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Will the TPP Live on in NAFTA and RCEP?

Thursday, March 9, 2017 15:25
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The collapse of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was the worst defeat suffered by big content since we killed SOPA and PIPA five years ago. But our opponents are persistent, well-funded, and stealthy, and we can’t expect them to give up that easily. So, just as they have continued to push for SOPA-like Internet censorship mechanisms in various other fora, so too we have been keeping a watchful eye for the recycling of TPP proposals into other trade negotiations. It hasn’t taken long for that to happen.

Preliminary steps towards the renegotiation of NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, have already begun, and Alan Davidson, former director of digital economy issues at the Commerce Department, has flagged the problematic e-commerce provisions of the TPP as suitable for transplanting into the renegotiated agreement. “TPP is a terrific starting point,” he is reported as saying.

Across the other side of the world, TPP is also being touted as the right standard for Asia’s secretive Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), whose negotiators met in Tokyo last week. This week an Independent Commission on Trade Policy, composing seven former trade negotiators and academics from the Asia-Pacific region, released a report titled Charting a Course for Trade and Economic Integration in the Asia-Pacific. The report recommends “that policy makers should, in light of the U.S. withdrawal, advance the TPP’s high standards in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Tying these developments together, the trade ministers of the former TPP countries, which include most of the NAFTA and RCEP members, are convening in Chile next week [PDF], and it is expected that several countries will use that meeting to push for the resurrection of the TPP, without the participation of the United States.

But the folly of this project is that by failing to learn from the history of the TPP’s demise, the participating countries are doomed to repeat it. The proximate cause of the deal’s collapse was not the withdrawal of the United States, but the factors that caused that withdrawal—widespread public dissatisfaction with the secrecy of these agreements and their domination by big business, all in the promise of economic gains that have failed to materialize. 

Such is the message that more than 200 civil society groups from across the world gave today, in a letter sent to their trade ministers as they head to Chile. The letter, which EFF endorsed, says in part:

[W]e believe it is not acceptable for TPP rules to be used as a model for future trade negotiations whether bilateral, regional or multilateral, including the World Trade Organisation. We urge you to accept that this model has failed, and to engage with us and others in a more open and democratic process to develop alternative approaches that genuinely serve the interests of our peoples, our nations and the planet.

Without correcting the underlying faults in the process by which the TPP was negotiated, there is no point in attempting to replicate its provisions in future trade deals. We join colleagues from around the world in calling on trade ministers to abandon the closed, captured model of trade negotiation that led to the failed TPP. As disappointing for trade ministries as the failure of the TPP was, they need to head back to the drawing board, fix this broken process, and meaningfully consult with users before attempting any future trade deals that affect the Internet.

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