Trans-Pacific Partnership Talks Headed For Finish Line Amid Official Secrecy

Stephen HarperBy Daniel Tencer

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Trade Minister Ed Fast are headed to Malaysia and Indonesia this week, and one of the main issues on their agenda is a trade deal that would cover one-third of the world’s international commerce.

But what the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will contain is so far a matter of rumour, conjecture and guesswork — nowhere more so than in Canada, where the government has kept a tight lid on news coming out of the talks.

Negotiations on the TPP, covering 12 Pacific Rim countries including Canada, are expected to be completed by the end of the year. Kyodo News reports that officials from the negotiating countries will issue a statement next week announcing negotiations are headed for the finish line. Along with Canada and the U.S., negotiating countries include Australia, Japan and Mexico, but not China.

The Financial Times describes the TPP as being “billed as a 21st century trade deal aimed at setting new high standards for future agreements.” But critics, such as the Council of Canadians, say it sets a new standard for prioritizing “corporate rights” over the rights of consumers.

Particularly worrying for some consumers’ advocates are reports that the deal will force participating countries to significantly tighten controls over the internet.

According to consumers’ groups citing an early draft of the deal leaked in 2011, the TPP could mean criminal penalties for even small-scale unauthorized downloading; could result in “three strikes” laws that would see households kicked off the internet for copyright violations; and could mean expanded copyright and patent terms that would mean lessened access to generic drugs.

The humanitarian aid group Doctors Without Borders issued a statement on Thursday urging governments “not to make political trade-offs during trade negotiations that will harm access to affordable medicines for millions of people” in the signatory countries.

Despite moves by the U.S. to soften the drug patent provisions, “this is still a terrible deal that will continue to delay the entry of affordable generic medicines that [Doctors Without Borders] and millions of people rely on,” said Judit Rius, manager of Doctors Without Borders’ Access Campaign in the U.S.

The consumer advocacy group OpenMedia has launched a campaign opposing the copyright and internet-related provisions in the trade deal, under the moniker “say no to internet censorship.” The group says more than 100,000 people have signed the letter to TPP leaders so far.

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