Trans Pacific Partnership Signed
Trade ministers gathering after signing the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Image: New Zealand Herald

Auckland, New Zealand – Trade ministers from the twelve nations involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) met in New Zealand on Thursday to sign the final agreement.

The participating nations now have up to two years to ratify the agreement. The 12 nations include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam. Before becoming law in the United States, both the House and the Senate will need to vote to approve the TPP.

In late June 2015, President Obama signed into law the so-called “fast-track” bill that set the stage for approval of the TPP. “Fast track” limits Congress’ ability to alter the provisions of the trade deal and only allows a vote of yes or no. The final terms of the deal were agreed upon in October, and the full text of the agreement was released in November.

The TPP has been the subject of much controversy for the last few years, largely due to the fact that the trade ministers have negotiated the deal in secret with overwhelming influence from multinational corporations.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation writes:

“These officials have not been accountable to the public. They have remained steadfast in excluding public participation and ignoring all calls for transparency over the more than five years of TPP negotiations. Because of this opaque process, trade negotiators were able to fill the agreement with Hollywood and Big Tech’s wish lists of regulatory policies without having to worry about how they would impact the Internet or people’s rights over their digital devices.”

The EFF says that it is “critical that people in the U.S. demand congressional accountability over this deal and urge their lawmakers to vote no when the TPP comes before them for approval.”

While the trade ministers signed the TPP, thousands of protesters gathered in the streets of Auckland to protest the trade deal. TVNZ reports that no arrests were made. Detective Superintendent Richard Chambers stated that his officers were abused, had their clothing and hats pulled, but displayed “outstanding professionalism.”

auckland tpp protest
Protesters in Auckland, NZ

In the U.S. on Thursday, there was a wave of “Flush the TPP” protests as critics of the deal took to the streets of Washington D.C., Los Angeles and other American cities.

In October 2015, journalist Ben Swann released a Reality Check on the TPP, stating that it was worse than previously believed.

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In 2015, both the Anglican and Catholic churches of New Zealand demanded the government be more transparent about the negotiations. Radio NZ reports that bishops from the churches are concerned about the lack of openness and that corporate interests are influencing the agreement while the people are being excluded. The churches also called on the New Zealand government to make the draft text of the agreement public.

In early February 2015, doctors and health professional representing seven countries released a letter warning that the TPP will lead to higher medical costs for all nations. The letter, published in The Lancet medical journal, states that, “Rising medicine costs would disproportionately affect already vulnerable populations.” The doctors called on the governments involved in the trade deal to publicly release the full text of the agreement. They also demanded an independent analysis of the impacts on health and human rights for each nation involved in the deal.

Also in February 2015, an analysis by The Washington Post revealed the US government’s numbers on expected job increases from TPP are not factually correct. The Fact Checker examined several quotes from government officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, and Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. Both Kerry and Vilsack claimed the international trade agreement would create 650,000 new jobs. However, these numbers do not take into account income gains and changing wages. According to the government own sources imports and exports would increase by the same amount resulting in a net number of zero new jobs.

A more recent analysis concluded that the TPP will lead to the loss of 448,000 jobs in the United States.

A look at the finally revealed text of the TPP reveals the most egregious portions relate to the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) Mechanism, intellectual property, and food safety standards. ISDS will give corporations loopholes to escape accountability and empower international bodies, overriding national sovereignty of the signing nations. Under ISDS, foreign corporations would be allowed to appeal legal decisions to international tribunals, rather than face domestic courts. Critics fear this could lead to a loss of sovereignty and the enrichment of transnational corporations.

Recently, the Electronic Frontier Foundation also released a report on the dangers of the TPP. The EFF writes:

“Everything in the TPP that increases corporate rights and interests is binding, whereas every provision that is meant to protect the public interest is non-binding and is susceptible to get bulldozed by efforts to protect corporations.”

Delayed until 2017?

It was recently reported that the TPP might not be voted on until after the 2016 presidential elections, or possibly into the next presidential term.

In an interview with the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he does not support the idea of voting on the TPP before the election. “It certainly shouldn’t come before the election. I don’t think so, and I have some serious problems with what I think it is,” he said. “But I think the president would be making a big mistake to try to have that voted on during the election. There’s significant pushback all over the place.”

“We will continue working with Congressional leaders to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership as soon as possible next year,” Brandi Hoffine, a White House spokeswoman, told the Post.

On Friday, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters, “Our view is that it is possible for Congress to carefully consider the details of this agreement and to review all the benefits associated with this agreement … without kicking the vote all the way to the lame-duck period.”