THE Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a free trade bloc that the Philippines plans to join, but the accord that binds 12 nations with a collective population of 800 million and 40 percent of world trade will have implications far wider than we might expect.
At a seminar organized by the Ateneo Center for Economic Research and Development (ACERD) and the Ateneo School of Government (AsoG) last month, we learned that the TPP is an extensive agreement, with 30 chapters covering trade and trade-related issues; investment; services; telecommunications; electronic commerce; government procurement; intellectual property; labor; environment; competitiveness; and dispute settlement.
Joining the trade bloc would require us to comply with all 30 chapters of the free trade agreement, a move that would necessitate changing our regulations, our laws and even our Constitution. At last month’s seminar, for example, researchers from the Philippine Competition Commission observed that while the country is already compliant with the agreement’s chapter on competition, it falls short of the pact’s requirement for a truly competitive environment in telecommunications.
While few would question the need to encourage genuine competition in the telecommunications duopoly, one participant at last month’s forum questioned the prudence of tailoring our laws and regulations to a foreign trade agreement we didn’t even help draft, or even the wisdom of joining the TPP in the first place.
These doubts become even pronounced when we examine what the TPP will mean to our digital rights, our privacy and how the chapter on intellectual property will spread the terrible digital rights management (DRM) policies of the United States onto our shores.
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a secretive, multinational trade agreement that threatens to extend restrictive intellectual property (IP) laws across the globe and rewrite international rules on its enforcement,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The main problems with the TPP are two-fold, the foundation says.
First, it imposes digital polices that benefit big corporations at the expense of the public.
“The IP chapter would have extensive negative ramifications for users’ freedom of expression, right to privacy and due process, as well as hindering peoples’ abilities to innovate,” the EFF observes. “Other chapters of the agreement encourage your personal data to be sent borders with limited protection for your privacy, and allow foreign corporations to sue countries for laws or regulations that promote the public interest.”
Second is the TPP’s lack of transparency. “The entire process has shut out multi-stakeholder participation and is shrouded in secrecy,” the EFF argues, noting that US negotiators pushed for the adoption of copyright measures far ore restrictive than currently required by international treaties.
“The final IP chapter includes many detailed requirements that are more restrictive than current international standards, and would require significant changes to other countries’ copyright laws,” the EFF says. These include obligations for countries to:
Expand copyright terms: The TPP would create copyright terms well beyond the internationally agreed period in the 1994 Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS).
Escalate protections for DRM (aka Digital Locks): The TPP will compel signatory nations to enact laws banning circumvention of digital locks, mirroring restrictions in the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). In the US, business competitors have used the DMCA to try to block printer cartridge refill services, competing garage door openers, and to lock mobile phones to particular network providers.
Create new threats for journalists and whistleblowers: Dangerously vague text on the misuse of trade secrets could be used to enact harsh criminal punishments against anyone who reveals or even accesses information through a “computer system” that is allegedly confidential.
Place greater liability on internet intermediaries such as ISPs: The TPP wants service providers to assume the financial and administrative burden of becoming copyright cops in a way that disregards the ill effects this would have on internet freedom and innovation.
Adopt heavy criminal sanctions: Countries would have to adopt criminal sanctions for copyright infringement that is done without commercial motivation. Users could be jailed or hit with debilitating fines over file sharing, and may have their property or domains seized or destroyed even without a formal complaint from the copyright holder.
While the IP chapter contained the worst anti-user provisions, the EFF also found problems elsewhere that:
Place barriers in the way of protecting your privacy: The TPP’s Electronic Commerce and Telecommunications chapters establish only the weakest baseline for the protection of your private data. On the other hand, stronger privacy laws are outlawed if they amount to an “arbitrary or unjustifiable discrimination or a disguised restriction on trade.”
Prohibit open source mandates: With no good rationale, the agreement would outlaw a country from adopting rules for the sale of software that include mandatory code review or the release of source code. This could inhibit countries from addressing pressing information security problems.
“TPP raises significant concerns about citizens’ freedom of expression, due process, innovation, the future of the Internet’s global infrastructure, and the right of sovereign nations to develop policies and laws that best meet their domestic priorities,” the EFF concludes. “In sum, the TPP puts at risk some of the most fundamental rights that enable access to knowledge for the world’s citizens.”
Before we jump into the TPP, we ought to consider just what we are trading away to become part of this exclusive club. While doing this, we would do well to remember James Thurber’s dictum: “Get it right or let it alone. The conclusion you jump to may be your own.”
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