Are TPP Negotiators Adding Consumer Protections to Agreement?

After the collapse of ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement) in Europe, many wondered what the implications would be including the implications on other agreements. With what little we know about the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), we can only speculate, but it’s possible that they saw what happened to ACTA and are now trying to add consumer protection provisions in the hopes of avoiding wide-spread protests and civil unrest.

Note: This is an article I wrote that was published elsewhere first. It has been republished here for archival purposes

One of the many things that have caught our attention during this incredibly busy week is the CCIA (Consumer & Communications Industry Association) announcing that the US is trying to insert fair use language into the agreement. This came at a time when ACTA was dealt a major defeat in Europe when it was overwhelmingly rejected in parliament. Of course, many would be more than likely to point out that the writing was on the wall when the International Trade committee in Europe narrowly recommended to reject the TPP just weeks earlier.

One of the observations we’ve been pointing out in the midst of the ACTA debate is that if it failed (as spectacularly as it did), it could have profound implications such as how ACTA is treated in countries (which is already happening in Australia) and the possibility that other trade agreements could be affected as well (which is quit possibly what we’re already seeing here). From the CCIA press release:

The USTR has proposed the addition of Internet-friendly copyright language into what is being billed as the 21st Century trade agreement: the Trans Pacific Partnership. The Computer & Communications Industry Association welcomed the news of fair use-related language as a sign that negotiators aim to promote strong and balanced copyright provisions in the trade agreement.

“Other important issues in the IP chapter and elsewhere still need to be addressed. This isn’t the end of a process; it is only the beginning. But CCIA is increasingly hopeful that trade officials are recognizing the growing economic contribution of the tech sector, and the desires of Internet users around the world, and are including provisions that respond to our new digital, Internet era.”

I’m inclined to agree that there is a considerable amount of work still to do. While it’s all fair and good to include fair use provisions, that doesn’t necessarily cover up the fact that the US has also proposed a three strikes law and SOPA-style censorship. It’s like applying a band-aid to an injury that requires immediate surgery. The only way forward is if censorship and the three strikes law are axed completely because we’re starting with a really bad idea and anything positive that can be added will simply get overshadowed by the fact that censorship and disconnection is being recommended in the first place.

Of course, there’s the overarching problem of transparency which was a big problem with ACTA and is a big problem with the TPP. By saying that there is a proposal that would be Internet friendly and just trust us is not good enough to quell suspicion and concern. If negotiators are only going to allow the public to see the agreement only after the rules are set in stone, then this still fails to address the concerns that the public (a big stakeholder in this) is cut out of the process. Did negotiators allow for public feedback? Did they organize some sort of public consultation on these issues? Not really as far as I can tell.

Another problem I foresee is that even if all the copyright and Internet related provisions were somehow fixed, that won’t necessarily prevent mass protests against this given what we found out in the investment chapter. These two chapters cover only the extent of our knowledge of what is either in the TPP already or is what is currently being proposed. I shudder to think of what else is in that agreement that I’m not aware of given what little bits I’ve read so far is quite a horror show.

Additionally, some agreements allow countries to pick and choose which provisions to follow and which provisions not to follow. This opens the door for lobbyists of big multi-national corporations to pressure governments around the world into adopting only the strictest copyright provisions of the TPP and disregard any potential exceptions that might be added to the agreement. Again, adding in consumer protections won’t necessarily fix any of the possible problems contained within the secret agreement.

One hopes this development isn’t simply a public relations stint to stop any momentum gained on ACTA from carrying through to the TPP. After all, the TPP is almost like the 2012 NDAA (National Defense authorization Act) in the US. The 2012 NDAA is filled with provisions that were “must-pass”. Then, buried deep within it were provisions struck down by a US court. For Canadians reading this, think of it as an international version of the omnibus budget bill. Cram a whole bunch of provisions that are suppose to be good, then throw in a whole host of other otherwise unpassable provisions like the gutting of environmental regulations to name one of a host of problems with it. I suspect that the TPP is going to end up being like the above two examples – pack it with a bunch of provisions that make it sellable, then bury a whole pile of bad ideas and then go on to say that anyone who opposes the TPP is against prosperity and a good economy. Whether or not it’ll come to that is pure speculation at this stage. In my mind, these possible outcomes (the selective provisions approach and the Trojan horse approach) aren’t all that implausible should the worst come to full fruition if and when the negotiations are finalized.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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