The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has now been causing debate for seven years. During that time, the secret multinational agreement has gained a somewhat legendary status amongst internet freedom activists and human rights groups, which firmly believe that the now finalized proposal is severely corrupt. Infringes on Internet user privacy rights, and is undemocratic in its expectation of the signatory nations (which include Mexico, Canada, Japan, Singapore and seven more).
Every stage of the process that concluded yesterday in Hawaii occurred behind closed doors and had specifically excluded multi-stakeholder participation. Allowing the agreement to be greedily crafted by the unethical hands of multinational corporations who conjured up its brutal content from deep within the shadows.
The deal affects close to 800 million internet users (40% of the world’s economy), and its content will bring in a wave of restrictions that threaten internet user freedom and seeks to place unwarranted regulations on internet based businesses. Maddeningly, the document will not be available for public scrutiny for thirty days yet because of a Fast Track trade bill passed by the White House. That bill got whipped through earlier this summer, and is an integral part of the US’s ploy to get the TPP ratified and enforced with as little oversight as possible.
Despite keen efforts to keep it hidden, however, various leaks of the document have been acquired. In April, leaked documents revealed that multinational corporations will be able to use a tribunal to subvert national interests to their whim. If any new laws are passed within signatory nations (at federal, state, or local level) that step on the TPP’s toes, the tribunal can be called on to undermine those local democratic decisions. Then there is the ‘Investor-State Dispute Settlement,’ (ISDS) which could, in theory, allow foreign companies to get huge payouts at the expense of US taxpayers by challenging US laws from outside the country without even stepping into a court – another win for corporations over citizens.
As recently as August, a leaked copy of the TPP had a worrying Intellectual Property chapter that proponents of Internet freedom have severely condemned. That section specifies that the eleven nations involved in the agreement must take on the US’s most severe and controversial copyright laws. Among those, the already loathed Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), which thanks to the TPP will now be a requisite for all signatory nations.
On top of that, the final document is expected to contain a retroactive 20-year copyright term extension. Minimum copyright terms of the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years (it currently stands at lifetime plus 50 years). A ban on circumventing DRM (digital locks placed on creative works and devices such as smartphones). Unnecessarily severe punishments for copyright infringement (that would criminalize fan site content amongst other things), and rules to criminalize the actions of whistleblowers and investigative journalists that expose wrongful corporate actions ‘through a computer system’.
Maira Sutton of the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) – an organisation that has been vocal in its opposition of TPP throughout – explains that Hollywood, publishers, tech companies and other multinationals have capitalised on the negotiation’s lack of transparency to ‘pass rules that they could not otherwise get away with in an open, participatory process.’
Despite these far-reaching repercussions, the pact has been birthed into existence within a bubble positioned well beyond the reach of the elected US democracy. Seeking to create from those safe confines, new and frightening forces for corporate control over nations. Nations whose right to act in their best interests is forced onto the back seat for the sake of multinational corporation’s profits.
The land of the free it would appear, considers democracy a thing that must be forced on some countries (specifically regimes with leadership and allies that are opposed by the US corporate puppet masters and lobby groups). While at the same time (contrary to its often quoted rhetoric for war), insisting that a tribunal under corporate control be given the right to trump national laws if it sees fit. Apparently, because that should be considered safer than the dangerous possibility of Chinese economic influence in the region.
A campaign group called Expose the TPP also opposes the way the proposal puts pressure on ISPs, who under the provisions would have to take down web content if asked to do so just once by a corporation that feels it is having a copyright violated,
‘Under the TPP proposal, Internet Service Providers could be required to ‘police’ user activity (i.e. police YOU), take down internet content, and cut people off from internet access for common user-generated content’
One positive aspect of the deal is the requirement that nations like Malaysia and Vietnam must completely adhere to international rules on environmental and labor standards. Enforcing as a must provisions set out by the International Labor Organization’s restriction on child, and forced, labour. As well as the imposition of minimum wages and workplace safety standard norms.
For now, Congress has got the opportunity to look over the 30 chapter trade agreement and decide whether it will ratify, or veto the deal. EFF is asking people to tweet ideas for banners; that it will fly at a march against the TPP in Washington, in a last gasp effort to make Congress listen to the little people. Considering the length of time that this deal has been in the making, however, anything but a win for corporate America seems so much of an impossible fantasy that it sadly does not even seem worth contemplating.