At the TPPing Point

Normally I would be writing about strictly local issues but we’ll be hearing a lot more about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a supposed “free trade” agreement that is so much more. We’ll be told that it will create trillions of dollars in “new economic activity”. That will be achieved by expanding the powers of multinationals to exploit the citizens of participating countries for profit, and restrict the ability of national governments to protect their citizens.

Like other international treaties, it was negotiated in secret and we have little more than stock assurances that it will bring greater benefit and prosperity. Wikileaks was one of the first independent organizations to give a peek inside its hundreds of pages of text:

“We find ourselves being governed according to these laws despite never knowing how or why they were imposed. This is partly because such treaties are a convenient way of bypassing democratic processes.” 

Press coverage has so far raised alarms about the treatment of dairy products and automotive parts, opening the way for a flood of cheaper, potentially less safe, imports that will undermine domestic industries. But two other aspects have been overlooked.

Provisions affecting pharmaceutical companies are also a concern. The TPP requires approval of new drugs “without undue delay”. It specifies that countries give greater weight to prior drug approvals in foreign jurisdictions. For instance, if a drug approval is granted in the US, Canada is expected to follow suit. A pharmaceutical company can seek compensation in the form of an extended period of patent protection if it claims “undue delay”. And, most alarming, government agencies are prohibited from collectively buying in bulk to obtain more competitive pricing. It’s interesting that this is being proposed just as the global aging population is peaking. It seems particularly immoral to achieve “prosperity” on the backs of the sick, elderly, injured and dying, and their families.

Another provision is even more ominous. An entire section devoted to the treatment of “State Owned Enterprises” (SEOs) is intended to gut the ability of governments to introduce social objectives into economic planning. The TPP proposes that all State Owned Enterprises shall operate on the basis of “commercial considerations only”. Otherwise, global multinationals can sue for compensation.

By that, it means all government owned enterprises must make profit their sole objective. How might this affect us? Let’s think about the existing SEOs in Canada and Ontario. TPP might be the reason that the government of Ontario is so determined to sell 60% of Ontario Hydro. And locally, we suddenly see the sale of InnPower to an arms-length corporation, which operates in multiple Canadian and American jurisdictions. How might this provision affect proposals for a national electric grid linking Ontario to neighbouring grids? How about the ability to create an affordable national daycare program? Or the ability to maintain a reasonable postal service? What about the TTC, GO Transit or MetroLinx?

It may be the reason that Ontario is suddenly keen to broaden the operations of the LCBO and the beer stores. The TPP includes country-specific appendices, which, for Canada, contain an exemption only for CMHC, CBC, and Telefilm Canada.

Canadians have to think carefully about the role federal and provincial governments play in their lives, now and in the future, if we want to avoid having seniors, patients, children, students, and others treated only as a commodity to be exploited for “commercial considerations”. Fortunately, the ratification process by all of the participating countries is expected to take several years. Long enough to make your views known.