Threat of Trans-Pacific Partnership to Public Health – part 3

“The Threat of Trans-Pacific Partnership to Public Health” – part 3, “A Glimmer of Hope” – this article was written by Ivend Holen, appearing in the “Rogue Valley Community Press,” October 2013 issue, permission to reprint given by the author –

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“With the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiating process now winding down to its final stages, some optimism for opponents of this disastrous trade bill may be warranted, at last. Although the governments and over 600 corporate lobbyists negotiating this draconian trade agreement still don’t want you to know what’s in it, some of them issued cheery press releases congratulating themselves for the “progress” they made at the last round in Brunei last August. But you’ll search in vain for any information on what “progress” they made, or even what the TPP negotiators are up to.

“With the end of the 19th round of negotiations in Brunei in late August, the negotiators are ending their practice of “consultation”, and are now holding secret unannounced meetings. In other words, not only is the text of the TPP to remain in secrecy, the continuing negotiations themselves are being kept secret.

“President Obama had long planned to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bali in early October to celebrate the conclusion of the TPP negotiations, but the intrusion of the shutdown of the government on Oct 1st by Tea Party Republicans helped torpedo the entire Asia trip, and he decided to send his warmongering Sec of State, John Kerry, in his stead. But despite the efforts of the Administration, it appears virtually certain there will be no deal for Kerry or anybody else to sign in Bali, since a number of the 12 negotiating governments have balked at various provisions of the draft agreement, and the process of negotiation drags on.

“The deepening secrecy that continues to shroud the provisions of TPP, and even the negotiations themselves, adds substance to the assertion of former US Trade Representative Ron Kirk when he said that making the text public would raise such opposition that it “could make the deal impossible to sign”. One example of the kinds of provisions being shielded from public view is the issue of “safe harbor” provisions, which provide exemptions to certain companies, or the products they produce, from being required to institute warnings about the significant adverse health consequences or dangers those products may have on the consumer. The provisions originally envisioned were to exempt tobacco products from this shield, given that several nations (including the US) already had such requirements written into their laws. But the enormous pressure and influence of big tobacco has apparently caused backpedaling on this issue, and with the shield now back in place for tobacco, the health of human populations are being sacrificed in third world countries.

“If the TPP is ‘fast-tracked’ through Congress as anticipated, it could result in lawsuits from the tobacco companies to have these warnings removed from their tobacco products even in the US. Since the decisions of the “trade court” supersede all national laws it could even conceivably result in the reversal of the decisions that found the tobacco companies liable for damages to the health of US citizens, and require various US states and individuals to repay the billions of dollars they had to pay to settle the anti-tobacco lawsuits of past decades.

“Another provision of the TPP potentially affecting the health of human populations would outlaw the labeling of foods regarding its origin, including whether it was derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, and Vietnam currently have labeling laws requiring disclosure of GMOs in the food sold in their countries, but under the draft provision of this trade agreement all signatory nations would be required to remove such labels. In the US the hard struggle to progress towards labeling GMOs would be over, since, under international law, the TPP provisions supersede any and all national laws that conflict with it. The state of Oregon just withdrew the authority for individual counties or other governmental bodies to regulate GMOs in the state, but the TPP will withdraw the authority of the state of Oregon – or even the United States – to regulate GMOs – even if they are definitively and scientifically shown to be hazardous to human health.

“Some people and nations believe that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is detrimental to human health, causing changes and deterioration to the human liver like those experienced by alcoholics. But under the provisions of NAFTA similar to those embodied in the TPP, the three signatory NAFTA nations: the US, Canada, and Mexico are not permitted to discriminate against this hazardous product. The Mexican government, in an effort to keep HFCS from undercutting the price of natural sugar, taxed the product from 2002 to 2007, but was sued and, earlier this year, forced to pay over $100 million in compensation to Cargill and other HFCS producers by NAFTA’s trade tribunal panel. The toxic health effects of HFCS that result in diabetes and diseased livers could not even be introduced as evidence before the court.

“Australia, New Zealand, and Japan have differing healthcare systems (much like US Medicare) that provide subsidized near-universal hospital and physician care for all their citizens. Under the TPP these systems could be at risk. The TPP is designed to protect the private medical industries and insurers, and give them greater power to use their wealth and to use the rigged trade tribunal court system to protect their profits. Margaret Flowers, of Physicans for a National Health Program (PNHP) has written(1) that the TPP, ‘will undermine health systems in the US and abroad. High prices could bankrupt public health systems like those in Japan and Australia (ranked among the top in the world). Under the TPP, it is also possible that Japan’s regulation of health insurance which includes controlling coverage, prices and profits would qualify it as an SOE (State Owned Enterprise) that has unfair advantages. This could open the door for private multinational health insurance corporations to enter TPP signatory countries and demand access and that regulations are loosened’.

“In summary, the approval and implementation of this trade agreement could have disastrous effects on both the the health and the economic well-being of the populations of the United States and other Pacific Rim countries that sign on to it. Oregon has unique power and authority to influence the eventual disposition of it through its senior Senator, Ron Wyden, who chairs the committee through which the agreement must first pass, and he has not yet declared his position on the TPP. Obviously, he is under enormous pressure from the Obama Administration, which has tied its reputation, in large part, to the passage of the TPP. All those who have read the article this far should take the further step of contacting Senator Wyden via phone or email, and then urge him vigorously to oppose it, or, at the minimum, to oppose Fast-Track legislation which could deny any hearings, debates or amendments to the Agreement prior to its passage.

“Oregon Fair Trade Campaign (OFTC) works in coalition with labor, environmental and human rights organizations across the state to fight for fair trade policies. If you would like your organization to join in the effort to defeat the TPP they will do a presentation to your board or steering committee. Contact Ivend Holen at idholen@ccountry.net or (541) 779-5392.”