Hopes that the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations would come to Vancouver this summer are probably dashed by news reports out of Malaysia suggesting the 12 TPP negotiating countries will meet for the next and possibly last time (at least formally) in Brunei at the end of August. Meanwhile, 14 Malaysian activists were arrested (photo) for protesting what they believe to be an overly secretive TPP deal that will hurt their country’s sovereignty, give corporations too much power, and undermine access to medicines through longer drug patents.
Inside US Trade reports (July 19) that TPP countries "appear intent on speeding up their work by holding the next round of talks in August, one month earlier than initially targeted, according to sources [in Malaysia]." The trade news journal adds that the 19th round of TPP talks "is now expected to take place in Brunei," because, according to sources, "Canada last week informed TPP countries that it could not host the next full negotiating session."
Trade justice activists from British Columbia, Washington State, Oregon and California have been preparing for a possible Vancouver TPP round, holding cross-border actions, teach-ins, direct action camps and an impromptu light brigade in downtown Vancouver during a near secret investment inter-sessional negotiation in June. (The CBC’s article about the meeting, Shhh! Let’s have an international trade meeting and not tell anyone, says it all.)
Another Inside US Trade article from July 20 says TPP negotiators are aiming to complete "as much of the technical work as possible in all chapters by the end of the next round (in Brunei)." This approach "is seen as a clear signal that TPP members likely want to make an announcement at the October [5-7] Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum [in Bali] that goes beyond a general progress they have offered so far."
This contradicts to some extent news suggesting the TPP talks were stalled on five issues: market access and tariff elimination, intellectual property rights, environmental problems, labour and electronic commerce (e-commerce). There are also concerns that Japan’s entry into the negotiations this week could delay things, despite TPP rules about accepting all the chapters that have already been concluded when you join (Canada and Mexico faced this when they joined last fall), and despite assurances from U.S. trade officials that the end-of-2013 deadline is still doable.
Media blackout, arrests in Malaysia
Prior to the Malaysia round starting in July, Doctors Without Borders issued a letter to all TPP negotiating countries expressing "serious concern" with the deal, as reported by Financial Times. The letter warned that U.S. intellectual property proposals in the TPP threaten "to restrict access to affordable medicines for millions of people, especially in low and middle-income countries," and that, "Unless certain damaging provisions are removed, the TPP has the potential to become the most harmful pact ever for access to medicines."
These concerns are shared by opposition Pakatan Rakyat lawmakers in Malaysia, who "have said that the TPPA would hike up the cost of medicine as the sale of generic drugs would be restricted under intellectual property rules, while the country’s sovereignty would be threatened by foreign investors who would be allowed to sue the government if it drafted public policies that were not in their favour," according to the Malay Mail.
The article says one of the weekend protests, led by Parti Sosialis Malaysia, "called for the postponement of discussions on the free trade agreement, for the TPP to be debated in Parliament, as well as for a cost-benefit analysis."
Police arrested 14 people at another Saturday demo outside the Sutera Harbour Resort in Kota Kinabalu where TPP negotiations were taking place. According to The Malaysia Insider, 11 activists were taken by police followed by three more who went to the police station in solidarity.
The article continues:
Gabungan Menuntut Hak Rakyat Sabah (Gegar) chairman Harieyadi Karmin said the protest was peaceful with placards protesting against the TPPA.
After negotiating with police, the activists agreed to withdraw by 50 metres from the main entrance of Sutera Harbour.
However, they claimed that after withdrawing, police came again and arrested 11 activists and confiscated their protest placards.
"Police actions here obviously disregard the freedom to gather and freedom of expression," said the rights group Suaram in a statement. The last-minute move of the TPP negotiations from capital city Kuala Lumpur to the more remote Kota Kinabalu was unquestionably an effort to avoid public protests. Brunei, the site of the next and possibly final full TPP negotiating round, is a mere 200 kilometres from Kota Kinabalu, in other words much easier to police perhaps than Vancouver.
As David Christopher of OpenMedia.ca writes in the Georgia Straight that:
TPP organizers are going to incredible lengths to lock citizens out of these negotiations… unless you’re one of just 600 big industry lobbyists invited to take part.
Why all this secrecy? Well, because what’s on the negotiating table is so unpopular that it would never pass with the whole world watching.
Pledge to fight the TPP in your community
If TPP negotiators dodge Canada, it doesn’t mean North American trade justice activists won’t want to protest the next TPP round in solidarity with groups in Brunei. If negotiations for that round begin August 24 as reported, we could begin to see calls to action for that week issued in the coming days.
In the meantime, people are encouraged to sign the tri-national unity statement against the TPP at TPPxBorder.org. By adding your name, you’ll be put on a contact list for the network to share resources for acting against the TPP, as well as event updates. If you are an organization or community group, your endorsement of the unity statement is important in the next few weeks as we try to collect 1,000 North American signers.
Individuals and organizations are also encouraged to endorse the Flush the TPP campaign and to take the pledge to "stop the global corporate coup." Both campaigns are an important source of news about activism in North America and globally to fight the TPP. You may see something you think you can do in your community, or if you live close to the U.S. border you may find some new friends to carry out cross-border actions this summer and beyond.
The only way we’re going to stop these deals like the TPP and CETA (Canada-EU trade agreement) is by working together to expose them for the corporate power grabs they are.