Friday, December 13, 2013

Under our noses

While we dream of grand theories of physics, futures dominated by robots and chimeras, the near and real future is being snatched away from us under our noses.  

 Nobel Economist Joe Stiglitz protests.

As regards the provisions on intellectual property, negotiators should resist text that would, among other things:
  • weaken the 2001 Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health
  • mandate extensions of patents terms
  • mandate lower standards for granting patents on medicines
  • mandate granting patents on surgical procedures,
  • mandate monopolies of 12 years on test data for biologic drugs
  • narrow the grounds for granting compulsory license on patents,
  • increase damages for infringements of patents and copyrights,
  • reduce space for exceptions as regards limits on injunctions, and
  • narrow copyright exceptions
  • requiring life+ 70 years of copyright protection,
  • mandate excessive enforcement measures for digital information, and
  • otherwise restrict access to knowledge.
At this point in time, we do not need a TRIPS plus trade agreement, we need a TRIPS minus agreement. The TPP proposes to freeze into a binding trade agreement many of the worst features of the worst laws in the TPP countries, making needed reforms extremely difficult if not impossible.
The investor state dispute resolution mechanisms should not be shrouded in mystery to the general public, while the same provisions are routinely discussed with advisors to big corporations.

 One of the methods by which our future is being taken away from us is via trade agreements, in which the states that are party to the treaty work to override their own checks and balances.  For instance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is being negotiated in secret. The US administration will ask for "fast track authority" under which (per a commenter on Krugman's blog)
Soon, the Administration will be asking Congress to consider this trade pact under special rules called Fast Track or more formally Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Under TPA rules, the Administration, not Congress, will draft the implementing legislation for the pact, no amendments would be allowed, and debate would be limited to no more than 20 hours.

Moreover, these TPA rules would require the Congress to rush the implementing bill into law in no more than 60 legislative days.

As a final barrier against our elected Representatives real involvement, the TPA would prevent Senators from filibustering the legislation and mandate a quick, simply majority vote in each House.
One of the scary things about treaties like the TPP is that corporations will be able to sue governments about laws that might restrict a corporation's profits, and the decision will be made by a arbitration tribunal, not by the regular courts.  E.g., if a government  (say, the State of California) bans by law a chemical in order  to save the environment, the manufacturer of that chemical can seek to have that law overturned by arbitration tribunal.  These so-called investor-state disputes are settled as follows:
Investment disputes can be initiated by corporations and natural persons and in almost all cases, investment tribunals are composed of three arbitrators. One is appointed by the investor, one by the state {the Federal Government in our example}, and the third is usually chosen by agreement between the parties or their appointed arbitrators or selected by the appointing authority, depending on the procedural rules applicable to the dispute.
 So, rather than courts and legislatures directly or indirectly controlled by the public, the private party has immediately one vote out of three.  The second arbitration person is not necessarily appointed by the government that made the disputed law as in our example above.  In any case, it is an end-run around democracy.