmental protection, labour laws, and Internet privacy among many more. As information continues to spill out, and public opposition continues to grow, Canadians can either look forward to the TPP’s eventual implementation, or look toward rallying a populist movement to reject it.

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