Treaty holds no attraction
published : 22 Oct 2014 at 06:12
newspaper section: News
The US-sponsored Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty is still stalled, still contentious, still far behind every deadline set by President Barack Obama. That's the good news. In the face of failure after failure to reach agreement, this so-called "free trade" agreement still is being debated and bargained by 12 countries. They include several of our neighbours, and all are important trading partners. The government should take notice and even an active role in opposing the TPP in case, despite disagreements, it actually comes to pass.
The TPP in theory is one of those deals to "level the playing field" by reducing tariffs, eliminating red tape and bringing competition to international commerce. One expects such deals to have both good and bad components for all those involved. No country can expect another to open its key economic areas without some reciprocity.
The problem with the TPP is that it does just this, at least in some key areas. The negotiations on the treaty are supposed to be secret, because Washington in particular wants to keep public voices out of the issue. Once again, however, the Wikileaks whistle-blowers have obtained the core chapters of the TPP working paper, and posted it for the world to see.
The chapter on intellectual property confirms the real authors of this key section are US big business. The 77-page "working document" is the opposite of a "level playing field". The US drug and entertainment industries have got 12 of the most important Pacific-area countries debating not whether to tighten patents on medicine — but by how much. The treaty negotiators are not discussing whether to monitor all internet users for pirated music and movies, but how intense the surveillance and penalties should be.
Here are some examples. The Wikileaks document reveals that TPP members are debating making all piracy a criminal offence, so that downloading one song or streaming one movie could send the user to prison. A section of the treaty would make it mandatory for internet service providers (ISP) to alert their own customers if they are suspected of downloading pirated material. Because of Hollywood and the music industry — not the artists, obviously — copyright may be extended to 100 years.
These are bad enough. For Thailand and many other countries, the truly bad news lies in the section on medical patents. For starters, the phrase "compulsory licence" no longer even appears. This well-accepted part of international law allows a country to legally copy, make and sell any patent-protected drug, if it is vital to national health concerns. Thailand declared compulsory licences for three anti-Aids and heart drugs in 2006. After this entirely legal and open action, the US put Thailand on a list of the "world's worst pirating" nations, where it has stayed ever since.
The TPP, if passed, will immediately affect Thailand's neighbours and trading partners. While it will still remain technically optional to declare compulsory licensing or not require mandatory ISP eavesdropping, treaty requirements will tighten in Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia and other nearby countries. Pressure will be intense from Washington to "join the crowd" and institute the TPP measures.
The Yingluck administration faced pressure, even a direct request by Mr Obama in 2012, to place Thailand in the TPP negotiations. This government will face a similar push. The government and civil society owe it to the country to make it crystal clear that neither the TPP itself nor its core elements are attractive to Thailand. Taking a stand now will make it easier to resist pressure in the future.