Trade justice activists in the United States greeted a 14th round of Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations in Leesburg, Virginia this week with calls to release the TPP text. Many of the same groups also participated in a Sunday stakeholder session, organized by the United States Trade Representative, which gives supporters and critics of the TPP an opportunity, however limited, to present their concerns directly to negotiators from the nine current participating countries.
For example, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network was there to warn TPP delegates from countries without an existing bilateral investment treaty with the United States that they would be vulnerable under the agreement to corporate lawsuits against public health measures. Australia is now before international investment arbitration for plain packaging rules on cigarettes that Philip Morris International claims violate the terms of an investment treaty between Australia and Hong Kong.
"The Philip Morris company's persistence with the investor state dispute settlement case shows such procedures are a threat to democratically enacted legislation and national judicial decisions," said Patricia Ranald of the network during her presentation in Leesburg, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald. Australia is alone in opposing an investor-state dispute settlement process among the nine current TPP countries, but many of the international groups challenging the negotiations hope other countries can be convinced to support that position.
According to Inside US Trade, a subscription-only online digest devoted to covering trade and investment negotiations, "At a political level, Australia's demand that it be excluded from the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism that is expected to be part of a final TPP deal remains one of the major controversies surrounding the investment talks." U.S. business groups are apparently "fighting hard to support the USTR demand that Australia agree to be covered by the investor-state provision."
Embassy Magazine reported this week on a non-partisan U.S. Congressional report suggesting the TPP "will have to navigate several rough patches before coming to a deal," and that "the talks could generate controversy over services, tobacco, intellectual property, labour and worker's rights, the environment, and dispute settlements-among other areas in the potential deal's 26 chapters under negotiation."
From the impact of the TPP's services chapter on health care and other public services, to the enforcement of labour rights and environmental rules, to carve-outs for certain tobacco control measures, to access to Canadian and U.S. dairy markets (American producers want to sell in Canada, New Zealand producers want to sell in America, both will likely be disappointed in the end), to pharmaceutical and copyright provisions in the intellectual property chapter… there are many, many ways this ship can run aground, not the least of which is the growing international opposition to mega-free trade and investment deals like the TPP and almost identical Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
You can tell a trade negotiation's getting bogged down when they start talking about how much progress they're making. Speaking on the outskirts of the APEC forum in Russia last week, U.S. Deputy Trade Representative Demetrios Marantis said, "We've made a tonne of progress over the past year and we've reached a point now where we have many challenging issues that we have to address." Marantis joined other TPP trade ministers, including Canada's Ed Fast, to rub the TPP in China's face, essentially -- flaunting this one particular, big, U.S.-led deal over others, like an ASEAN+6, which would be guided more by China.
"In TPP we are trying to establish a club with high standards and stringent dress codes. All governments involved will have to take some tough decisions if we are to get there," said New Zealand Prime Minister John Key at the APEC summit. While Canada and Mexico were desperate to join that club, Japan is being wooed two ways and has yet to commit to either the TPP or a broader Asian free trade arrangement. It's also the case that Canada is moving independently of the TPP, with Harper signing a Foreign Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement with China during the APEC summit. (The FIPA text, whatever it looks like, will be posted to the DFAIT website by the end of September. We still don't know, for example, if it contains an investor-state dispute settlement process as in NAFTA and most of Canada's FIPAs.)
We can't write off the possibility that the TPP will succeed where it should probably fail. In that case, the deal could be even worse for Canada because of our compromised negotiating position. There has been talk of having as many TPP chapters as possible closed by the end of 2012. Canada and Mexico, as latecomers to the TPP, have no authority to re-open concluded texts and have no veto power in closing texts and moving on if the other nine members feel they are ready. Canada and Mexico will officially join the TPP in mid-October, and will be at the 15th negotiating round, expected to take place in New Zealand.
The U.S.-based Citizens Trade Campaign and OpenMedia.ca gave those who couldn't make it to the stakeholder session or protests this week (including hoseheads like me) a chance to send short messages to TPP negotiators through an action the Council of Canadians posted to its website last week. You can read some of the resulting comments still streaming on the OpenMedia.ca website.
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