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May 24, 2013

Chile's Former Lead TPP Negotiator Warns of TPP as "Imposition" and "Threat"

The critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) -- the proposed expansion of the much-decried NAFTA model of "trade" being negotiated by the U.S. and 10 other Pacific Rim countries -- are an increasingly motley bunch.  The list includes members of Congress, small businesses, unions, techies, family farmers, state legislators, enviromental activists, health experts, religious groups, food safety advocates, and more than a few Star Wars fans

One more category of people has now been added to the TPP-wary ranks: former TPP negotiators. 

Last week, Rodrigo Contreras, Chile's lead negotiator for the TPP until two months ago, published a shakedown of the sweeping deal in a leading Peruvian magazine (Caretas) as TPP negotiations were getting underway in Peru.  Writing principally to the Latin American governments negotiating the TPP (Chile, Peru, and Mexico), the former top TPP negotiator warned:

It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries. Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries. 

Contreras spelled out the particular areas that he sees as a "threat" if an outside model is "imposed" by "high-income countries" (read: U.S.):

We must avoid limits on access to knowledge available on the Internet and not exacerbate intellectual property protection for the downloading of online content. Nor should we accept the excessive expansion of copyright protection terms for books, movies or music, which would limit their availability in libraries and schools, and would make them more expensive for lower income people. The extension of drug patent protections beyond the current terms, or the restriction of challenges to frivolous patent applications, would delay the availability of generic drugs and increase the cost of medicines. Public health budgets and access to health services for the most vulnerable would be affected in our countries...[and] it does not makes sense to further liberalize capital flows, depriving us of legitimate tools to safeguard financial stability.

Unfortunately, each of the threats that Contreras names are already enshrined in TPP text proposed by the United States.  The leaked intellectual property chapter threatens to sneak in draconian copyright protections reminiscent of the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) roundly defeated in the U.S. Congress. It would also expand monopoly drug patents for big drug companies at the expense of those of us who shop for cheaper generic medicines, which would become harder to find on pharmacy shelves. The leaked investment chapter would ban the usage of capital controls, despite being endorsed by top economists and even the International Monetary Fund as a legitimate means of preventing and mitigating financial crises.  

Perhaps the TPP's embodiment of these threats is why Contreras stepped down from his top TPP negotiating post. Yves Smith over at Naked Capitalism (hat tip back to her hat tip) suspects so:

It’s widely believed that [Contreras] left his post voluntarily. He’s held in high esteem not just in Chile but among his fellow trade negotiators. His departure left people on the trade beat scratching their heads. It now appears probable that the reason for his resignation was that he saw where the TPP was likely to go and didn’t want his name attached to it.

As the "imposed" model that Contreras worried about takes root in the TPP negotiating text, amplifying its threat to consumers, workers, and the environment, perhaps we'll see more conflicted TPP negotiators follow Contreras' principled lead.

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Here is the complete translated text of Contreras' statement, published in Caretas

Rodrigo Contreras A.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) is one of the most important agreements being negotiated in the world today.  Due to the deeper and more extensive treatment of the issues under negotiation and the number and importance of the countries involved, the TPP transcends its geographical scope and will set the tone for future trade negotiations.

Trade policy in several countries in Latin America coincides with the objectives of the TPP in general terms, but that does not mean that we should sign this new agreement in any form. The reality and the goals of the Latin American countries are different from the Anglo-Saxon countries and the participating Asian countries.

Topics of specific interest to the region – protection of biological and cultural diversity, flexibility to design and implement development policies, access to medicines and educational materials without excessive restrictions, and intellectual property issues – should be negotiated carefully and firmly to protect the national and regional interest.

The votes of each country have equal worth in the TPP negotiations. The Latin American countries make up a quarter of the countries and can influence the outcome.

Our countries need the flexibility that has been recognized by multilateral trade negotiations on issues such as intellectual property, environmental protection, capital controls, and the proper balance between the rights of private investors and the State.

This requires a strong negotiating position in the face of claims and pressures of the richest countries in the TPP and their companies.

The countries of the region have a long way to go to advance access to knowledge, quality education, health care coverage, and the strengthening of their economies (especially their financial and exchange rate systems).

We must avoid limits on access to knowledge available on the Internet and not exacerbate intellectual property protection for the downloading of online content.

Nor should we accept the excessive expansion of copyright protection terms for books, movies or music, which would limit their availability in libraries and schools, and would make them more expensive for lower income people.

The extension of drug patent protections beyond the current terms, or the restriction of challenges to frivolous patent applications, would delay the availability of generic drugs and increase the cost of medicines. Public health budgets and access to health services for the most vulnerable would be affected in our countries.

While we might be satisfied with the stability of our economies in the region, all countries, including high-income ones, are exposed to the effects of any economic crisis. The International Monetary Fund has reiterated that one of the main challenges for Latin America is to restore the space for applying financial safeguards. In these circumstances it does not makes sense to further liberalize capital flows, depriving us of legitimate tools to safeguard financial stability.

The TPP offers us the opportunity to achieve a balanced agreement that reflects the interests and needs of the participating Latin American countries. Our countries have similar objectives, and in some areas we share interests with Asian countries, allowing more room for negotiation with the largest countries in the TPP.

The TPP is a great idea under development. We should transform it into real opportunity for our economies. It is critical to reject the imposition of a model designed according to realities of high-income countries, which are very different from the other participating countries.

Otherwise, this agreement will become a threat for our countries: it will restrict our development options in health and education, in biological and cultural diversity, and in the design of public policies and the transformation of our economies. It will also generate pressures from increasingly active social movements, who are not willing to grant a pass to governments that accept an outcome of the TPP negotiations that limits possibilities to increase the prosperity and well-being of our countries. 

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