The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement that encompasses several Asia-Pacific countries (although China and India are noticeably absent). It's currently being negotiated by 11 countries that, combined, are home to 660 million people and generate more than $20 trillion of annual economic activity: the U.S., Canada, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Malaysia, Mexico, Singapore, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. Japan and Thailand have also expressed interest in joining the talks.
Why haven't I heard of it before?
Like many trade agreements before it, the TPP is being negotiated behind closed doors by corporate lobbyists and unelected government trade representatives. All we know about the content of the agreement comes from leaked drafts of the agreement. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other corporate interests are pushing for "fast-track" legislative approval that would prevent the U.S. Congress from debating or changing any of the provisions.
Why are free expression groups up in arms about it?
Remember the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), and the Protect Intellectual Property Act (PIPA)? Expect more of the same in the TPP: a leaked chapter on intellectual property rights shows "IP restrictions that will choke free speech, innovation, privacy and digital rights," says the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). For instance, under the TPP, signatory countries will be required to enact copyright enforcement measures that may lead to the removal of legitimate Internet content. EFF has outlined other ways the TPP will lead to censorship.
What stage is it at?
The 15th negotiating round takes place in New Zealand on 3-12 December. The U.S. had been pushing to have as many of the 26 TPP chapters as possible finalised by the end of 2012, but it's highly unlikely they'll meet that deadline. Canada and Mexico, which will be joining the next round of talks for the first time, have no authority to re-open concluded texts and no veto power in closing texts if the other nine members feel they are ready to move on.
What can we do about it?
Americans and Canadians against the TPP are protesting at every negotiation round, and demonstrations have been organised in Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. Law professors from around the world and more than 130 U.S. representatives have raised their concerns about the TPP in letters to Representative Ron Kirk, the head of the U.S. delegation.
You can join EFF and other organisations around the world in fighting back against the TPP's IP chapter and its threat to digital free expression by visiting EFF's Action page. You can also sign a petition at Stop the Trap demanding that the governments involved oppose the provisions that will criminalise or restrict use of the Internet. Your signature will send a message to leaders of participating countries. Learn more, by visiting the links below.
Natasha Grzincic is IFEX's online editor.