The TPP: Integrity Litmus Test for the Liberals

Note: This is an updated version of an article by CUSJ board member Leslie Kemp.

On February 3, 2016, Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland signed the massive twelve-country Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Pacific Rim treaty. Led by the US, the partnership includes Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.

That signature came before the government had finished assessing the economic costs and benefits the deal potentially holds for Canada, Freeland acknowledged. The Liberals have billed the signature as a “technical step” that will allow Canada to stay at the bargaining table, and Freeland says that the government will continue to study the TPP’s potential consequences.

The CUSJ board feels that Canada has yet again signed on to a trade deal that gives powers to corporations at the expense of human needs, the environment and democracy. The TPP would surpass the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in giving powers to corporations. Further, according to Médecins Sans Frontières, the TPP may become the most harmful trade pact ever in restricting access to medicines in developing countries.

However, there is hope: the deal has been signed, but there are two years before Canadian MPs will be asked to vote on whether to ratify it. This deal needs to be scrapped. Here’s why.

  1. This deal was conceived as a backroom deal between the US government and their corporate friends to create the largest trading bloc in the world.
  2. This deal is not so much about trade as about corporate deregulation in the interest of profit.

Blayne Haggart, assistant professor at Brock University, describes the deal as “a new global economic framework, driven primarily by US interests and US power.” He argues that “calling the TPP a free-trade agreement overplays its benefits, plays down its problematic aspects” and fundamentally misrepresents the deal.

Only two of 26 chapters have to do with trade, according to the Council of Canadians. The other 24 chapters deal with how governments regulate corporate activity, what Crown corporations can and cannot do, how long pharmaceutical patents or copyright terms should last, how the Internet is governed, protocols for the sharing of personal information across borders, regressive banking and taxation rules, and procedures for compensating a company or investor when environmental or public health policies interfere with profits.

This agreement’s purpose, as with previous so-called trade agreements, is to create a friendly environment for investors by restricting what governments can regulate. The TPP is similar to other such agreements, taking society further down the path to “neoliberal nirvana”.

The new Liberal federal government pledged to “hold a full and open public debate in Parliament to ensure Canadians are consulted on this historic trade agreement.” However, the Liberals supported previous Free Trade deals despite promising to scrap or change them. The Liberals have a historic opportunity now to break with a not-so-venerable tradition, and take the side of the Canadian middle class over profits and corporations.

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