Today, Public Knowledge (PK) publishes a substantive analysis of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While PK does not take a position on whether trade agreements in general are good or bad as a matter of public policy, we do evaluate whether individual trade agreements affect PK’s ability to promote its mission. If an agreement benefits our policy goals we will support it, and if it undermines our mission we will oppose it. It is true, however, that PK has consistently decried the lack of openness and transparency surrounding the negotiation of trade agreements and has recommended significant reforms to the process of deliberating trade policy to give the public a more meaningful voice in evaluating the elements of trade agreements before they are completed.
Our paper reflects the assessment of various staff experts in copyright, patent, internet, telecommunications, spectrum and video policy on how specific portions of the proposed TPP trade agreement would most likely impact PK’s goals of promoting balanced copyright, freedom of expression, open communications platforms and fair telecommunications policies specifically in the United States (U.S.) and on a general level globally. This is not an evaluation of the entire TPP agreement, and we specifically do not address issues beyond copyright, patents, internet, spectrum, video and telecommunications policy.
In our core areas of expertise, some provisions are fully protective of global public interest principles and current U.S. law (e.g., the telecom and spectrum provisions) while others can possibly be reconciled with U.S. law and protections in many other countries (e.g., copyright, patent and video policy) but only with clear governmental commitments to implement them to serve the public interest.
PK’s analysis is both pragmatic and nuanced to reflect political realities. We assess the agreement’s impact on the U.S. context based on our day-to-day immersion in legal and policy fights surrounding these issues and how trade agreement language is likely to influence or steer long term policy opportunities. Regarding impact on other TPP parties, we only offer general observations and reflections on global impacts. We do, however, call attention to developmental challenges TPP may pose abroad.
PK’s assessment also takes into account our experience with what happens when trade agreements are not consummated, leaving civil society and less-powerful countries to fight powerful interests that constantly challenge public interest goals through other policy battles in other venues. Overall, we believe that civil society will need to galvanize broad coalitions to support promotion of strong laws and regulations to protect public interest goals, whether the TPP is agreed to (and requires careful implementation) or not (and requires preserving or promoting strong laws).
We hope this analysis will spur a deeper and more substantive debate about how individual provisions are mostly likely to be interpreted in the legal and policy world, given past experiences conforming treaties to existing law, and given the reasonable likelihood of improving existing law. Rather than continuing to debate the “worst case/best case scenario” for either trade agreements or potential changes in law, we hope this paper contributes to a realistic assessment of the TPP’s impact on ongoing struggles to promote freedom of expression, balanced copyright, an open internet and fair telecom policies.
Image credit: USTR.gov