Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Report Back: CPATH to USTR - U.S. Must Protect Public Health in the TPP

The U.S. Trade Representative gave new meaning to the phrase, "magical thinking" at a Nov. 18 talk in San Francisco. And new urgency to the demand for an honest debate on the economy and on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Last week, Wikileaks released the most detailed report of the proposed trade agreement to date It reveals the full text of the controversial intellectual property chapter, that would govern fundamental rights including access to medicinesinternet freedom, and cigarette package warning labels. In addition, it shows which countries support which versions of the proposals.
The U.S. does not look good. The leaked documents delineate that the U.S. would allow corporations including Big Tobacco and Big Pharma to rake in enormous profits while exposing the public's health to continued havoc by challenging tobacco control regulations, extending patent and trademark rights that would raise the prices of medicines, and raise the cost and availability of health care through patenting surgical techniques, for example. Disturbing enough.
Scores of members of Congress had already signed letters denouncing these proposals, and pledging to block them. Public health and medical organizations, and entire nations, have urged the U.S. to curb these abuses.
But on November 18, United States Trade Representative Michael Froman and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack engaged in a discussion at the Commonwealth Club of San Francisco, moderated by the Club's Greg Dalton. When Dalton specifically asked U.S.T.R. Froman to address concerns regarding the trade pact's limits on internet freedom and access to medicines, he got back the same happy talk the Administration has been babbling all along.
In a breath-taking effort to imagine that the entire population had lost the capacity for literacy, Froman asserted, "What we're trying to do with the TransPacific Partnership is open up markets in some of the fastest growing regions in the world, raising standards on labor, the environment, access to medicines, intellectual property rights, and create new disciplines for the 21st century global economy."
He went on to claim both that the TPP was the most transparent trade agreement ever negotiated, in view of the USTR's many consultations with every sector of American society, and that the American people would only fully understand how beneficial the TPP is once the negotiations are concluded and the public sees the final product.
Just prior to the public event, San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar and Co-Directors of the Center for Policy Analysis on Trade and Health (CPATH), met briefly with Ambassador Froman, and urged him to protect public health and rein in Big Tobacco in the TPP trade negotiations.
Supervisor Mar presented USTR Froman with a letter expressing his deep concerns that the provisions of the recently leaked Intellectual Property Chapter of the TPP "may undermine the right and ability of local, state, and national governments of participating countries from exercising their domestic sovereignty in order to adopt or maintain measures to reduce tobacco use and to prevent the harm it causes to public health." The letter posed key questions on U.S. proposals related to intellectual property rights and the tobacco industry, and requested a written response on how U.S. proposals will ensure that the United States and other TPP nations will be able to fully implement and enforce strong tobacco control legislation.
CPATH Co-Directors Ellen R. Shaffer and Joe Brenner articulated the concerns of major U.S. medical and public health groups, which are calling on the U.S. to take a leadership role to protect the public's health from tobacco-related disease and death, and to carve-out tobacco from the TPP negotiations. They presented a binder of letters and statements from CPATH, the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Academy of Pediatrics, American College of Physicians, American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, CA Health Officers Association, California Council of Local Health Officers, and the Public Health Institute, CA-Public Health Association-North, and Alameda County Public Health Commission.
During questions from the public, CPATH Co-Director Joe Brenner asked, "San Francisco and California have taken effective action to reduce tobacco-related disease and death. When California attempted to ban the carcinogen MTBE from gasoline to protect health for years ago, a Canadian company, which made a component, filed trade charges against the U.S. and sued for $970 million for lost profits under "investor-state" provisions in NAFTA. The U.S. is proposing to give corporations these same rights in the TPP, including to challenge local tobacco control regulations. Why?" USTR Froman responded that the U.S. has never lost a court challenge under these provisions, and that new TPP provisions are different. Wait 'til we see it.
"The ongoing efforts to usher through in secrecy a pact with nations representing 40% of the globe's gross domestic product is corroding our democracy," says Shaffer. "For example, an editorial in Bloomberg erroneously equated the secrecy of the TPP with the embattled but entirely transparent Obamacare health care reform program.
"To be clear: Trade negotiations have been a corporate-controlled subterranean process for decades. The Obama Administration didn't start this. But it has utterly abandoned the responsibility to change it. It is an anomaly in our democracy which we can no longer tolerate. The technical details matter, and we have a right to understand the fine print as well as the broad strokes. The United States must lead the way towards a 21st century trade agreement, that starts, proceeds and ends with a fully public debate."
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