Standard-Setting Deal on Pacific Trade Ironed Out After Six Years
by Adam Klasfield, Court House News, October 5, 2015
(CN) - More than five years of haggling between United States and 11 other nations bordering the Pacific Rim ended Monday in a proposed agreement that has been hailed as "historic" though still not publicly released.
The announcement comes six years after President Barack Obama's administration first hinted at negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, designed to set international standards over labor, the environment, agriculture, medicine, labor, the Internet, human rights, intellectual property rights and many other issues.
Secretary of State John Kerry noted in a statement today that the combined economic clout of the participating countries bordering the Pacific Rim represent "nearly 40 percent" of the global gross domestic product.
When a federal judge refused to make the government publish drafts of the deal last month, he made note of the "vast, sweeping" scope that the 30-chapter deal will have.
A confidentiality agreement protecting the proposals from public disclosure pending a final agreement has shrouded the extensive negotiations in secrecy.
Though the office of the U.S. Trade Representative did not release the terms of the deal by early Monday afternoon, it did give "summaries" of its 30 separate chapters.
Kerry meanwhile said the "historic" deal "will spur economic growth and prosperity, enhance competitiveness, and bring jobs to American shores."
"It will provide new and meaningful access for American companies, large and small," a statement from the secretary continues. "And by setting high standards on labor, the environment, intellectual property, and a free and open Internet, this agreement will level the playing field for American businesses and workers."
Global Citizen, a Washington-based nonprofit, has long expressed skepticism of these claims.
It has warned that leaked reports of the agreement show that it could bode the off-shoring of U.S. jobs, increase the cost of medicine, and provide transnational corporations with tools to attack environmental and health regulations.
Lori Wallach, who heads the organization's Global Trade Watch, noted in a statement that 10 U.S. presidential candidates have spoken out against the TPP on the campaign trial.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, the firebrand progressive candidate from Vermont, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, the arch-conservative Finance Committee Chairman, both described the deal as "disastrous," according to news reports.
Republican tycoon Donald Trump slammed the TPP as a "horrible deal," and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has struck a cautious note. She formerly praised the deal before riding the wave of populist opposition against it, though she recently adopted a wait-and-see attitude for the provisions to hit the public light.
Wallach said that the trade ministers repeatedly extended their deadlines for talks that just ended in Atlanta because now "was the do or die time, but it's unclear if there really is a deal or this is kabuki theater intended to create a sense of inevitability so as to insulate the TPP from growing opposition."
At a press conference this morning, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman emphasized that his agency will be "consulting closely with Congressional leadership."
"This is really a 2016 issue for Congress to consider, not a 2015 issue," Froman said.
Revealing that negotiators still etched out details as of 5 a.m., Froman called the issue of biotech medicine "one of the most challenging issues of negotiations."
Froman asserted that negotiators reached a "strong, balanced outcome" between protection of intellectual property and the public health.
Public Citizen's Peter Maybarduk, who heads the group's program on access to affordable medicine, said in a statement that this part of the agreement "fell short of Big Pharma's most extreme demands but will contribute to preventable suffering and death."
On the other hand, The New York Times reported that some environmental groups have changed their tune about the environmental provisions.
While the World Wildlife Fund criticized leaked draft proposals on preservation, the fund's chief executive praised how the deal might affect the illegal trade in certain plants and animals.
"No major trade agreement before this one has gone so far to address growing pressures on natural resources like overexploited fish, wildlife and forests," the organization's president Carter Roberts said. "Now that the negotiations have closed, we expect to see a strong environment chapter that promotes and enforces both legal and sustainable trade."
Malaysia's trade minister said at the Atlanta press conference that he wanted to "dispel the notion" that his country would not abide international labor and trafficking protections.
Peru trade minister Blanca Magali Silva Velarde-Alvarez, as the only woman at the table, emphasized what she described as a boon for female workers.
Once the agreement is made public, its terms cannot be amended by the participating countries, but only accepted or rejected by their prospective legislatures.
New Zealand's trade minister Tim Groser expressed confidence that it would move ahead, calling it "inconceivable that the TPP bus will stop in Atlanta."