[A2k] SciDev: Activists fear trade deal’s impacts on the Pacific rim

Thiru Balasubramaniam thiru at keionline.org
Fri Jan 3 03:54:22 PST 2014


 *http://www.scidev.net/global/trade/feature/activists-fear-trade-deal-s-impacts-on-the-pacific-rim.html
<http://www.scidev.net/global/trade/feature/activists-fear-trade-deal-s-impacts-on-the-pacific-rim.html>*

[BANGKOK/BUENOS AIRES] Recent
trade<http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/trade/> talks
between 12 countries in the Pacific rim, expected to continue next year
after unsuccessful negotiations last month, have sparked dissent on both
sides of the Pacific.

Campaigners from Latin America and South-East Asia fear the talks could
further restrict internet freedoms and limit access to generic
medicines<http://www.scidev.net/global/health/news/pacific-free-trade-agreement-threat-to-generic-drugs-.html>by
extending big companies’ grip on intellectual property
(IP)<http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/intellectual-property/>
.

The negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement have
been secretive, but a draft chapter on IP was leaked in November by media
organisation WikiLeaks, fuelling concerns over the ramifications of the
proposed deal.

“The vital lifeline of affordable generic medicines that millions depend on
could be severely constrained by the terms of the trade pact,” the medical
aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières said in a statement last month.

The organisation said that US demands for clinical
data<http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/data/> for
some medicines to be locked up for 12 years would grant additional monopoly
protection to biopharmaceutical firms.

This would delay approvals of generic versions of drugs, it added. The
Geneva-based organisation urged the countries involved in the negotiations
to reject provisions that will harm access to medicines, saying the current
terms of the agreement will restrict access to affordable medicines for
millions of people.

Worries in South-East Asia
Trade negotiators arrived in Singapore last month for another round of
talks on the TPP, a planned 12-country trade agreement led by the United
States that involves four countries — Brunei Darussalam, Malaysia,
Singapore and Vietnam — from the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian
Nations (ASEAN).

Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru are also
taking part.

US officials say the free-trade deal would include “high-standard”
provisions on labour rights, healthcare and the
environment<http://www.scidev.net/global/environment/>,
while also catalysing long-needed reforms of the state-owned
enterprises<http://www.scidev.net/global/enterprise/> that
dominate some Asian economies.
“In all of our trade agreements, it is made clear that all countries have a
right to regulate in the interest of
thehealth<http://www.scidev.net/global/health/>,
safety and environmental protection of their people,” US trade
representative Michael Froman told reporters on a conference call in August.

But activists in several countries warn that the agreement, if signed,
would restrict the availability of essential goods and services such as
medicines <http://www.scidev.net/global/health/medicine/>, seeds and
internet access in parts of South-East Asia and the wider developing world,
with dire consequences for millions of people.

“South-East Asian countries that are able to undercut China in wages and
working conditions may gain some relatively short-term jobs out of the TPP,
but they would have to trade away affordable healthcare, domestic
agriculture and much of their national sovereignty in exchange,” says
Arthur Stamoulis, executive director of Citizens Trade Campaign, a
Washington-based coalition of US advocacy groups.

Intellectual property laws in much of South-East Asia are weak compared
with similar laws in the United States, so opponents of the TPP worry that
it would allow multinational corporations to bend local laws to their
advantage, typically by asserting a legal right to protect their
intellectual property.

Health concerns
For example, the TPP could allow multinational tobacco companies to block
future government attempts to require larger labels on cigarette packaging
that warn of smoking’s health effects, says Mary Assunta, senior policy
advisor at the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance. She adds that 127
million adults already smoke in the ASEAN region, and a fresh uptick in
smoking there would have major public-health impacts.

The trade deal would also strengthen the hand of international
pharmaceutical companies and reduce public access to generic medicines,
says Saunthari Somasundaram, president of the National Cancer Society
Malaysia.

The cost of medicine is already a major burden to affordable healthcare in
Malaysia, where 80 per cent of the population receives healthcare through
government hospitals or clinics, Saunthari adds, and generic medicines are
a life-saving resource for many low-income patients.

“We are opposed to any regulations that will diminish the ability of
[Malaysia], which is a developing country, to effectively treat cancer and
safeguard the health of its people,” she tells *SciDev.Net*.

Digital rights
The TPP would also restrict freedom in the digital realm, according to
Jeremy Malcolm, senior policy officer at Consumers International, a
London-based advocacy group representing consumer groups in 120 countries.

Malcolm says the deal would permit internet service providers to monitor
private photos or videos if the material were suspected of infringing on
copyrights.

This, he says, “is problematic from a privacy perspective. To lock [in]
this capability of trade law without a full review of the privacy
implications is disturbing.”

In Singapore last month (7-10 December), the TPP countries failed to reach
a deal, but vowed to continue their long-running negotiations in 2014.
Michael Froman, the US trade representative, described the four-day talks
as “very successful”.

But Stamoulis of Citizens Trade Campaign tells *SciDev.Net* that developing
countries should carefully study the lessons from previous US-led
free-trade agreements, which he said contributed to rural displacement and
downward pressure on wages, among other problems.

He adds that the competitive advantages developing countries might gain by
joining the TPP are far from assured in the long term, since other nations
could potentially undercut them by signing other free-trade deals with the
United States.

Concerns from Latin America
Francisco Vera, projects director of the Chilean NGO Derechos Digitales
(Digital Rights), argues that the TPP agenda would disturb the way cultural
goods are produced and distributed in Latin America, where legal standards
are already high enough to guarantee authors protection for their work.

The draft TPP agreement would benefit only the industries and the owners of
these rights and not necessarily the authors, he says.

“It represents a serious threat to our internet rights and also to other
rights linked to IP issues,” he says. “The possible advantages that a
country such as Chile might receive from an agreement such as this one are
cancelled out by the TPP’s negative impacts.”

Vera, who leads a campaign to open up discussions on the pact, says that
TPP will make it harder and more expensive to access films, books and wider
knowledge, and stricter provisions for copyright violations will lead to a
drastic fall in such material on the internet.

Although the internet is global, economic and social realities are local
and national, and that must be taken into account, Julio Vega, the director
general of the Mexican Internet Association, tells *SciDev.Net*.

He says the agreement’s intention to restrict the free flow of personal
data for commercial transactions and its request for transnational
companies to have national internet services in every country could hinder
the development of online businesses.

These actions would inhibit widespread internet access in countries such as
Mexico, where just 35 per cent of the population are on the
internet<http://www.scidev.net/global/communication/icts/>,
Vega says.

He says the Mexican Internet Association is not against punishing illegal
activity, but it questions the way the TPP plans to fight digital piracy by
using internet providers to monitor users and enforce laws. Instead,
governments must be responsible for this, he argues.

“The TPP seeks to apply the same norms that already exist in some developed
countries in others which are less developed, and will stop the possibility
of local industries developing knowledge and innovation,” adds Vera.



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