Trade ministers are meeting behind closed-doors at the Westin Resort and Spa in Maui this week to finalise the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is the first formal round of talks since the US passed the controversial Fast Track trade legislation in June, which has given US negotiators a renewed sense of determination as they continue to push TPP's corporate-driven mandate on intellectual property and digital regulations.
The US Trade Representative (USTR) seeks to wrap up talks by the end of the week. According to recent reports, the U.S. is still pushing for copyright terms of life plus 70 years, excessive financial damages for infringements, and a host of other provisions that will undermine the public interest.
Officials claim that a final deal could emerge the next few days, but this round of talks has been steeped in controversy. A report from last week revealed how the amount of corporate lobbying money spent on influencing trade policy surged in the last few months. Health organisations have sounded the alarm over patent provisions that would make make medicines more expensive and inaccessible for millions of people. The USTR continues to demand those expansive patent provisions, but it can no longer do so quietly.
At the same time, we worry that the TPP may be trumping concerns about human trafficking and slavery. The final Fast Track legislation included a provision prohibiting trade agreements with countries that have failed to take real action to prevent such practices. For years, the US has challenged Malaysia (among others) for failing to do just that. But Malaysia is also a party to the TPP. We can't help but wonder whether the White House pressured the US State Department to modify Malaysia's ranking and therefore clear the way for the TPP to go on the Fast Track to ratification.
As the negotiations march ahead in Hawaii, public interest representatives are working hard to get the worst provisions out of the TPP. The USTR continues to exclude them. According to one civil society representative, the USTR organised a special briefing for U.S. stakeholders, but only invited industry groups to attend.
In Australia, the secrecy is even worse - the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has recently finally relented to allow federal parliamentarians to view the negotiating text, but only if they sign a four-year non-disclosure agreement.
The TPP undermines users rights and threatens to impose on a range of new countries, including New Zealand, the excessive copyright terms that Australia signed up to in our 'Free' Trade Agreement with the US.
It is also likely to remove the scope for the Australian parliament to reform our archaic and seriously broken copyright law.
We therefore need to see what’s in the text, and we need to see it now. Please support Choice's campaign calling on DFAT to release the text now.