A Partnership for Corporate Power?

Coming soon: the TPPA, a charter of corporate rights infringing on your rights

By Joanna Santa Barbara | 2014-04-01 12:00:00

There is perhaps a need to justify an article on a so-called trade agreement in Peace Magazine. The linkages are clear. Conditions for peace within and between societies include freedom of communication media, primacy of public good over special interests in governance, a degree of economic equality, regulation of resource extraction, and conduct of foreign policy according to democratic principles rather than corporate interests. All of these are threatened by negotiations currently underway in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA or TPP).

Rather than establish a fair global regime of rules governing trade, there has been a race to forge multiple trade charters between groups of nations. Corporations, which obviously have major interests in international trade, and often powerfully influence negotiating governments, have tacked on to these charters elaborate clauses advancing their interests, often at direct cost to public good. Many of these “trade agreements” have “investor-state dispute mechanisms” (ISDMs) built into them to resolve conflicts. This may sound like a sensible provision until one understands their power to override national legislation by an offshore “court“comprising a handful of corporate lawyers. The history of concluded cases makes sorry reading, with Canadian populations forced to accept toxic additives to petrol and lawn chemicals outlawed in Canada. There have been hundreds of such cases under presently standing trade agreements. A TPPA can be expected to lead to many more.

The TPPA involves Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, USA and Vietnam. It is being negotatiated in utmost secrecy. Even legislators of negotiating countries have not been allowed to see it. In February of this year there was a protest by legislators from seven of the twelve participating countries, including Canada, calling for release of the draft text before agreement. The Federal NDP and the Canadian Greens endorsed this call.

There have been leaks of a few of its 29 chapters-on intellectual property, “investor-state dispute mechanisms” and environment. The content of these leaked chapters has caused great alarm.

Intellectual Property

The leaked chapter on this topic shows that internet service providers (ISPs) would be required to police and censor content. There is said to be provision for removal of content and entire websites, and heavy fines for infringements of intellectual property rules. US is a net exporter of digital information and will be the only country to benefit from these rules.

The University of Ottawa’s Michael Geist says on his website “The extension in the term of copyright would mean no new works would enter the public domain in Canada until at least 2034 (assuming an agreement takes effect in 2014). Many important authors would be immediately affected since their works are scheduled to enter the public domain in 2014-2034. These include Canadians such as Marshall McLuhan, Gabrielle Roy, Donald Creighton, and Glenn Gould … Given the potential to make those works more readily accessible to new generations once they enter the public domain, extending the term of copyright as potentially required by the TPP would have a dramatic negative effect on access to Canadian literature and history.”


It is believed that the TPPA will threaten minimum wage, other labor rights, human rights, and that, having the purpose of increasing the flow of money to corporations, it will increase economic inequality with all its consequent adverse impacts.


In contrast to the heavy enforcement provisions built into chapters on intellectual property and on investment, the provisions for enforcement on environmental issues are described as weak and ineffective. The major concern is that where corporate interests conflict with environmental concerns, especially in the arena of climate change, corporations will have the upper hand enforced by the TPPA.

National sovereignty in domestic and foreign policy

Warning of the freezing effect of a TPPA on legislation for the public good can be seen in recent health legislation in New Zealand. Note that this is occurring before a TPPA even exists. In February this year, the NZ parliament passed a bill mandating plain packaging of cigarettes-a measure known from research to decrease the attractiveness of smoking, particularly for the young. The vote was 118-1, but the bill has been put on hold awaiting the outcome of the legal suit of Philip Morris tobacco corporation against the Australian government for similar legislation. This story shows to what lengths corporations will go to override public good. There is no ISDM between Australia and the US, where Philip Morris is based. The company moved its assets to Hong Kong, which has a free trade agreement with Australia including an ISDM, and sued from there. This suit may take years to resolve, depriving populations in both Australia and NZ of the benefits of legislation for public health.

There has long been concern among peace analysts about the influence on governments of large corporations involved in resource extraction (fossil fuels, ores, timber). Their thumbs on the scales weighing decisions on war and peace have been the topics of many analyses. “Trade agreements” such as the TPPA further entrench their influence over legislation of all kinds. There is little legislation that doesn’t affect trade in some way. The hordes of corporate lobbyists in the halls of power will likely receive a great boost to their power from the TPPA, if it comes into being.

Resistance to the TPPA

There are significant resistance movements in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, New Zealand, Australia and the US.

The Council of Canadians came early to the field of protest against the TPPA From 2010 they have been warning about it.

The Council of Canadians is not opposed to trade or efforts to expand it through trade agreements. They do, however, join a growing chorus of international voices calling for transparency in the TPP negotiations, and the creation of a new international trade and investment framework that treats quality of life, the creation of good jobs, poverty eradication and ecological sustainability as first principles-not potential barriers to trade as they are considered under the current regime.

To that end, they object to Canada entering into the TPP negotiations, which appear to reinforce the status-quo ideology that says governments should rarely if ever intervene in markets. In fact, the TPP would reproduce the worst parts of Canada’s existing free trade agreements while further shielding corporate activity from needed regulatory and public policy reforms.

The Council of Canadians fears the TPPA will accelerate privatization of public health care and insurance, services long in the voracious sightline of huge US health provision corporations. They foresee the disabling of measures for the conservation of scarce resources (eg water) and a possibly destructive further deregulation of financial services.

This group was very active in the successful resistance to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI) defeated in 1998. The TPPA has been described as the MAI sneaking back under different cover.

Médecins sans Frontières-Canada is extremely alarmed about the impact of a TPPA on provision of low-cost medications to people in developing countries. The intellectual property chapter contains what sound like quite devious methods for prolonging drug patents for many decades, delaying access to effective medications for the poor in all countries. Their short video on this topic calls the TPPA “the most harmful trade agreement ever for affordable medicines.” An organization called Global Treatment Access Group voices similar concerns.

What’s to be done?

The issue is a relatively abstract one, presenting more difficulty than the plight of polar bears, dolphins or sick children in engaging the concerned public. Yet it is gaining traction. More people appear to understand the potential adverse impacts on values we care about. There have been many examples of some obvious modes of action-petitions, protest rallies, dialogues with MPs, letters to ministers from organizations. In New Zealand, having run through all those modes, activists are turning to the strategy that resulted in NZ’s famous nuclear-free legislation. Municipal councils are hearing presentations on the impact of the TPPA on public good governance in their own arenas of action. A 12-point resolution is being brought to councils, containing reservations about the impact of the TPPA on, for example, local procurement and support of local economies, public health, environmental regulations, internet freedom. Auckland, Nelson, and Tasman District have so far passed this resolution, and the campaign is poised to become national.

In Canada the issue of internet freedom has been picked up by Open Media with an online petition.

The TPPA threatens so many arenas of concern for activists that there are multiple entries for action.

Joanna Santa Barbara is a retired physician working to develop a sustainable permaculture village in Aotearoa (NZ). She is a member of the Council for Climate and Health, Aotearoa.

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2014

Peace Magazine Apr-Jun 2014, page 6. Some rights reserved.

Search for other articles by Joanna Santa Barbara here

Peace Magazine homepage