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Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP): Background, commentaries & media coverage on human rights concerns

Background

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim nations: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, United States, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, and New Zealand, with the potential for other states, namely China and Thailand, to join.  The agreement is the largest of its kind to date, covering 40% global GDP.  The agreement has been finalised and the full text is now available. 

Proponents of the TPP say that it will boost the international economy by reducing trade barriers across a range of goods and services, which will in turn create new opportunities for businesses and consumers.  With the stated aim of encouraging overseas investment, the TPP includes investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions.  The agreement also makes specific reference to the environment and labour standards, which government bodies have said will promote respect for human rights and the environment. 

Key business & human rights concerns

There has been concern among civil society that the agreement does not do enough to protect and promote respect for human rights and the environment, and in some situations, may be harmful.  Critics warn that the human rights standards in the TPP are unenforceable and the agreement will open the door to abuses by multinational corporations. 

Investor-state dispute settlement

A primary concern is with the ISDS provision, which allows corporations to sue governments when a regulation or governmental action negatively impacts the investment.  Critics say that this provision puts too much power in the hands of corporations and undermines the state sovereignty to legislate, for example, to improve social or environmental protections.  In response to concerns that this mechanism will be used for frivolous claims or when the disputed regulation is for a public purpose, the ISDS provision in TPP has added safeguards including transparency, public participation, expedited review, barring of shell companies, appeals and independent experts, among others.  Additionally, following concerns that governments will be sued for regulations that were made to protect public health (see Phillip Morris v Australia), a state party can elect to deny access to ISDS to foreign investments that are affected by health regulation aimed at tackling tobacco.  However, civil society remains concerned that the threat of expensive lawsuit is enough to create a regulatory chill where governments will refrain from pursuing such social and environmental policies in the first place.

Labour standards

Another concern is that the rich economies in the agreement, such as the US, are opening up their markets to the benefit of countries with poor labour standards.  While the agreement provides that signatories have to meet international standards on labour rights as contained in International Labour Organisation conventions, it lacks specific mechanisms to enforce commitments that governments make on labour rights, and thus states are unlikely to implement these standards if it will have a detrimental impact on their competitiveness, for example by making labour more expensive.

Intellectual property affecting access to medicines, freedom of expression & privacy

Civil society is also concerned about the chapter on intellectual property.  Patent protections included in the treaty may reduce access to medicines in the poorer member states by granting pharmaceutical companies monopoly rights to keep cheap generic medicines off the market.  There are also concerns about digital freedoms and privacy.  Some believe there will be extensive negative impacts on digital users’ freedom of expression and right to privacy. 

Lack of environmental protections

Environmentalists have criticised the TPP for not including enforcement mechanisms for environmental provisions.  The agreement notably does not reference climate change. 

LGBT rights

LGBT groups are also critical of the inclusion of Brunei and Malaysia in the deal, for allowing these governments who have criminalised homosexuality to benefit from having access to a larger consumer market. 

Government webpages

Australia: http://dfat.gov.au/trade/agreements/tpp/pages/trans-pacific-partnership-agreement-tpp.aspx

New Zealand: http://www.tpp.mfat.govt.nz/

USA: https://ustr.gov/tpp/

Singapore: https://www.mti.gov.sg/MTIInsights/Pages/TPP.aspx

Canada: http://www.international.gc.ca/trade-agreements-accords-commerciaux/agr-acc/tpp-ptp/index.aspx?lang=eng

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Article
31 March 2014

Trans-Pacific Partnership Must Safeguard Human Rights

Author: Jared Genser, Perseus Strategies, in The Diplomat

The TPP, potentially the world’s largest free trade agreement,...would harmonize regulatory standards, including those related to the environment, labor, and intellectual property. As the 12 negotiating countries...discuss the agreement, it is crucial that they prioritize human rights. TPP proponents believe the agreement could create more jobs...The Peterson Institute estimates the TPP would produce $78 billion per year in revenue for the U.S. Yet,...the Center for Economic and Policy Research counters that these gains would disproportionately accrue to the wealthy...and the U.S. economy would see wage losses for all but the top 10% of workers. Regardless, a multitude of human-rights issues arise in the TPP framework. Two of these are particularly troubling: a lack of access to life-saving medical care due to proposed intellectual property provisions, and the failure to address Vietnam’s ongoing human-rights violations.

