We Threw a Wrench in the White House's TPP Fast Track Plan

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We Threw a Wrench in the White House's TPP Fast Track Plan

Union workers protest TPP and Fast Track in April. (Photo: UFCW/flickr/cc)

Our campaign to fight the anti-user Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was a rollercoaster this year. Our mobilization against the Fast Track trade bill resulted in some major twists and turns before the sudden conclusion of the negotiations in the Fall, then finally after more than five years of secrecy, the governments officially released the completed TPP text. This definitively confirmed that this trade agreement contained a whole host of restrictive digital policies—including bans on circumventing DRM, heavy-handed criminal and civil penalties for copyright infringement, and excessive copyright term lengths. This, of course, was hardly surprising given the secret, corporate-captured process that plagued this deal from the very beginning.

As we continue on to the fight against the TPP's ratification into 2016, it's important to take stock of the critical battles that we've won along the way. This year was particularly notable in how much we were able to delay the conclusion and signature of the deal. That can largely be credited to hundreds of public interest organizations and individuals that worked together to put the brakes on the passage of the Fast Track legislation.

By the time the debate on Fast Track (officially called the Trade Promotion Authority) came to a head this past Summer, we had already been organizing to oppose it for months. We knew that if we wanted to stop the TPP, killing the Fast Track bill was our best chance to prevent the undemocratic process from getting even worse.

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When TPP's supporters in Congress began to roll out the Fast Track bill, they weren't expecting it to be as controversial as it was. We ended up sending hundreds of thousands of calls, emails, and petition signatures against the bill. We met with lawmakers and carried with us the letters of opposition from businesses and other interest groups against the TPP in order to make it crystal clear that a vote for Fast Track would essentially be a vote in support of a toxic deal for Internet freedom and user rights.

All of this made it really difficult for the White House to get the support it needed to pass the bill, putting TPP itself at a standstill. Since the TPP wouldn't have been able to pass in the U.S. without Fast Track, the countries weren't willing to put their chips on the table until they knew how the trade bill would shake out in the United States. Additionally, TPP's delay meant the spotlight would be put on ratification of the deal during the U.S. presidential election, and would raise significant questions for its support under Canada's new government. This shifting political dynamic across the TPP countries was exactly what the U.S. Trade Representative wanted to avoid by passing Fast Track in early 2015. Of course, Fast Track ultimately did pass in Congress after some wild congressional maneuvers, but we had already done damage to the White House's precious timeline.

By bringing the public's attention to the failures of transparency and oversight with the Fast Track process, we were also able to help bring about some minor procedural improvements. Most notably, it clearly stipulated some timelines for how and when the the text would be released: for example, it had to be released online in full, within 30 days of the President announcing his intent to sign the deal. Obviously, it would have been better if the bill hadn't passed at all, but these mandates are useful in constraining how the U.S. Trade Representative rolls forward with TPP's passage and that gives us an advantage in how we strategize our fight to stop it.

So with the elections looming in the U.S. and Canada, trade negotiators were now under pressure to conclude the deal. And they ultimately managed to finish it on October 5. A month later when they released the final official text, we at long last able to dig into the details of the TPP and confirm that it carried Hollywood's wish list of restrictive copyright rules, including a few other rotten bad digital policy provisions that we had never been able to see before. We've analyzed the TPP to explain in concrete terms how it would impact all kinds of people's digital rights, from students, journalists, free software users, and even how it will affect our digital security.

We are still in the midst of this fight to stop the TPP. President Obama and the other leaders of TPP countries are likely to meet in February to sign the completed deal. That's why EFF joined dozens of other groups to protest the deal in the streets of Washington D.C. But what we'll really need to do is to take advantage of these shifting political landscapes and drive a wedge into the deal's ratification in all the TPP countries. Our strategy is to focus on stopping this deal in the U.S. because that will effectively also defeat it in the 11 other countries—that's also where we have our best shot to kill this thing for good.

If you're in the United States, urge your lawmakers to call a hearing on the contents of the TPP that will impact your digital rights, and more importantly, to vote this deal down when it comes to them for ratification:

TPP action buttonTell Congress to vote no on the TPP.

Maira Sutton

Maira Sutton works with EFF's International Team blogging, framing policy, and monitoring emerging trends and developments in international freedom of expression, privacy, digital consumer rights and innovation.

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