Hundreds of tech companies have lined up to oppose the TPP trade agreement, but it may be too little, too late. Too late because Senators voted 62-38 to set up a speedy decision on “fast-track” trade negotiating authority for President Obama, which he needs to complete the TPP deal.
It is also too little, because this opposition by 250 tech companies lacked the power and punch of the giants: Apple, Google Facebook and telecom behemoth, AT&T. Apple and AT&T, by the way, are part of the president’s Trade Advisory Committee which advises him on matters relating to industry, so their absence from any protest is understandable. The TPP is part of Obama’s so-called “pivot to Asia”, a strategy to counter China’s rising economic, political and diplomatic clout in the region.
Many in the tech industry, and privacy advocates, contend that the TPP would create an environment hostile to journalists and whistleblowers, and has prompted the EFF’s Fight for the Future directors to sign the letter opposing the agreement
“TPP’s trade secrets provision could make it a crime for people to reveal corporate wrongdoing through a computer system. The language is dangerously vague, and enables signatory countries to enact rules that would ban reporting on timely, critical issues affecting the public.”
The letter’s signatories specifically criticized the fast track aspect (TPA), and its passage by the Senate, to no avail. This now sets the stage for a simple yes or no vote on the entire TPP, without opportunity for amendment by Congress.
In the vote, thirteen of 44 Democrats joined with the vast majority of Republicans, in large measure due to political manoeuvrings by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who, as an incentive to Democrats, assured them he would schedule a vote to renew the Export-Import Bank’s charter, which expires at the end of June.
This development is an especially hard blow to the efforts of Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Bernie Sanders, who have been most vociferous in their opposition to the TPP. The path to final passage of the overall agreement is yet unclear, but amendments to the final bill (not the fast-tracked TPA) could include sanctions on trading partners that manipulate their currencies – a move which the partners oppose.
Of particular concern to the tech community is the “Investment Chapter”, drafted in 2010 and leaked by Wikileaks. The letter’s signatories argue the provisions would allow corporations to use an international legal system to override national sovereignty,
“The TPP Investment Chapter contains text that would enable corporations to sue nations over democratic rules that allegedly harm expected future profits. Companies can use this process to undermine US rules like fair use, net neutrality, and others designed to protect the free, open internet and users’ rights to free expression online.”
In voicing opposition to the legislation and TPA/Fast Track in particular, Evan Greer, campaign director of EFF’s Fight for the Future said,
“The future of the internet is simply too important to be decided behind closed doors. The Fast Track Trade Promotion Authority process actively silences the voices of internet users, startups, and small tech companies while giving the biggest players even more power to set policy that benefits a few select companies while undermining the health of the entire web.”
The TPP is a contentious issue, to be sure, with people arrayed on each side of the political divide. On one hand it is hard to argue against the advancement of free trade. Indeed many say that the train has already left the station, and that this agreement merely ratifies what is already in motion in the free-world economy. But others, as evidenced by the aforementioned, feel that the “small-fry” will be trampled on in the process, as well as more jobs being lost to firms abroad (as with NAFTA some 20 years ago.)