Trans-Pacific Partnership: It’s Worse Than Anyone Thought. Way Worse.

Remember WikiLeaks?

Yeah, WikiLeaks? The pointless, irresponsible, treasonous vanity project of egomaniacal rapist Julian Assange? (At least, according to corporate US media, whose relentless attacks on Assange seemed motivated either by the reflexive need to promote American mythologies or sheer professional jealousy. Or both.)

Yep. That WikiLeaks. Which was never a one-person operation. Which has in the past five years surfaced more damning evidence of corporate and government crimes on six or seven continents than all the world’s corporate media combined. And which, contrary to US media’s narrative, continues to do so even as Assange remains holed up in an embassy in London. And which again this week proved how invaluable it is, and by contrast how hopelessly compromised US media is.

The release this time was the latest draft of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral free trade agreement being pushed hard upon eleven allied governments (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam) by the Obama Administration.

The agreement has been negotiated largely in secret. NGOs around the world have been concerned that the TPP, as an evolving work document, was shaping up as by far the worst free trade agreement ever on a host of fronts. From the WikiLeaks press release:

Few people, even within the negotiating countries’ governments, have access to the full text of the draft agreement and the public, who it will affect most, none at all. Large corporations, however, are able to see portions of the text, generating a powerful lobby to effect changes on behalf of these groups…while the public at large gets no say.

It turns out TPP’s critics were being too generous about the revisions underway. The draft TPP leak should have been front page news in the US, and a major scandal. Instead, US media is pushing 24/7 Ebola Porn (Ebola Does Dallas!), and a major initiative that undermines just about everything the Obama Administration publicly claims to stand for continues to develop in near-secrecy.

How bad is it? Here’s how activist group Knowledge Ecology International describes the WikiLeaks release:

Our first impression in reading the document is the extent to which the United States has sought hundreds of changes in intellectual property norms, some small and subtle, others blunt and aggressive, nearly of all of which favor big corporate right holders, and undermine the public’s freedom to use knowledge….Without the disclosure by Wikileaks, there would be no opportunity to see and debate the actual provisions in the text.

Pandering to corporate right holders, US Ambassador Michael Froman is favoring binding obligations for 95 years of copyright protection for corporate entities, restrictions on copyright exceptions allowed by the Berne Convention, new controls and liability for use of copyrighted works in in-house intranet online services, damages for infringements based upon the “suggested retail price” of goods, expanded third parties liability for infringement, a requirement that compulsory licenses of patents be subject to a restrictive three-step test [see discussion below], 12 years of monopoly in data used to register biologic drugs and vaccines, expanded scope of patent protection for pharmaceutical drugs, vaccines and medical devices, extensions of patent terms beyond 20 years, and obligations of drug regulatory agencies to evaluate and enforce assertions that registered drugs and vaccines infringe on evergreening patents, to mention only a few issues in the 77 page document.

While pushing for radical expansions of the global standards for intellectual property rights, Ambassador Froman is also trying to narrow or eliminate the safeguards found in other intellectual property right agreements. For example, the United States is blocking text that preserves the ability of states to control anti-competitive practices – even though similar language is found in the WTO TRIPS agreement and in other bilateral trade agreements the United States has previously signed.

All of these changes become even more highly significant, because the TPP agreement will be subject to ISDS, a system that allows private investors to sue governments over the agreement — something not allowed in the WTO agreement on intellectual property rights.

What would the impact of some of these changes be? From KEI again:

Ambassador Froman’s proposals on behalf of the United States would not only lock-in many of the worst and most controversial features of U.S. law and export them around the world, but would subject the United States taxpayers to liability from lawsuits from drug companies and publishers over several provisions in U.S. law that are plainly contrary to proposed text in the TPP….Ambassador Froman’s proposals also undermine a key feature of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the provision in the law that limits damages for infringement of patents not disclosed to competitors who register biosimilar products.

Always worth mentioning is the fact that USTR [Froman’s office] is continuing its efforts to prevent countries from limiting certain types of pharmaceutical drug patents that are used to extend drug monopolies (evergreening patents).

That provision – a hard-won exemption in WTO provisions that has allowed third world countries to distribute far less expensive generic versions of patented drugs – has saved literally millions of lives in Africa’s battle against HIV/AIDS alone. It turns out that the Obama Administration, while noisily taking credit for health care reform at home, is pushing hard to reinstate the HIV pandemic that was far, far worse than Africa’s current Ebola crisis – all so that Big Pharma can rake in even more obscene profits. And the extremely restrictive intellectual property provisions also have serious implications for the global Internet, and to what degree information can, or cannot, be shared across international borders.

KEI’s conclusion compares the current Obama push to the corporate-friendly obsession with trade agreements favored by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush:

“President Bush and his trade team did push restrictive language in several trade agreements, but nothing remotely as bad as the current TPP text.”

The Wikileaks release shows the draft TPP language to be much more far-ranging – and scandalous, for both Americans and citizens of the 11 other affected countries, not to mention the rest of the world in provisions which impact global standards – than previously known. It should have been major news. In other affected countries, it was major news. But, you know…WikiLeaks. And, America Number One! And so, once again, as with Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning, and a host of other previous WikiLeaks releases, it will be up to independent media and citizen activists to work to ensure that Americans understand just what our “liberal” administration is up to behind closed doors.

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