US TPP is not in our interest
published : 19 Nov 2013 at 00:00
newspaper section: News
It has been a year since US President Barack Obama came to Bangkok to try to talk Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra into joining his Pacific trade initiative. The effort came to naught, and this has proved to be a good thing. The few details emerging from secret negotiations show that the misnamed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is not in Thailand's best interest. Our neighbours, trying to help Mr Obama put together a treaty, should continue to reject many of the US demands.
It seems that calling the TPP a "partnership" is a bit of a stretch. Several documents leaked by negotiators during the past couple of years show a heavy-handed United States team insisting on a list of demands that no one else seems to want. Last week, the internet site Wikileaks published a lengthy and disturbing document. It is apparently a summary of recent TPP negotiating positions. Washington comes across as more of an alpha autocrat than fair bargainer.
The Wikileaks document _ which appears to be legitimate _ is an eye-opener. For 95 pages, paragraph after paragraph shows the so-called "partners" at odds, almost always all participants against the US. And the document exposes in detail just how much the US is pressing, not for free trade, but heavier and ever-more restrictive regulations in the field of intellectual property (IP). In truth, the US agenda in the IP section of the free-trade act is almost identical in intent and language to the continuous stream of information and propaganda from the book, music, film and trademark industry of that country.
The government is often accused of harming Thailand by standing aside while so many nations negotiate, and eventually sign, free-trade agreements. This newspaper has long supported free trade, international agreements and careful, productive negotiations. But the TPP put forward shortly after Mr Obama took office shows how governments at times abuse the term "free trade" to push special agendas.
Begin with the premise that governments should and must support the rights of artists, inventors and others to collect copyright and patent protection. The TPP negotiators have come up against the reality that the US wants legislation that makes such protection absolute and without time limit. As the purloined TPP papers show dramatically, every "partner" in the treaty talks disagrees.
Thailand displayed its disagreement dramatically some time ago. It took advantage of the current law to weaken the patent on several drugs that treat Aids and heart disease. US policy, in the service of Big Medicine, opposes all "compulsory licensing", no matter how many lives are put at risk. Thai policy is that in limited cases, treating citizens with available medicine must come before drug-company profits.
The 2006 Thai declarations to legally break a few drug patents had embarrassing consequences. Washington declared Thailand was one of the world's worst IP pirates. It has kept this country at the top of its so-called Special 301 list of top violators to this day.
The country can live with that humiliation. But it cannot accept the US push through TPP negotiations to make patents absolute, and abolish compulsory licensing completely and forever.
The future of the TPP is unclear. The US, naturally, wants to "wrap up details" within the next month. One hopes the proposed partners, including our neighbours such as Vietnam and Singapore, will refuse to accept the more blatant and harmful sections of this one-sided agreement.