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Monday, 04 March 2013 18:10

The 16 Round of Negotiations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is taking place in Singapore, from 4-13 March 2013. Three more talks are expected this year before the trade agreement is concluded in time for the APEC Summit in Indonesia in October.

What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)?

The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is a proposed regional free trade agreement (FTA) being negotiated among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. U.S. negotiators and others describe and envision the TPP as a “comprehensive and high-standard” FTA, presumably because they hope it will liberalize trade in nearly all goods and services and include commitments beyond those currently established in the World Trade Organization (WTO). It has been dubbed as the “gold standard deal of the 21st century” and is seen as a move by the US to bypass the slow-moving negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and create a platform for a Free Trade Area of the Asia Pacific (FTAAP).


The TPP and the WTO

Successful negotiation and implementation of proposed new trade rules in TPP, on emerging issues such as state-owned enterprises[1] and regulatory coherence[2], could serve as template for future WTO negotiations. The TPP could further WTO goal of greater global trade liberalization since it could cause other regional economies to consider joining. It ought to be clarified that the TPP, originally, was not a US creation. The original agreement made among countries of Brunei, Chile, New Zealand and Singapore in 2005; US was invited by New Zealand but did not agree to enter into TPP talks until 2008. The US still hoped that the Doha Round would reach a positive conclusion. But in 2008, it became clear that the Doha Round had collapsed and the pro-trade Bush administration was seeking other avenues to pursue its trade liberalization agenda so it decided to participate in the TPP negotiations.

The TPP and the US “Pivot” to Asia

The region has become increasingly viewed as of vital strategic importance to the United States. This is captured in Obama Administration’s pronouncement on “US pivot to Asia” indicating the shift in the center of gravity of US foreign, economic, and military policy to the Asia Pacific region. The TPP is viewed as an important element in the US “rebalancing” toward Asia, which has immensely contributed to the exacerbation of environmental and human rights conditions in the region.

Key People’s Issues in the TPP Deal

Access to medicines

The stringent Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) rules that the US promotes extend the patent and data monopolies of corporations. This extension will delay the creation of generic medicines and allow big pharmaceutical companies to keep the prices of medicines high. It also allows corporations in general to apply evergreening tactics to hold on to their patents longer even without any improvement in the use and efficiency of their products. In the case of New Zealand, it could allow big pharmaceutical corporations to have leverage on Pharmac, which decides what medicines the New Zealand government buys and subsidizes for use by the public, and influence decisions in their favor at the expense of affordability to the public.

Jeopardizing local agriculture and food security

The worries of local businesses such as the dairy and agricultural producers of New Zealand, Malaysia and even the US are not at all unfounded. Trade liberalization will further open the gates of local economies to the tide of cheap agricultural imports that will flood local markets. The so-called “extended intellectual property rights” (EIPR) awarded to corporations, including agricultural giants like Monsanto, can be expected to discourage local agriculture, as proven by various experiences. Monsanto is known to sue farmers near its neighboring plantations for “stealing” their patented plants, when in reality it is the GMO plants that contaminate neighboring plants through cross pollination. With its superior resources, the corporate giant has the upper hand in law suits to discourage local farmers from planting and eventually to force them out of their lands.

For neoliberal economists, this is just an issue of rooting out weaker businesses from the market competition. However, for local producers, especially the small-holder farmers, fisherfolk, and workers, this means loss of livelihood, cultural identities, and traditional indigenous knowledge.

It is also no secret that US trade negotiators want countries to get rid of GM labeling rules. The Biotech Industry Organization – who represent the world’s giant GMO companies like Monsanto and Cargill – have stated that they want GM labeling restricted under the TPPA. The TPP is expected to continue allowing US-subsidized corn, wheat, soy, rice and cotton to be dumped on other countries, while also allowing the import of cheaper (and often less safe) fruits, vegetables and seafood from other countries – consolidating global food supplies in the hands of fewer and fewer giant middlemen, while forcing more and more family farmers off their land and exposing consumers to wild food price fluctuations.

Attacks on jobs and justice

The liberalization and deregulation of economies can cause migration of industries to countries where the rate of profit is higher due to cheap labor and raw material inputs. These countries also have weak environmental and labor protection laws. The migration of industries causes mass layoffs in origin countries and a superficial kind of industrial development in the recipient countries. This will provide greater leverage to corporations looking to exploit cheap labor abroad – oftentimes in countries where workers are violently suppressed for speaking out in favor of better working conditions. While trade policy could be a tool for lifting labor standards throughout the world, the TPP labor chapter contains weak labor standards that are likely to fall far short of protecting jobs in the sending countries and basic human rights abroad.

