Home / Op-Ed / What you should do about the TPP

What you should do about the TPP

Bali, Indonesia (October 8, 2013) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in a meeting with nations' leaders discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]
Bali, Indonesia (October 8, 2013) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry participates in a meeting with nations’ leaders discussing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). [State Department photo by William Ng/Public Domain]
Author: nicholas giokas – contributor

I wrote an op-ed about the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement a while back, before the documents were released to the public and before the agreement was signed. With the recent signing of the TPP by Canada as well as the other concerned parties, I feel like I should revisit this topic.

When I wrote that initial op-ed, and in the following months, I made a serious error: I thought that people would actually research the damn thing after the documents were released. Boy, was I wrong. Talking to the people vehemently opposed to the deal, it has become abundantly clear that none of them seem to know what they’re talking about. So, I thought I should dispel some of the more annoying misconceptions.

In every discussion of the TPP the ISDS, or Investor-State Dispute Settlement, is inevitably brought up as an aspect of the TPP that allegedly signs away our sovereignty because companies are allowed to sue the government. The grounds for a lawsuit that I constantly see brought up is for ‘lost profits’. This is entirely false. Companies are allowed to sue governments when they favour domestic companies by discriminating against foreign companies unfairly. In other words, governments can be sued when they don’t follow the treaty they signed. Go figure. Who would have thought that free trade agreements actually meant free trade? The ISDS does not mean that laws (such as environmental protection laws) can lead to lawsuits against the government; it means that the laws have to apply to all the companies equally.

With that squared away, let’s look at another misconception; this false idea that the only way that a free trade agreement is worth signing is if it boosts GDP and job growth significantly. The media has constantly pointed to studies released showing that there could be 0 per cent job growth and a small bump in GDP from the TPP as a reason that the deal is bad. Economists will tell you that free trade deals lead to 0 per cent change in employment in most models because the jobs lost in some sectors are gained in others. No, 0 per cent job growth is not the reason that free trade is bad. What you’re doing is looking at the wrong picture. Economists will point to cheaper and better products as the main reasons to sign free trade agreements.

Now that brings me to the actual substance of the TPP deal. It’s incredibly ambitious and is one of the more complex trade deals due to the sheer number of countries involved. Due to its ambitious nature and the amount of negotiation involved, the deal isn’t perfect. This means that there is, in fact, room for discussion on the deal. The issue has been, throughout this entire saga, is that the loudest mouths have constantly been debating from a place of either willful or negligent ignorance. If people like Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, and Elizabeth Warren would let the experts talk about the details of the deal, more people could have a more informed picture of the TPP. So, if you’re vehemently against the TPP, I ask that you start reading the reports and studies done by the experts and then form an opinion.

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4 comments

  1. “If people like Naomi Klein, David Suzuki, and Elizabeth Warren would let the experts talk about the details of the deal, more people could have a more informed picture of the TPP.”

    If *the negotiating Harper government* would have let the experts *see* the details of the bill while it was being negotiated, more people could have had a more informed picture of the TPP, earlier. I think it’s worth reminding people that the details of this agreement were kept secret for quite a few years, both from us, the individual voters, as well as human rights organizations, think tanks, universities like the UofR, as well as NGOs that protect our rights to use technology like the Repair Coalition and the Electronic Frontier Foundation. If the news organizations were not consolidated in this country, we have had a hope of bringing people’s attention to the provisions earlier, and deeper, too. If anyone is to blame for the lack of public knowledge, it is those who have kept the exposure of the public to this agreement to a minimum.

    I am still coming across people who haven’t even heard of the TPP, who don’t know what’s in it, and don’t know that the details were released. Fewer still realize that even after the initial public draft was released, changes have been made that have changed the semantics of the agreement, making it uncertain whether we can even be sure that anyone knows what’s in it at all. Given the size and scope of the agreement, that is a pretty large failure of our public institutions — something this large and important should have been at the breakfast table of every canadian citizen, and have been discussed ad nauseam by now.

    Either way, the burden of proof on those who want this kind of a deal to happen is on those who are its proponents, Initially, this would be the the Harper government, now, the Trudeau government and people like yourself. Shifting the responsibility to become informed on something to the person or audience you’re trying to convince of its virtue is simply not an honest way of arguing — for more details on the Burden of Proof I would recommend stopping by at Campion/Luther and discussing the matter with your local LGC100 professor.

    “The ISDS does not mean that laws (such as environmental protection laws) can lead to lawsuits against the government; it means that the laws have to apply to all the companies equally.”

    And yet, some companies are more equal than others. There are some situations where companies *need* to be dealt with on an case by case basis, and the TPP restricts our being able to do so. It strictly puts the companies’ ability to profit first, our ability to survive and maintain our environment second. Restricting our ability to regulate the environment in the face of powerful multinational companies is just as good as allowing them to run circles around our governments, which have a bad enough record in actually protecting our environment. Just to use a recent example: recently Brad Wall came right out and admitted in this province that many oil companies do not have sufficient savings to clean up old oil wells. Well that’s an example where individual companies *and people* could be held accountable by the government. And yet, this language is precisely the kind of language that you’re talking about making impossible.

    We would all like to live in a perfect market where market participants do not have disproportionate power, and yet this is not the market we live in. There are good reasons for why special cases ought to exist, special situations that need attention. Those oil wells are one. Grassy Narrows may be another.

