Talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement (TPP), which the U.S. is negotiating with Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, are continuing this week (April 9-13) in Santiago, Chile in the form of an “intersessional meeting” on intellectual property (IP). Leaked documents show that the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) is pressuring developing countries to trade away access to lifesaving medicines in order expand the patent-based monopoly power of the giant U.S. pharmaceutical companies, and designing new rules to expand the invasive power of Hollywood and the recording industry online, threatening users’ Internet freedom.
The last time such a meeting was convened on IP in January in Hollywood, CA a stakeholder event organized by public interest groups in the same hotel as the negotiations was canceled after the hotel received pressure from the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Simultaneously, USTR made sure the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) had access to negotiators, as they were given an exclusive tour of 20th Century Fox Studios guided by a representative of the studio’s government relations office.
USTR is clamping down on public participation to minimize the spread of information which challenges their hard-line IP maximalist agenda that seeks to empower corporations at the expense of public health and knowledge. In addition to increasing reliance on intersessionals, like this week’s Santiago meeting, where stakeholders are not given a forum to participate, USTR has now effectively reduced stakeholder participation in the official negotiating rounds by eliminating their opportunity to give presentations to negotiators in an official forum. USTR’s response signals the substantial impact critics of the TPP are having. At the March negotiating round in Melbourne, one stakeholder presentation after another criticized USTR’s aggressive pro-Big Pharma patent proposal, filling most of the afternoon. Now TPP countries are resisting USTR demands that would imperil their access to medicines.
Cozy relationships with government aren’t the only way corporations are influencing these talks. This week, American University and the University of Chile arranged to host an event to present analyses critical of particular proposals in the TPP. These include leaked provisions that would greatly favor Big Pharma, expand drug monopolies and raise medicine prices. The keynote speaker was to be Senator Ricardo Lagos, a major political figure in Chile considered to be a possible candidate for the presidency. Nevertheless, the public University of Chile law school canceled the event with less than two days’ notice, evidently on the advice of a member of the faculty who is a paid advisor of the multinational pharmaceutical companies’ association in Chile (the Cámara de Industria Farmacéutica, or CIF).
The cancellation sent organizers scrambling for a new venue, which they found in Chile’s Catholic University.
Stakeholders from a spectrum of communities concerned with the implications of the TPP are continuing to shine light on the negotiations. Criticism of the TPP process is mounting from members of both state and federal government in the United States. Internet activists in Chile are calling on their government to defend the rights of their citizens from what could be the next SOPA, while analyses from academic experts on IP show that the U.S.-proposed TPP provisions go beyond those seen in Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Meanwhile, USTR claims that allowing 600 corporate advisors to examine the negotiating text, including representatives of the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), while keeping it hidden from the general public justifies their claim of “unprecedented” transparency in the negotiations.
SOPA’s defeat proved that the netroots can beat IP maximalism and rulemakings from Washington designed to curb Internet freedom, while the populist response to ACTA has shown that policy laundering attempts by industry and their allies in government will face serious resistance. Ambitious, secret economic agreements have been defeated before through public awareness and organizing. Now it’s time to tell our government we will not stand idly by while our rights and the rights of friends and neighbors in other countries are under siege.