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Fallout from Trans-Pacific Partnership leak, “fast-track” opposition in U.S.

A TPP cluster bomb dropped in Obama’s lap yesterday. Here’s what blew up in his face.

First, nearly half of House members have written the US President “signaling their opposition to granting so-called fast-track authority that would make any agreement immune to a Senate filibuster and not subject to amendment,” writes the New York Times, adding, “No major trade pact has been approved by Congress in recent decades without such authority.”

That included a letter from 151 Democrats, 22 Republicans, 12 House Ways and Means committee Democrats and six moderate Republicans.

“For some time, members of Congress have urged your administration to engage in broader and deeper consultations with members of the full range of committees of Congress whose jurisdiction touches on the numerous issues being negotiated,” says the first letter signed by Democrats. “Many have raised concerns relating to reports about the agreement’s proposed content…Twentieth Century “Fast Track” is simply not appropriate for 21st Century agreements and must be replaced.  The United States cannot afford another trade agreement that replicates the mistakes of the past. We can and must do better.”

How could this affect the TPP negotiations? NYTImes thinks “getting both houses of Congress to agree to the final deal might be close to impossible without the fast-track authority.” Impossible isn’t always a nice word. In this case, it sounds pretty good.

The second explosion came from Wikileaks, which released a recent draft of the TPP intellectual property rights chapter showing both the unreasonable patent, copyright and enforcement positions of the U.S. government and the broad resistance to those positions from most other TPP countries.

Here is OpenMedia on the leak. And the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Both focus on the impacts TPP would have on copyright and Internet freedom. Michael Geist of the University of Ottawa told Canada.com, “If they (U.S.) were to get their way, and sort of push through with their demands, they’re looking for a near complete rollback of many of the [Copyright Act] provisions Canada enacted just a year ago.”

Other groups worry about patent extension and enlargement of patent protection to cover diagnostic methods, life forms, and “evergreening”, or minor variations to existing medication in order to prolong patents unnecessarily. Public Citizen warned yesterday:

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) has proposed measures harmful to access to affordable medicines that have not been seen before in U.S. trade agreements. These proposals aim to transform countries’ laws on patents and medical test data, and include attacks on government medicine formularies. USTR’s demands would strengthen, lengthen and broaden pharmaceutical monopolies on cancer, heart disease and HIV/AIDS drugs, among others, in the Asia-Pacific region.

While the leaked TPP text shows Canada and many other countries pushing back against some of these U.S. proposals, we’ve already seen the Harper government cave in last-minute to the European Union on patents. In the CETA negotiations, which are ongoing in some areas, Harper agreed to extend patents by up to two years, with an estimated annual cost of between $850-million and $1.6-billion.

There’s no reason to doubt he wouldn’t do it again, pushing costs up even more while limiting access to medicines in developing member countries to the TPP. In IPR, as in many other areas like investment protection, services liberalization, supply management, etc, the Canada-EU deal, if it ever becomes law, will merely create a new democratic and public policy low that the TPP would push down even further.

But who knows what will happen with TPP now that these bombs have gone off. Geist predicts “They’re not even close to a deal. That stands out… The notion that somehow they are months away from a deal is clearly not true. It seems to me that it’s closer to years.”

That would be good news. Canada’s parliamentary approval process for trade agreements (if you can call TPP and CETA “trade deals” considering nine tenths of them don’t deal with trade) is much like “fast track” in the U.S.: minimal debate in the House of Commons on a finished deal that cannot be altered at committee, followed by ratification.

The TPP leaks and letters on fast-track to Obama are a timely reminder of what Canada is trading away in these “next generation” deals. The TPP and CETA promise insignificant GDP growth for any of the participating countries and are better described as corporate constitutions, or corporate power grabs. The intellectual property rights chapter proves that for Big Hollywood and Big Pharma.

US trade justice activists are planning actions around another round of TPP talks in Salt Lake City, Utah over the next week to expose how the TPP also hits workers, climate change and the health of our democracies.