TPP secrecy fuels fears that corporate interests will prevail

WASHINGTON • Higher costs for generic drugs. Longer copyright protections than the global standard. Foreign investors empowered to overrule governments. A more tightly regulated Internet.

These are some of the potential pitfalls posed by the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the 12-country free-trade and investment pact that is shrouded in secrecy as negotiations head into the final stage in Hawaii this week.

A handful of draft chapters of the TPP, leaked via Wikileaks, has highlighted the proposed treaty's heavy emphasis on expanding protection for corporate rights and assets such as intellectual property - patents, copyrights and databases - that are far more valuable to corporations in advanced economies than traditional cargo trade.

For critics, the proposals show a deal moving more towards protection than free trade; more about corporate benefits than boosting economies and development.

But backers say the modern global economy needs a new framework of rules to protect industries that are dependent on intellectual property and are not covered in traditional free trade pacts such as the World Trade Organisation.

The 12 countries involved - Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam - have agreed to deliberate in great secrecy, with the goal of producing a deal that can be either accepted or rejected as a whole.

The leaked documents also show great disagreement on many issues still under negotiation.

Nevertheless, what is known from the leaks has left a range of politicians, academics and civil society groups deeply worried.

Many public health organisations say the proposed intellectual property protections would raise the costs of healthcare and drugs for many millions around the world.

TPP drafts from last year show a proposed 12-year protection for new biologic drugs when even the Obama administration now wants the US standard reduced to seven years to keep prices lower and foment competition.

The drafts also show efforts to make it harder for poorer countries to produce generic versions of other drugs, to extend patent protections to new versions of existing drugs and to force governments to reveal their internal pricing data on pharmaceuticals. Critics say this will only strengthen the hand of big drug companies.

"The main goal is to lengthen and strengthen current intellectual property regimes via new norms that haven't been included in a trade agreement before," said Ms Judit Rius Sanjuan, of Doctors Without Borders. The step would delay access to generic medicines on which the group depends to extend healthcare to poor people.

Another TPP goal is to enshrine the US standard of 70-year copyright protection, well beyond the 50 years agreed in the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a Silicon Valley lobby group on technology rights and regulation, said copyright extension only "enriches big media corporations, not struggling artists".

" It impedes libraries, archives, educators and people with disabilities, and it locks away an entire corpus of works that belong in the public domain," it said.

The EFF also said that an effort to make Internet service providers in the 12 countries responsible for enforcing intellectual property rights with online customers will likely lead "to more Internet censorship measures".


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'TPP secrecy fuels fears that corporate interests will prevail'. Subscribe