This week's closed-door Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations in Maui, which President Barack Obama hoped would be the last round, ended Friday in failure to reach a final agreement, thereby pushing a U.S. ratification fight into the tumultuous 2016 presidential election cycle at the earliest—and raising hopes that the corporate-friendly accord could be derailed for good.
Global justice campaigners, who will now have more time to organize against the pact, were buoyed by the development, with Sujata Dey of Council of Canadians declaring on Saturday: "This stall in talks could mean the death of the deal, and a win for the public interest all over the world."
The TPP ministers claimed in a joint statement released Friday that they have "made significant progress and will continue work on resolving a limited number of remaining issues."
But analysts say that the ministers' failure to close a deal strikes a significant blow against Obama's agenda. Under the timeline set in the controversial Fast Track legislation passed in the U.S. last month, a minimum of roughly four-and-a-half months is required between the conclusion of negotiations and a yes-or-no vote in Congress, according to the calculations (pdf) of watchdog group Public Citizen.
"This stall in talks could mean the death of the deal, and a win for the public interest all over the world."
—Sujata Dey, Council of Canadians
"It’s good news for people and the planet that no deal was done at this final do-or-die meeting given the TPP’s threats to jobs, wages, safe food, affordable medicines and more," said Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, in a press statement. "Only the beleaguered negotiators and most of the 600 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests wanted this deal, which recent polling shows is unpopular in most of the countries involved."
Friends of the Earth said on Saturday that U.S. negotiators "are trying to divert attention from this failure by claiming that an agreement concluded in Maui on the TPP environment chapter is a major success. This is incorrect."
"Environmental chapters in recent U.S. free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia, Korea, and Panama are narrow in scope dealing mainly with conservation issues," the environmental organization continued. "Not a single one of these agreements has resulted in a U.S. suit to enforce obligations to curb trade in illegally-harvested timber or illegal trade in endangered species. Now, it appears that the TPP environment chapter may be even weaker than its predecessors, and that many of its provisions will be merely aspirational and not legally binding."
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Under negotiation since at least 2008, the TPP includes the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. These nations together represent 40 percent of the world's GDP, making it poised to be the largest such deal in history.
The accord has been negotiated in near-complete secrecy, and the vast majority of what is known about its contents has been revealed through leaks. Global social movements and civil societies have raised alarm about provisions that they say dramatically expand corporate power at the expense of people and the planet.
"Only the beleaguered negotiators and most of the 600 official U.S. trade advisers representing corporate interests wanted this deal, which recent polling shows is unpopular in most of the countries involved."
—Lori Wallach, Public CitizenOne such measure was revealed this week when WikiLeaks published a secret letter from a TPP ministerial meeting in December 2013, which shows that the United States is pressing for the privatization of "state-owned enterprises" (SOEs).
"Even an SOE that exists to fulfill a public function neglected by the market or which is a natural monopoly would nevertheless be forced to act 'on the basis of commercial considerations' and would be prohibited from discriminating in favor of local businesses in purchases and sales," explained WikiLeaks on Wednesday. "Developing countries such as Vietnam, which employs a large number of SOEs as part of its economic infrastructure, would be affected most. SOEs continue to fulfill vital public functions in even the most privatized countries, such as Canada and Australia."
The TPP is known to include numerous other controversial provisions, including secret corporate tribunals that allow multinationals to sue governments for loss of "expected future profits" and measures that would hike drug costs while decreasing access.
Hundreds gathered this week in Maui, where the negotiations were taking place, to protest the TPP's "corporate assault on people and planet."
"Behind me stands my ancestors and my ‘ohana (family)," declared protester Lorilani Keohokalole-Torio on Wednesday. "We are not aligned with people coming in and restructuring how we live. It hurts my na‘au, my gut. We are fed up, we are educated, we are empowered, and we are aligned to help this place, mother earth, regain the strength that she wants back."