After years of careful negotiating, and a weekend of touch-and-go final detailing, 12 Pacific Rim countries agreed in principle this morning to the makings of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the largest free trade agreement in global history knocking down trade barriers for 800 million people and about 40 per cent of the world’s economy. Conservative leader Stephen Harper was pleased with the deal saying, “This deal is, without any doubt whatsoever, in the best interests of the Canadian economy.” Great! So what’s in it? Nobody outside the governments that negotiated it know.
But there have been leaks! As reported by CBC, tariffs that block access to overseas markets on items like beef, fish, canola, and forestry products, will be reduced or eliminated over the next decade and a half. As well, Canadian companies will be able to bid on government procurement projects in other countries. On the flipside, the door will be open for foreign poultry, eggs, and dairy products, and the total amount of cost and parts in cars made in North America will be reduced to 40 per cent under TPP as opposed to the current 60 per cent under NAFTA.
The consequence for Canadians may be that locally produced milk, cheese, and other products protected by our current agricultural supply-management system will be undermined by a flood of cheaper goods, particularly from the United States and New Zealand. As for the auto sector, tariff free cars sold in North America will now only need to have 40 per cent parts and content over the previous 60 per cent bench mark enshrined in NAFTA, which the TPP will replace.
What does that mean? Well, according to representatives of the auto sector, it could mean 20,000 lost jobs because not only will car manufacturing be more inclined to move off-shore, the production of car parts could too. “It is outrageous that the Harper Conservatives have signed a deal that would allow the majority of a car to be made in China, yet still come into Canada tariff-free,” said Jerry Dias, the national president of Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector.
“No spin from the Harper Conservatives to claim the TPP as a victory can be taken seriously when upwards of 20,000 auto jobs are going to be lost,” he added.
However, that’s just the tip of the TPP iceberg. In the end, Harper is promising support to both the farming and auto industries with bailouts that will help them make the transition to a more competitive global marketplace, but there maybe more serious consequences for all Canadians. For instance, in 2013 the Electronic Freedom Foundation called the TPP “one of the worst global threats to the internet.”
“The TPP is likely to export some of the worst features of U.S. copyright law to Pacific Rim countries: a broad ban on breaking digital locks on devices and creative works (even for legal purposes), a minimum copyright term of the lifetime of the creator plus seventy years (the current international norm is the lifetime plus fifty years), privatization of enforcement for copyright infringement, ruinous statutory damages with no proof of actual harm, and government seizures of computers and equipment involved in alleged infringement,” wrote Katitza Rodriguez and Maira Sutton.
Basically, internet providers will be expected to police their services to find out if you’re downloading The Martian on Pirate Bay, or Bit Torrent, or whatever equivalent service is currently in business. Even if just one complaint is made against content posted on a site like Facebook or YouTube, it will be up to those sites to take it down. Provisions in the TPP also specifically target journalists and whistleblowers, as a Wikileaks post revealed that anyone found to be leaking details of the deal could be subjected to “criminal prosecution for unauthorized disclosure of trade secrets.'”
Finally, those same intellectual property protection provisions could have a big impact on your medical bills, as the new rules could stop or slow the slow of generic drugs in order to more tightly protect the patents of drug companies. This, according to Doctors Without Borders, could throw up more walls to cheap and plentiful drugs that can be accessed by people worldwide.
“These protectionist provisions would buttress the American pharmaceutical industry against competition, an extension of the industry’s long-running campaign that will jeopardize access to price-lowering generic drugs and stifle innovation in public health,” wrote Rachel Kiddell-Monroe and Stephen Cornish in July 2013. “And because President Barack Obama has referred to the TPP as a ‘model not just for countries in the Pacific region, but for the world generally,’ there is the alarming possibility that the deal’s intellectual property provisions will set a dangerous precedent and weaken access to medicines worldwide.”
On the other hand though, at least Obama is assuring U.S. lawmakers that they will have a chance to examine the trade deal, facing populist revolts on both the right and the left with presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders each weary of the implications of the deal. Here in Canada, it won’t be much easier for Harper to get the deal through if he should happen to be returned to office with a minority government.
“I will not be bound by Stephen Harper’s secret deals,” said NDP leader Tom Mulcair while making a campaign stop in Toronto. Mulciar said that he will not “sell out” either the auto industry, or Canada’s dairy farmers. “I will fight for your community, I will fight for your jobs.”
“The Green Party is against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” said Green Party leader Elizabeth May in a statement last week. “It is an Investor State agreement that threatens Canada’s sovereignty. In 2012 we signed a joint statement of Green Party parliamentarians throughout the region to express our serious concern at the fundamentally undemocratic and non-transparent nature of the TPP agreement. The TPP negotiations are yet another disturbing example of Harper’s pattern of unaccountable, secretive, and undemocratic practices.”
Liberal leader Justin Trudeau meanwhile took a more even handed approach. “We know that trade is important for jobs, good-paying jobs, and for economic growth,” he explained saying that the agreement needs to be examined and vetted before he will render a final judgment, but seeing as how the deal involves three out of Canada’s top five trading partners, it can’t simply be ignored. “We will demonstrate the kind of openness and responsibility that, quite frankly we haven’t had in 10 years of Stephen Harper’s government,” he added.
There’s the rub. The TPP basically paints Canada between a rock and a hard place. Yes, Canada’s Parliament can refuse to ratify the deal, but will that protect Canadian jobs, or just make us economically vulnerable? The answer to that question may be moot if the United States Congress doesn’t ratify it, an event that seems equal parts likely and unlikely give the volatility of politics presently south of the border. And on top of it all, we still don’t know for certain what’s in it. All the details we know are either leaks or just the broad strokes confirmed in government announcements. “What are the complete details of the deal?” is a question that sadly remains unanswered.