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Article
19 November 2013

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty is the complete opposite of 'free trade'

Author: Mark Weisbrot, Guardian (UK)

...Laws to protect the environment, food safety, consumers (from monopoly pricing), and other public interest concerns can now be traded away in "trade" negotiations. And US law must be made to conform to the treaty...[T]he latest draft of the "intellectual property" chapter of the agreement, one of 24 (out of 29) chapters that do not have to do with trade. This chapter has provisions that will make it easier for pharmaceutical companies to get patents, including in developing countries; have these patents for more years; and extend the ability of these companies to limit access to the scientific data that is necessary for other researchers to develop new medicines. And the United States is even pushing for provisions that would allow surgical procedures to be patented – provisions that may be currently against US law...One part of the TPP that shows why negotiators want to minimize public awareness of the agreement consists of provisions giving corporations the right...to directly sue governments for regulations that infringe upon their profits or potential profits...US corporate interests are, rather obviously in this case, driving the agenda of the TPP...

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Article
6 September 2012

Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement Must Uphold Core Principles of Human Rights

Author: Amnesty International

Negotiators from nine countries gathering outside Washington, D.C. to draft a new Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement must ensure that any new rules on copyright and patents adhere to core principles of transparency and uphold human rights, Amnesty International said today. “No one has the right to trade away our hard-fought legal protections for free speech and the right to health, and much less to do it behind closed doors,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director for Amnesty International USA. “It is time for TPP negotiators to show the public their cards and, more importantly, the draft text of the agreement.” ...[Draft] TPP provisions related to patents for pharmaceuticals risk stifling the development and production of generic medicines... “Access to life-saving medicines is a right, not a privilege...,” Nossel said.

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Article
14 March 2011

Why We Should Care about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

Author: Glyn Moody, Computer World (UK)

...[W]hat is becoming quite clear is that each new agreement seeks to use existing treaties as a kind of bare minimum, and then to apply the copyright and patent ratchets to push for even more. Indeed, it is striking how all these treaties are based on the unspoken assumption that intellectual monopolies will only ever be strengthened: there's never any question of giving more rights to users...The constant extension of copyright terms and patent reach is nothing less than an enclosure of the commons of ideas; agreements like ACTA and TPP are not abstractly adding to something, but taking away – from you and me...This is why even here on the other side of the globe we must be gravely concerned by developments like TPP: if we don't raise awareness of the threats it poses to an intellectual commons that is universal and not just limited to the Pacific basin, and help people fight against it in the countries involved, we will surely find ourselves confronting very similar proposals in a few years' time, and with the battle already half lost.

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Article
30 November 2010

[PDF] The TPPA and Indigenous Peoples: Lessons From Latin America

Author: José Aylwin, in "No Ordinary Deal - Unmasking the Trans-Pacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement", Edited by Jane Kelsey

On 14 November 2009 in Tokyo, President Obama confirmed US support for a Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement with the goal of shaping a regional agreement with ‘high standards worthy of a 21st century trade agreement’...Little or no information on this initiative is available in Latin America. Indigenous peoples of the region, who have strongly opposed free trade agreements with the US and other leading economies that were signed by several states in the region in the last few years, are even less informed of its existence. Their opposition is rooted in experience...FTAs have triggered investment in natural resource extraction in their lands and territories, with devastating implications for many of their communities. Protest against such investments has been repressed and criminalised...This chapter analyses the efforts of the US government in the last two decades to expand its free trade model throughout the Americas...It examines the implications of that model and its implementation for indigenous peoples...It focuses in particular on the FTAs entered into by the US with Mexico, Chile and Peru. The final section...focuses on the arguments made by indigenous peoples and by human rights analysts when rejecting the imposition of previous FTAs in violation of obligations arising from international human rights treaties...[refers to Codelco, Barrick Gold, Cerro Colorado (subsidiary of BHP Billiton)]

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