The dangers that lurk behind (within?) a trade agreement

In the US president Obama is pushing for another international trade agreement (the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP), against opposition from his own party.

This is not fortuitous. Previous agreements as such were demonstrably against popular interests, while catering to Big Business. Two commentaries bring such issues to the fore:

First, Krugman points out the connection between the TPP and intellectual property laws; according to him, one of the drivers of the agreement is to bring back draconian law proposals that had been previously repealed: Krugman: TPP Is All About Intellectual Property Laws. After showing that there is actually very little to be gained in terms of actual trade, he asks why, then, would there be so much pressure to pass that treaty? The answer, according to Krugman, is that "Because as with many ‘trade’ deals in recent years, the intellectual property aspects are more important than the trade aspects. Leaked documents suggest that the US is trying to get radically enhanced protection for patents and copyrights; this is largely about Hollywood and pharma rather than conventional exporters.".

Second, an article on Foreign Policy’s site ( Gold, Oil, and Cigarettes: How an Obscure Trade Provision Protects the World’s Biggest Companies) brings to the forefront a key part of such treaties, a part that nevertheless has remained mostly in the dark: "Tucked into most investment treaties and trade agreements, investor-state provisions give companies (‘investors’) the power to sue sovereign states where they do business, in bodies like the World Bank’s International Centre for the Settlement of Investment Disputes. They can bring claims for essentially anything that they argue cuts into their profits or even future potential earnings".

Such suits have been used to curb health or environmental initiatives of poorer countries, alleging a loss in their sales. A recent and egregious example is Phillip Morris lawsuit against Uruguay’s tobacco control laws, based on an "intellectual property" argument that reminds one much of the fable of the wolf and the sheep…


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