tpp why so secret? by Public Citizen (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) https://flic.kr/p/daKbUD
Yesterday I had the pleasure of appearing as a panelist at the government’s town hall meeting in Toronto on the Trans Pacific Partnership. The town hall, held in a packed auditorium at the University of Toronto, featured International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland (in listening mode) along with three panelists (myself, C. D. Howe’s Daniel Schwanen, and Unifor’s Jerry Dias) and moderator Dan Breznitz of the Munk School.
It is easy to become cynical about the government’s emphasis on public consultations. They are happening everywhere – innovation, digital CanCon, TPP, and soon copyright to name a few. But to attend yesterday’s TPP town hall was to witness the remarkable passion and enthusiasm for public engagement on critical public policy issues. The event ran nearly 2 1/2 hours with dozens of speakers from an incredible range of ages, backgrounds, and interests. There were librarians and archivists focused on copyright term extension and digital locks; several doctors spoke to the impact of the TPP on public health and access to medicines, food experts highlighted the dangers associated with food security, environmental activists focused on the TPP and climate change, and speakers of all ages (including a 92 year old woman) expressed concern with the investor-state dispute resolution provisions. Some speakers quoted from Freeland’s book on plutocrats to note the inconsistency between the TPP and the Minister’s prior writing. An aboriginal student nearly broke down speaking about the need to consult first nations, bringing the room to its feet.
Earlier this year, I posted on the cultural implications of the TPP, noting that the agreement represents a departure from trade deals by creating restrictions on Canadian cultural policy. Assuming services such as Netflix argue that any mandated Cancon contribution is discriminatory if they do not also receive the benefits accorded to established broadcasters or broadcast distributors, the TPP will effectively ban applying Cancon contributions to exempt entities.
Now it appears that the implications of the TPP for Canadian cultural policy are beginning to attract attention. Question period in the House of Commons featured the following exchange this week:
Supporters of the TPP have been at pains to argue that the agreement is largely business as usual, reflecting standards and approaches that are already commonly found in existing Canadian law and agreements. Yet according to a document obtained under the Access to Information Act, that is not how government officials describe the TPP in their own analysis. Internal analysis drafted in late August 2015 shows officials described the IP chapter as covering “a much broader scope of issues than any recent Canadian FTA” and noting that the TPP goes beyond agreements such as TRIPS and NAFTA.
Indeed, here is how the IP chapter was described by Canadian officials weeks before an agreement was formally concluded:
The government’s public consultation on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has stopped in Vancouver, Calgary, and Montreal in recent weeks as a growing number of people speak out on the agreement. Tens of thousands have also written to the government on the issue with some beginning to consider trade strategy alternatives.
My weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues that the interest in other trade options stems from three developments. First, the TPP may not have sufficient support to take effect since under the terms of agreement both Japan and the United States must be among the ratifying countries. Implementation has been delayed in Japan where politicians fear a political backlash and seems increasingly unlikely in the U.S., where the remaining presidential candidates have tried to outdo one another in their opposition to the deal.
Earlier this month, I appeared before the Standing Committee on International Trade alongside Jim Balsillie to discuss the TPP. My opening statement can be found here and a full transcript of the session here. A second panel of Barry Sookman and Lawrence Herman followed to support the TPP. The following exchange was one of the most noteworthy:
Mr. Sukh Dhaliwal: Do you see any negative impacts of the TPP on an average middle-class Canadian?
The Chair: It’ll have to be a short answer.
Mr. Barry Sookman: I don’t see any.
Mr. Lawrence Herman: I don’t either.
The responses were unsurprising given that supporters simply ignore multiple studies that have found negative impacts. NDP MP Tracey Ramsey picked up on this immediately with a follow-on question: