National Sovereignty At Stake

by: Posted on: December 08, 2013

Editor’s Note: Read the Dirt intern Emily Petrovski does some background research on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. Your sovereignty would appear to be at stake.

By Emily Petrovski

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: “The scariest trade agreement you’ve never heard of”

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is being negotiated by the United States, Australia, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Brunei, Canada, Malaysia, Japan, New Zealand, Mexico and Vietnam. The TPP is an expanded version of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, a trade agreement signed in 2005 by Brunei, Chile, Singapore and New Zealand.

According to the U.S. Trade Representative website, the United States joined the TPP “to advance our economic interests in the critical Asia-Pacific region. Expanding U.S. exports is critical to our economic recovery and to the creation and retention of high-quality jobs in the United States.”

Opponents call it “NAFTA on steroids” and say it could destroy internet freedoms, undermine environmental protections, negate our laws, encourage globalization and benefit only corporations. Many protestors are highly critical of the secrecy surrounding the TPP negotiations.

A brief history

In late 2009, President Obama announced his intention to participate in the TPP negotiations.

The TPP has 17 non-trade chapters, 5 trade chapters, 4 administrative chapters and 3 chapters that are unknown in content.

There have been 20 rounds of negotiations since 2010 with the latest taking place this November in Salt Lake City, Utah where protests broke out over the secrecy of the trade agreement.

The U.S. currently has trade agreements with six countries negotiating the TPP.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a free trade agreement between Canada, Mexico and the U.S., came into force on January 1, 1994. NAFTA created the world’s largest free trade area, according to the U.S. Trade Representative website. Its impacts on national sovereignty and the democratic powers of the participating nations have been widespread. See our “suggested further reading” below for more on NAFTA.

Implications of the TPP

The TPP protects free trade from democratically passed laws. It can strip power from environmental laws in all participating countries. The Philippines, for example, has not joined the TPP because its constitution protects the country’s natural resources. In April 2013, the Philippine Trade Secretary said the country still had more research to do before it could decide to join the TPP.

The TPP will allow companies to sue outside local court systems, in secret tribunals at the World Trade Organization. Under the TPP companies can sue sovereign nations over laws they believe are hurting their profits, might hurt future profits or undermine their rights as defined in the TPP, such as the TPP’s extended patent time limits.

There are currently 518 such cases pending against governments, said Robin Everett of the Seattle Sierra Club.

After the Canadian province of Quebec imposed a moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, a U.S. oil and gas exploration company that operates in Canada sued the Canadian government. The company, Lone Pine Resources, said the ban was illegal under the North American Free Trade Agreement. The process is ongoing.

The Australian government was sued by tobacco companies from Ukraine, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Indonesia and Honduras. As part of an anti-smoking campaign, the government put warnings and plain packaging on cigarette packs. The tobacco companies argued the packing hurt sales and infringed upon their right to sell tobacco products. The process is also ongoing.

The penalties nations face when the World Trade Organization rules against them include trade sanctions or compensation by the country.

Canada banned the export of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) to the U.S. in 1995 because of the harm they cause to the environment and human health. An Ohio-based corporation that specializes in PCB equipment recycling sued the Canadian government, alleging it suffered economic harm because of a loss of Canadian contracts and opportunities. The company, S.D. Myers, was awarded over $6 million CAD in the lawsuit. Canada then revoked the ban. See this link for more info:

The TPP would strip the U.S. Department of Energy of its authority to regulate whether or not we export natural gas, Everett said. The DOE would not be able to review and analyze the impacts of the export of natural gas on the economy or environment. They would have to automatically approve any exports of natural gas, Everett said, or risk paying huge fines imposed by the World Trade Organization.

Six years ago Mexico sued the U.S. over its use of “dolphin safe” labels on tuna cans. Mexico claimed the label was an unfair trade practice, arguing the U.S. labeling of dolphin safe tuna gave an unfair disadvantage to Mexican tuna fishermen—that it restricted free trade. Mexico won the court case—no more “dolphin safe” labels.

Under the TPP labelling genetically modified organisms wouldn’t be allowed.

Japanese farmers protested the TPP in October 2011 when Japan joined in negotiations. They argued the TPP would increase their dependence on food imports and negatively impact their agricultural production, according to this article from the Japan Times. They protested again in Tokyo in April 2012.

The TPP could negatively impact endangered species and encourage illegal exploitation of natural resources and organisms, Everett said. The Sierra Club believes the TPP should have a strong and binding environmental chapter. The Sierra Club also believes the TPP should have transparency, no investor-state (that allows investors to sue foreign governments) and no fast-track in the U.S. House of Representatives, which constitutionally must approve all U.S. trade agreements, Everett said.

President Obama said he is working to get safeguards into the TPP, Everett said.

The TPP will boost the U.S. economy, support U.S. jobs, increase U.S. exports, and increase U.S. competitiveness in the Asia-Pacific market, according to the U.S. Trade Representative website.

The secrecy

Only those working on the TPP know what it contains. Even members of the House will not be able to read the agreement before they vote on whether to approve it. However, Wikileaks released the chapter on intellectual property rights on November 13 (see below).

Over 600 advisers, most of whom work for large corporations, are working with the U.S. Trade Representative on the Agreement. Public interest groups have not been allowed in negotiations, Everett said.

If the TPP is approved, the document will not be released to the public for four years, Everett said.

If democratically elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives want to know what is in the agreement, they have to contact a TPP representative with a specific question. The representative will then get back to them with the answers they can give.

At the recent round of negotiations in Salt Lake City, protestors organized by the Citizens Trade Campaign rallied against the secrecy of the TPP negotiation process.

Members of the public can make comments about the TPP through the U.S. Trade Representative website. The comment period ends January 25, according to the website.

Public comments on the TPP can be found here:!searchResults;rpp=25;po=0;s=Trans%252BPacific%252BPartnership;dct=PS

Leaked chapter on Intellectual Property

On November 13, 2013 Wikileaks leaked a draft of the TPP’s Intellectual Property chapter. Many have called it an attack on Internet freedom. As laid out, the chapter, among other things, allows for longer patents than currently allowed in the U.S.

This chapter, which is 95 pages long, covers medicines, Internet, biological patents and civil liberties. It was obtained by Wikileaks and can be found here:

According to the Wikileaks, the TPP enacts some of the same surveillance and enforcement policies set forth by the Stop Online Privacy Act (SOPA) and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement. SOPA was halted in Congress by civic outrage over its implications for online freedom.

The TPP’s patent and copyright “protections” could make it harder to get generic drugs.

The fast track

Constitutionally, the U.S. House of Representatives must ratify trade agreements. Many trade agreements however are fast-tracked.

About 175 U.S. Representatives sent President Obama a letter expressing their intent to say “no” to the fast-track plan set forth by the President. The fast-track plan would prevent House members from making amendments to the agreement, or even reading it before voting. Representatives would only be allowed to vote yes or no on the TPP.


Suggested further reading:


Potential fast-track:

The Intellectual property chapter:

Coverage from The Nation:

Info from Public Citizen:

Coverage from Wall Street Journal:

World coverage from Reuters:


Government site for NAFTA:

Public citizen NAFTA info:

U.S. Dept. of Ag. NAFTA info:

The legacy of NAFTA:



Photo: Gobierno de Chile


One Response to “National Sovereignty At Stake”

  • Well-worth reading research on an Agreement that could adversely affect T&E species and natural resources. Thanks.
    by: David H. Davison: Wednesday 14th of May 2014

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