    It is definitely an ambitious agreement – it’s an attempt for the Harper government to continue to decide the destiny of this country after their mandate for doing so has been removed by our popular vote. Unfortunately the Trudeau government seems willing to roll with it.

  2. To Jeff Cliff:

    A few notes on your response to my op-ed. First off, I ask that you go back and read my op-ed. It’s a nice quip to tell me to go to my local Logic Professor (something I wouldn’t be able to do anyways as I’m currently across the Pacific and very far from Campion/Luther; so you’ll have to forgive me for that) but I ask that you take yourself up on that advice and talk to the Debate Society on Campus about argumentation. See, what I said in the article is that there is a group of people that are vehemently opposed to the TPP deal that haven’t read the thing and don’t understand the key concepts of certain aspects of it. In this op-ed what I’m doing is pointing out an issue that I see with a topic, that people are uninformed or misinformed about a couple key aspects of the deal, and then explain those aspects and encourage them to read up on it. So, this line of attack you’re taking is, frankly, bizarre. You’re attacking me for shifting the burden of proof on the people while my entire op-ed is written to explain two key aspects of the conversation. I have a word limit man; I can’t explain everything about the TPP so I’m forced to tell people to research on their own time. With that said, I find it weird that you’re grouping me in with the government over the topic of better educating the people about TPP.

    Since we’re talking about the role of the government in educating people on the TPP I think you’re looking at this in a misinformed and overly paternalistic way. For the misinformed part, the Harper government couldn’t talk publicly about the TPP because it was in negotiation while they held power. When a multilateral treaty is being negotiated you don’t let the negotiations be public because the toolset for the negotiators is greatly diminished. I talk about this in my previous op-ed on the topic. It’s not some moral failing of the government, it’s just how multilateral treaties are negotiated. Now, I’d agree that the Trudeau government is at fault here. They could be doing a far better job at educating the public on the TPP. However, the media has written about the TPP at length, the deal is in public view, and people have the ability to read up on the subject. I think that your assertion that people need to be spoon-fed the information is incredibly condescending. The reason I take on a combative tone in many of my op-eds is because I want to spur people to action. I bring up points and explain the facts in the hope that people read it and try to read up on the subject. This is because I honestly believe that people have the capacity to think and research for themselves and don’t always need direct government intervention to do so.

    To the third point, your line of “some companies are more equal than others” plays directly into why the ISDS has to exist in a free trade system. The winning cases in the ISDS all display one thing: government interfering with, and directly stymying a company’s ability to do business for sheer political purposes. The most famous case, that always gets brought up by environmentalists, is that of the construction of a power plant in Germany. The company was contracted to construct a power plant but an influx of Green votes in the city council put amendment after amendment to the contract for greater environmental protection. The company followed along, adding onto the already finished plant well past the reasonable expectations anyone would have of a company. The Greens however, wanted to be cronies and screw the company out of spent capital and tear down the plant. This is what an ISDS case looks like: rampant government overreach to punish foreign companies and treat companies unfairly. Your example is nothing close to an ISDS case that would go through. What you are arguing is that we should allow for Crony Capitalism in free trade deals. Sure, the government can demand that companies abide by regulations, the ISDS would never rule in favour of the companies in that regard and the precedent has shown that.

    So, in short, I ask that (A) You take my advice and educate yourself further since it would take forever for me to go into every detail and (B) Keep writing and discussing topics such as these. You rightly pointed out the ignorance many people have in relation to the TPP and it’s an absolutely fantastic thing that you’re engaging in this discussion.

  3. Concerned citizen

    I think your argument falls flat on its face the moment you act like the investor state dispute settlement will only be used to sue nations that are unfairly discriminating against forgiegn products when we have numerous instances of Canada being sued under NAFTA due to enviromental legislation or safety regulations in Canada preventing foriegn companies from selling goods the Canadian government deemed to be dangerous or harmful. It most definitely is an infringement on a nations soviergneity when it’s laws are subject to change based on the profits of foriegn companies.

  4. To the concerned citizen:

    No, my argument doesn’t fall “flat on its face” due to how I view the ISDS system because how I view the ISDS system is the reality of the system. This is an arbitration court that would rather mitigate losses than dictate law. However, you can also think of the ISDS as a quasi-constitutional court for international trade, where it holds all parties accountable to the tenets of the treaty. In a few of the cases under NAFTA’s Article 11 (which you’re referencing) the reason that these suits were brought forward was because the ensuing difference in regulations would allow Canadian products to be shipped to the US but would effectively ban the sale of the US equivalent. It’s the cases where the Canadian (or US) government created legislation that would directly or indirectly destroy competition and undermine the free trade agreement overall.

    Now, there are cases that have been won by companies where, (from a layman’s perspective) the legislation was completely in bounds but there have also been cases where governments enacted laws that absolutely annihilated competition but won the ISDS case. See, the issue with your viewpoint is that it supposes that if a set of laws (or in this case a legal framework) is not perfect it should not exist. I take great issue with this viewpoint. Criminal and civil laws are imperfect but I would much rather have them in place than nothing at all.

    As an addendum: Just because the government is sued doesn’t mean the other party is necessarily correct, it just means they have to prove it.