Click here to sign the petition at ItsNotRight.org.nz
What a difference a day makes! Two king hits on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement yesterday. The late August version of the intellectual property chapter was posted on Wikileaks. And three quarters of Obama’s Democrats in the House of Representatives sent him a letter pledging they would vote against any attempt to get fast track authority for the TPPA.
Hardly a good omen for the crunch meeting of chief negotiators and hundreds of officials that starts in Salt Lake City next Tuesday! They are supposed to prepare the platform for Tim Groser and the other 11 trade ministers to begin horse-trading in Singapore from 7-9 December. No government in their right mind would do a deal with the US without fast track. But the leak makes it clear that the key chapters are in no shape for that to happen anyway.
How serious is the damage to the end game?
The intellectual property chapter is in trouble because it has nothing to do with trade. It is about the US colonising other countries by forcing them to change their laws to boost the profits of 20th century mega-corporations. The scope impacts on the whole gamut of every nation’s commercial and community life: patents for medicines, copyright, including digital locks and parallel imports, trade marks for tobacco labelling, criminal penalties for violations and rights over indigenous knowledge. The US still has place-savers for several highly controversial further demands, notably on biologic products, which involve genes and living cells. Nicky Hager has a great summary in the NZ Herald. For more detail see KEIonline, Public Citizen Access to Medicines, and Chile’s Digitales.
The leak exposed three things. First, how little progress has been made since the last leak over a year ago. The chapter has 95 pages with 296 footnotes and 941 brackets that show lack of agreement. Despite all the attempts to talk up progress, this chapter is firmly stuck. The State-owned Enterprises chapter, which is the other one known to be at stalemate, is shorter but equally fraught. Technically, there should be no way they can finish either chapter with one or two more rounds of negotiations, even if they are given political instructions to do so.
Second, this chapter is largely the US against the rest. Japan is the most onside. The US is already planning to divide and rule by offering the poorer countries more time to meet the ‘gold standard’. That leaves the OECD countries, all of which except Japan and New Zealand are already partway there because they have US FTAs. A deal by the ministers in Singapore would mean massive capitulation or concessions from the US that Obama can get past the Congress. Hence the importance of domestic pressure on the governments not to cave. The leak makes that easier, because any final outcome could be compared against positions being taken now. Even countries with US FTAs are holding out. Notably, the frontrunner in Chile’s Presidential elections this coming weekend, Michele Bachelet, has said the TPPA must not be a backdoor way for the US to get what Chile resisted before, and has called for a review of the negotiations.
Third, the leak has forced the major political parties to take a clearer position on secrecy and releasing the draft text. Question time in the House yesterday was great – although both Key and Groser were absent, leaving Gerry Brownlie to field the questions. Winston Peters took charge, but Phil Goff chimed in at the end with a supplementary that asked why New Zealand had to hear this from Wikileaks rather than the government. He said the same in a formal press release. Even more significant, Goff conceded – perhaps unintentionally – that unless the text is released before it is signed, new Zealand will not have a say until it is too late. Then David Cunliffe said on TV3: ‘The current draft is unacceptable. We certainly won’t support the agreement until we’ve seen a full draft’. Hopefully, this signals that Labour will actually take a firm stand on releasing the draft text. We’ll see.
The second bombshell is a letter signed by three quarters of Obama’s own Democrats in the House of Representatives pledging to oppose any request for fast-track authority to get the TPPA through Congress. Fast track, otherwise known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to accept the final TPPA deal or reject it, in toto, and not to cherry pick the parts they want and block what they do not like. No major deal has been passed without fast track in recent decades.
The Democrats’ rebellion means Obama would have to rely on the Republicans. The Tea Party has already launched its anti-fast track campaign, and opposes the Trade Adjustment Assistance programme that provides extended unemployment benefits and job retraining to US workers who lose their jobs to trade.
According to the New York Times on 12 November, “Other members have signaled their opposition independently, meaning that roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of House members have signaled, sight unseen, that they do not support the regional trade pact.”
This reflects the politics of the House of Representatives, which is driven by constituencies, lobbyists and funders, almost more than by party affiliation. Members are elected every two years. Their priorities, often linked to campaign funds, range from dairy, tobacco, pharmaceutical monopolies and mining to environment, offshoring of jobs, food safety and reining in the finance industry. They are also pissed off at the unprecedented limits on access to the negotiating process and draft text (although they still have more access than any New Zealand MPs have.)
Obama first said he wanted Congress to give him Fast Track during State of the Nation address in February 2013. Eight months later he still has not introduced a bill. Even if they had a bill and Congress was willing, there is no chance fast track could be approved this year. The House of Representatives has only 15 sitting days left for 2013 before they go on a month-long New Year break. The toxic battle over the debt ceiling will dominate politics during February 2014.
Where does this leave next week’s jamboree in Salt Lake City and the trade ministers’ gaming table in Singapore? No government in it’s right mind would make any commitments to the US in this environment. Will they walk away? No. Will they capitulate? Not if we make it too hard for them to do so.
POSTCRIPT: The petition for releasing the text has been left open until the end of the month, to be released just before Groser takes off to the trade ministers’ meeting. It hit 14,000 along with over 11,000 letters from Greenpeace supporters. Groser told TVNZ: ‘there’s absolutely no support for putting these texts out in the public’. Let’s make him eat his words.