[A2k] Carey L. Biron: Next Round of Pacific Trade Pact Talks to Be Lengthy, Secretive

Manon Ress manon.ress at keionline.org
Tue May 8 09:07:43 PDT 2012


Next Round of Pacific Trade Pact Talks to Be Lengthy, Secretive
By Carey L. Biron
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=107696

WASHINGTON, May 7, 2012 (IPS) - On Tuesday, the latest round of
negotiations begins on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),
potentially the largest free trade agreement ever signed by the United
States.

Despite claims by the U.S. government of considerable transparency in
the process, the talks, being held in Dallas, are covering material
that has remained almost completely out of the public's eye.

"Because the negotiations have been conducted in extreme secrecy, we
have no idea yet what is in the text," says Rashmi Rangnath, a
director with Public Knowledge, an advocacy group here in Washington.
"What we do know is that lack of transparency tends to skew the text
of such agreements in favour of large corporations."

Although a draft of the chapter on intellectual property rights was
leaked in February, much of the rest of the 26 chapters have been kept
away from public scrutiny.

Some outside of the negotiations have had significant time with the
chapters, however. Early drafts of TPP content have reportedly been
discussed at length with large corporate interests, such as 20th
Century Fox, which has a key stake in intellectual property-related
regulations.

Thus far, the justification for this secrecy has been minimal.
"Basically we have been told two things," Rangnath says. "First, that
this is precedent. And second, that this level of secrecy is necessary
during negotiations in order to arrive at a compromise."

The TPP would be a free trade agreement between the U.S. and eight
Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New
Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada, Japan and Mexico are
also expected to join the talks, although the Japanese have yet to
make a final decision on the matter.

In addition, the possibility of future Indian and Chinese
participation is being held out as a far-off though, for many,
tantalising prospect.

Proponents suggest that, if the TPP passes, it could boost intra-
regional trade by more than a trillion dollars per year by 2025.

While the official talks are to be held May 11-13, the full 12th round
is said to be stretching from May 8-18. This is an unusually lengthy
period for face-to-face negotiations, particularly given that the 11th
round took place only two months ago, in March in Australia.

According to observers, the administration of President Barack Obama
is pushing for as many such rounds as possible before the end of the
year, in an attempt to bull through the far-reaching agreement.

It is unclear whether that timetable is possible, however, as pushback
against the TPP has continued in recent months, from both governments
and civil society.

Over the past week alone, members of the U.S. government have urged
President Obama to alter certain draft provisions of the agreement,
while a U.S. business lobbyist has rued a great "gap between the
ambitious vision of our leaders and what is being proposed at the
negotiating table."

Longstanding criticism also has yet to abate. Much of this comes from
the fact that, for most countries, the TPP would not offer many trade
benefits – including, most importantly, greater access to U.S.
markets.

Simultaneously, U.S. negotiators are pushing for significant
concessions from potential members.

"This is very unusual for a free trade agreement," says Sean Flynn,
director of the Information Justice Program at American University
here in Washington. "There is very little 'carrot'" to counteract some
of the more strident compromises.

Flynn points out that Chile, Australia, Singapore and Peru have each
expressed public reticence over the current contours of the TPP, given
that these countries already have expansive trade agreements with the
United States.

"This means that Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia would pay the highest
cost," he suggests.

According to what has been seen from the leaked chapter on
intellectual property rights, Flynn warns, the TPP appears to be
pushing a "maximalist", enforcement-focused approach.

This directly counters the "development agenda" that has been evolved
in institutions such as the U.N.'s World Intellectual Property
Organisation (WIPO), through processes involving significant input by
developing countries, outside of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

"The U.S. clearly wants to go beyond international standards on
intellectual property – beyond WIPO," says Krista Cox, an attorney at
Knowledge Ecology International, an NGO here in Washington.

For developing countries, some of the most direct impacts of this
expansion of punitive powers over intellectual property could be on
health issues.

While U.S. global health policy has seen significant strengthening
over the past five years, passage of the TPP "would start rolling this
back," warns Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines
Program at Public Citizen, a consumer advocacy group here.

Worldwide over the past 10 years, prices for HIV-related medicines,
for instance, have fallen by 99 percent, largely driven by competition
from generic drugs. While the fight against generics by large
pharmaceutical interests has largely shifted away from the WTO,
Maybarduk suggests, the TPP agreement signals the next iteration of
that effort.

"The TPP could well be the worst that we have seen," Maybarduk says.
"Not only does it run contrary to the U.S.'s own pledges on global
AIDS work, but the TPP will set the template for the entire Asia-
Pacific region. That could have an impact on half of the world's
population."


-- 
Manon Anne Ress
Knowledge Ecology International
1621 Connecticut Ave, NW, Suite 500
Washington, DC 20009 USA
http://www.keionline.org
manon.ress at keionline.org




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