Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement not about trade

By Rosalind Waters guest opinion

Letters to the Editor (The Guardian)
Published on December 21, 2015

The Trans Pacific Partnership (the TPP), a so-called “trade” agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim countries was negotiated by our previous Conservative government over a period of three years in guarded secrecy. It was then promoted as a “massive” agreement with a trade block worth 40 per cent of world GDP. “Wow.” We were supposed to think, “How could we pass up that opportunity?”

In fact, 97 per cent of Canada’s exports to these countries are already tariff-free, which is not surprising when you consider that Canada already has trade agreements with four of these countries, including the U.S.  The potential impact of this agreement on exports in negligible and more than one economist has argued that it will have negative impacts on job creation and growth. Even proponents of the deal have admitted that possible benefits are minuscule.

So what is this agreement really about, if it’s not about trade? Recently many notable individuals and organizations have come forward to oppose the TPP. Economists, Doctors without Borders, copyright specialists, sustainable agriculture specialists and industrial sectors such as auto and even Jim Balsillie have joined the chorus. The common theme of their criticism is that the agreement is really about the largest multinationals locking in their market power and stifling our government’s ability to pass laws and introduce regulations which benefit us Canadians.

They talk about drug companies extending their patent protection and hiking our drug prices, large industrial dairy multinationals eroding supply-management, extension of copyright terms bringing a windfall for entertainment companies, with little benefit to artists or the public.

They also talk about the controversial provisions which allow multinationals to sue governments through unaccountable tribunals when a government passes a law which interferes with their profit making. Nobel laureate economist, and former chief economist at the World Bank, Joseph Stiglitz, bluntly put it “The real intent of these provisions is to impede health, environmental, safety, and, yes, even financial regulations...."

So, is the genie finally out of the bottle? — the truth that “trade” agreements are not really about trade. Should we start to call them “investment treaties” or “investor rights treaties”?

Whatever we call them they can seem complicated. But if we start looking at their effect on drug costs and on our dairy farms and the fabric of our rural communities, we’re well on our way to understanding that the highfalutin negotiations which took place behind closed doors many thousands of kilometres away have nothing much to do with meeting our need for jobs, health and environmental sustainability.

Our new Liberal government would be wise to resist the pressure to sign the agreement in February before it has held widespread public consultations. It would certainly damage its much vaulted claims to being “open and transparent.”


Rosalind Waters, of Charlottetown, P.E.I., is a member of Guatemala–Maritimes Breaking the Silence Network