Foreign-Investor Rights and Private Extra-judicial Investor-State Enforcement

One of the most significant causes for concern around the TPPA is that it would give foreign investors the right to sue governments in private offshore tribunals for introducing laws or policies which they claim would significantly hurt their investments. This is similar to foreign investor terms included in NAFTA which create incentives for US firms to offshore their US production to foreign jurisdictions where they can operate under privileged FTA foreign investor status rather than be forced to deal with that country’s regulatory policy and courts. This subjects domestic environmental, zoning, health and other public interest policies to challenge by foreign investors in foreign tribunals. Disputes such as these take years to resolve and are costly. Legal costs of these disputes alone average at US$8 million but can easily exceed US$30 million. Moreover, 70% of cases have been challenges to natural resource and environmental policies. Greater investor rights provided by this investment-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism will allow large extractive companies to enjoy unbridled plunder of the natural resources and environmental destruction of their host countries.

Lack of transparency and public input in negotiations

For years, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have taken place behind closed doors. Since negotiations began in 2008, none of the negotiating documents have been officially released for public review. Civil society groups are able to access the texts only through leaked documents. In the United States, approximately 600 corporate lobbyists have been named as official advisors, granting them regular access to the negotiating texts, as well as the negotiators. Most civic groups, journalists and those whose lives will be affected by the negotiators’ decisions have no right to see the texts until the negotiations have concluded.

Violation of indigenous people’s rights

Foreign investments on agriculture and extractive industries often encroach on the ancestral lands and territories of indigenous peoples. The TPPA can worsen these attacks of corporations on the communities of indigenous peoples. In Mexico, part of the constitutional changes that the Mexican government made in 1993 to accommodate the NAFTA was the removal of Article 27, which protects Indian territories from sale or privatization. As a result, indigenous peoples in Mexico are left unprotected from the loss of their remaining lands.


Relevant Links

Singapore Hosts Round 16 of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiation from March 4-13, 2013


Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): 16th Round of TPP Negotiations Set for Singapore – March 4-13, 2013 http://www.ustr.gov/tpp

Stakeholder Engagement (where stakeholders will have the opportunity to raise questions and share views with negotiators and other stakeholders); for more information about the stakeholder event, click http://www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/trans-pacific-partnership/direct-stakholder-engagement

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Issues for Congress http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R42694.pdf

Civil society campaigns against TPPA

TPPA Magazine: It is (not) our future http://www.itsourfuture.org.nz/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/TPPA-Booklet-1.pdf

How the New Zealanders are affected by the TPPA http://www.itsourfuture.org.nz/tppas-effects-on/

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement: NAFTA for the Pacific Rim? http://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/trade-policies/tpp-potential-trade-policy-problems/

Digital Groups Shut Out of Secret TPP Negotiations https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/trans-pacific-partnership-agreement

Vietnam and the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement http://www.citizen.org/tppa-vietnam-summary

Stop the TPPA! Expose the horrors of the US Neoliberal Economic Agenda! http://bayanusa.org/stop-the-tppa-expose-the-horrors-of-the-us-neoliberal-economic-agenda/

BAYAN hits US-PH Society’s push for Cha-cha, TPP free trade deal http://www.bayan.ph/site/2013/01/bayan-hits-us-ph-society%E2%80%99s-push-for-cha-cha-tpp-free-trade-deal/

Malaysian Declaration on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement and Access to Medicines http://donttradeourlivesaway.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/malaysian-declaration-on-the-trans-pacific-partnership-agreement-access-to-medicines/

TPPA Campaign: Fair Deal or No Deal! http://aftinet.org.au/cms/trans-pacific-partnership-agreement

Women and Globalization: The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement http://aftinet.org.au/cms/sites/default/files/Women%20and%20Globalisation%20Seminar%20Flyer.pdf

New Zealand not for Sale: Absolutely Positively No TPPA http://www.nznotforsale.org/2013/02/18/tppwatch-bulletin-28/

Council of Canadians protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership http://rabble.ca/blogs/bloggers/brent-patterson/2012/12/update-council-canadians-protests-trans-pacific-partnership

Now is the Time to Justifiably Protest the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) http://economyincrisis.org/content/now-is-the-time-to-justifiably-protest-the-trans-pacific-partnership-tpp

TPP Protest from Lima, Peru during the October Negotiating Round http://infojustice.org/archives/5893


[1] State-owned enterprises (SOEs) are enterprises directly or indirectly owned by governments. Governments may provide the businesses with advantages not enjoyed by private counterparts hindering competition. It remains unclear at this point what provisions on SOE may take, but the US has been pushing to ensure SOEs operate on a commercial basis and address potential trade and investment barriers by making sure that SOEs receive no competitive advantages beyond those enjoyed by private sector companies.

[2] If adopted, the provision on regulatory coherence encouraged governments to conduct regulatory impact assessments (RIA) that would assess need for a given regulation, conduct cost-benefit analysis and assess alternatives to regulation. The initiative stems from the proliferation of regulatory and non-tariff barriers, which have become major hurdles for business gaining access to foreign markets. The objective is to improve regulatory practices and eliminate unnecessary barriers.

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 05 March 2013 11:19
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