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Global Trade
10:42 am
Fri November 15, 2013

Trans-Pacific Partnership Draws Criticism for Secrecy Prior to Meeting in Salt Lake

The Trans-Pacific Partnership meets in Salt Lake City at the Grand America Hotel next week.

The anti-secrecy group Wikileaks released on Wednesday one chapter of the draft text of what would be the largest-ever economic trade deal between nations. Next week, Salt Lake City will play host to a chief-negotiators-summit for that deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The negotiations surrounding the largest international trade deal since the creation of the World Trade Organization 18 years ago have been so secret that it's likely you haven't even heard of the agreement. And this despite the fact the chief negotiators of the mega-agreement on trade, between more than 12 member nations will be gathering at the Grand America Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, beginning Tuesday Nov. 19.

The Trans-Pacific-Partnership, or TPP, has drawn strong criticism from those concerned that the secretive pact would rewrite U.S. laws and undermine democracy while protecting corporate interests. Today the pro-transparency group Wikileaks undermined some of that secrecy by leaking a draft chapter of the proposed agreement- a chapter that deals with intellectual property rights.

James Love, director of the group Knowledge Ecology International has been closely following the investigations. Love had a chance to review the chapter released by Wikileaks, and said among the many things that concern him, are some proposed rules on patents for medicines.

"The big WTO agreement says countries may decide not to patent certain things, like surgical methods, diagnostic methods, and certain plants and things like that," Love said. "In the TPP text, they flip that, the U.S. does and instead of saying, 'You may decide not to patent them,' they say, 'You shall patent them.' They just make it a mandate. The U.S. is doing this because they're lobbied by Monsanto and by Pfizer and these big companies."

Another concern of those worried about the trade deal are provisions allowing corporations to sue governments directly in extra-judicial tribunals when governments inact regulations that undermine potential expected future profits.

Lori Wallach, director of the group Global Trade Watch, said the problem is that the U.S. has no power to deny being summoned, and taxpayers having to pay for the consequences.

"It sets up this system that the U.S. is bound to jurisdiction of foreign tribunals organized underĀ  world bank and United Nations rules. Where any corporation established in another TPP country, that's doing business in the U.S. can drag the U.S. government to one of these foreign tribunals, spurning U.S. Courts and U.S. law, and demand compensation, unlimited amounts, from us taxpayers, for any government action or policy that undermines the foreign investors' expected future profits."

Perhaps the chief complaint about the proposed deal is the secrecy surrounding the negotiations.

"If there's 12 countries in the negotiations, all 12 have a copy of the text, so there's no secrets among the countries, and there's really no secrets among the fortune 500 companies, they all have a way of knowing what's going on. The people that don't know are the taxpayers, the public, the consumers. It's not like we're anti-administation, but on this issue I just find it incredible. I find it incredible that anyone accepts this idea that you have the negotiations in secret," Love said.

The Obama Administration hopes to pass the measure through congress by the end of the year, using its so-called fast track authority, which limits members of congress to an up or down vote.

However, an added twist to this story? That presidential authority is being called into question by legislators from various political persuasions- from tea to green.

This week 151 house democrats and 23 republicans wrote letters in opposition to the fast track presidential authority and demanding an open congressional debate. Meanwhile, negotiators from the 12-plus member countries will begin their latest rounds of negotiations Tuesday at the Grand America Hotel.

A Facebook group called "Expose the TPP" comprised of the Citizens Trade Campaign, Public Citizen, the Sierra Club and others, says they will hold a rally and press conference on the hotel steps that same day, to drag the trans-Pacific Partnership out of the shadows.