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Why you need to know about the TPP

By: | January 29, 2016

Prominent thinkers are speaking out against it and pro-democracy groups are calling for proper public consultations. But is our government listening?

Marilyn Reid
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As a journalist and author of the book "Plutocrats: the Rise of the New Global Super-Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else", Chrystia Freeland was more critical of free trade and globalization than she is now, as federal trade minister in the new Liberal government. Photo by Joseph Morris.

Last October the federal government announced the successful conclusion of negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement that involves 40 percent of the world economy and 12 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, New Zealand, the U.S., Canada, Japan, Brunei, Malaysia, Chile, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, Peru.

What’s so interesting about the response to this deal is where the criticism is coming from. It’s no longer just unions and “left-wing” think tanks like the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) that are voicing opposition. 

In an interview with the Canadian Press, former Blackberry co-CEO Jim Balsillie predicted that the TPP’s “troubling rules on intellectual property rights will cost Canada billions in wealth creation and…make Canada a ‘permanent underclass’ in the economy of selling ideas.”

Balsillie’s comments are very much out of tune with what big business cheerleader groups like the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, the Fraser Institute and right wing publications like MacLean’s Magazine are claiming. Their continuing song is that the TPP is highly beneficial, though they never realistically explain precisely how it helps ordinary Canadians. 

In fact, it won’t. A new study by researchers at Tufts University suggests that ratifying the deal will lead to 58,000 net job losses in Canada over the next 10 years. Job losses are forecast in all 12 TPP countries.

These negative economic assessments must be presenting a dilemma for the newly-elected federal government, which, up until now, has been a strong supporter of trade agreements. In light of the fact the Liberals campaigned on the promise of job creation and diversification of the economy, how easy will it be for them to brush aside Balsillie’s conclusion that, “10 years from now, we’ll call [the TPP] the signature worst thing in policy that Canada’s ever done”?   

Continuing the corporate assault on democracy

Of course, it’s not just the economics of the TPP that should be of concern to our politicians. The biggest menace of trade agreements like the TPP and CETA has always been their corporate challenge to democratic power. Now that we’re going into an agreement with the United States we’re getting interesting feedback from prominent Americans as to what’s at stake. This is good. 

Nobel laureate and former World Bank Vice-President Joseph Stiglitz recently weighed in on the issue, claiming that the intent of many TPP provisions is “to make it hard for governments to conduct their basic functions — protecting their citizens’ health and safety, ensuring economic stability, and safeguarding the environment.” 

 How many of our democratic rights might we have negotiated away to be part of this deal? 

Longtime democracy activist Ralph Nader went further during a conversation with author Chris Hedges, calling the TPP—alongside the World Trade Organization and the North American Free Trade Agreement—“the most brazen corporate power grab in American history.” 

Other public intellectuals like Jeffrey Sachs and Noam Chomsky have also issued warnings. 

All of this should raise alarm bells for Canadians. If the TPP is perceived as being this much of a threat to democracy in the United States — the most powerful country in the world — what might the consequences for Canada be? How many of our democratic rights might we have negotiated away to be part of this deal? 

More than we realize, I suspect. But let me just mention a few ways the TPP extends corporate rights and power in ways not seen in other trade agreements:

The agreement will further expand opportunities for investor-state lawsuits against Canada. This is presumably why, in registering its $15 billion NAFTA lawsuit against the United States’ decision to reject the Keystone XL pipeline, Trans Canada Corporation has chosen to use wording directly taken from the TPP agreement. 

The TPP further chips away at government’s capacity to regulate corporations. For example, analysts have already noted that the TPP includes provisions that could prevent regulators from auditing corporate computer source codes similar to the type Volkswagen used to subvert emissions tests.

Canadians’ privacy will be more at risk from TPP rules that restrict the ability of governments to establish safeguards over sensitive financial and health data as well as information hosted by social media. Big Brother will apparently be allowed to watch us more closely. 

According to a recent blog by the Council of Canadians the TPP will also:

  • Lead to higher drug costs
  • Straitjacket Crown Corporations
  • Weaken the screening of foreign investments in Canada
  • Open the door to Bovine Growth Hormone milk entering the country
  • Increase pressure on our Supply Management system for eggs, poultry and milk
  • Increase polluter rights and weaken green energy initiatives

Why do Canadians show so little concern about trade agreements?

Over the past year there have been huge protests in Europe against trade agreements. Over 3 million people have signed a petition against CETA and the TTIP, the two agreements the EU is negotiating with Canada and the U.S. Yet there has barely been a ripple of opposition in Canada.

Why are we so acquiescent? 

I’ve come to believe that writers and commentators, including myself, have made a major error by focusing on these “boring” trade agreements in isolation. What we should have been doing, and what we need to start doing, is talking about how these supra-national contracts are part of the plot in a much bigger story.

The villains in this story are remote and largely faceless, but they are there nonetheless. The succinct analysis by Billionaire Warren Buffett perhaps best sums it up: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war and we’re winning.” 

 As long as people feel their only responsibility is to drop a ballot in a box once every four years, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few will continue.

What’s at stake for ordinary Canadiansif we lose the war? In Capitalism in the 21st Century, respected French economist Thomas Piketty assesses the growing inequality in wealth and income he found in his meticulous research as “potentially terrifying”. If we are to reverse the trend, Piketty says, “We must bet everything on democracy.” 

I suspect Piketty would consider Canadians’ disinterest in the impact of trade agreements on our society dangerous. He is very clear in saying that all intellectuals and all citizens must participate in public debate if democracy is to protect us. Piketty cautions that as long as people feel their only responsibility is to drop a ballot in a box once every four years, the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few will continue.

In other words, given public disinterest, don’t be surprised if our new Liberal government, like their predecessor, chooses first and foremost to serve the interests of the wealthy and powerful. Just last week trade minister Chrystia Freeland went on record calling CETA “the gold standard of trade agreements” — a truly amazing statement given more than 90 Canadian municipalities have criticized it. 

There was never any public consultations on CETA and there never will be.

As for the TPP, government has held meetings in several cities across the country, allegedly to solicit input. The trouble is very few ordinary people have known about, or been invited to, these meetings

The Council of Canadians is requesting an independent analysis of the TPP by the Parliamentary Budget Office and is calling on government to hold full and proper public consultations with the public. You can add your voice to this call here

Consider the merit of letting government know how you feel. 

Marilyn Reid is a member of the Council of Canadians and Citizens against CETA.

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