Trade officials have announced today that they have reached a final deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Their announcement came after a drawn out round of negotiation in Atlanta, Georgia, which was mainly held up around disagreements over medicine patent rules and tariffs over autos and dairy.
We have no reason to believe that the TPP has improved much at all from the last leaked version released in August, and we won’t know until the U.S. Trade Representative releases the text. So as long as it contains a retroactive 20-year copyright term extension, bans on circumventing DRM, massively disproportionate punishments for copyright infringement, and rules that criminalize investigative journalists and whistleblowers, we have to do everything we can to stop this agreement from getting signed, ratified, and put into force.
The fact that close to 800 million Internet users’ rights to free expression, privacy, and access to knowledge online hinged upon the outcome of squabbles over trade rules on cars and milk is precisely why digital policy consideration do not belong in trade agreements. Hollywood, other major publishers and even big tech companies have taken advantage of this secretive, corporate-captured process to pass rules that they could not otherwise get away with in an open, participatory process. The Fast Track trade bill, which passed in the U.S. this summer, was a critical piece in the White House’s toolkit to getting this terrible deal passed through Congress with little oversight. And yet there’s an upside to that bill—which is that it may succeed in mucking up the TPP end game.
Despite all of Fast Track’s faults, it imposed on the White House a timeline for it to finalize, sign, and ratify agreements that uses this expedited trade approval mechanism. This includes a mandate that at a minimum, a 90-day notice period must be given before the President signs the agreement. Thirty days after that notice the text must be posted publicly online—so there’s still about a month when the U.S. trade officials can claim to have a final text and give notice, but not really have a text. President Obama will give a notice to Congress in order to get the clock running on these Fast Track requirements. If so, the White House will be required by law to publish the final text publicly, online in 30 days. A failure to do so could be a violation of this Fast Track-mandated timeline. (More detailed analysis on this timeline can be found on Public Citizen’s website.)
As we continue to fight this toxic, corporate-captured trade deal, we need to remember this fact: laws made in secret, with no public oversight or input, are illegitimate. If we’re to defend one of the fundamental pillars of modern government, that law should transparently reflect the will of the people, we need to fight back against an agreement that so flagrantly disregards the democratic process.
We will soon see what’s actually in this agreement. At long last, the White House won’t be able to hide behind the secrecy. And as long as there remains any threat to the Internet and our rights online, EFF, alongside a massive coalition of public interest organizations, will be mobilizing to kill this agreement dead once and for all.