Rabu, 20 Mei 2015

In defence of TPP - Environment and Intellectual property

In this post I'll tackle the  issues raised against the TPP in the areas of environment and intellectual property.

The opposition to the TPP from environmental activists comes from two contradictory positions - one is that any promotion of trade and economic activity leads to degradation of the environment and therefore must be stopped. The second argument is that the TPP does not go far enough to make environmental and climate change issues at the heart of any trade deal.

The first argument is not worth debating, for it is a loony left idea that deserves contempt. Denying the opportunity of economic advancement to the world's poor should be treated as a crime; for that is what it is. It would be far better if these activists were to specify how growth can happen with minimum effects on the environment (for eg what energy sources could be acceptable) and what the trade offs and choices should be. This they do not do and simply oppose everything. Such a position is not worth a shouting match.

The second argument is worth serious consideration. The US over many bilateral trade agreements has been pushing the following principles

* A binding agreement that countries would not lower their environmental standards in order to attract investment
* That their obligations under other multilateral climate control agreements would override any provisions of the Free Trade Agreement
* A long list of prohibited activities - like logging, deforestation, trade in wildlife, etc

In the TPP negotiations, the US is actually on the defensive as internally the Republicans will block any deal that contains significant provisions on climate change. Countries like New Zealand and Australia which are far more advanced on climate change issues are pushing for tighter provisions. These will have to be negotiated through, but given that the US is such an important player, it is unlikely that they would be able to do much progress. The activists are right to push for greater environmental standards. But the TPP is the wrong place to fight this. They should force the US, which single handedly screwed up the Kyoto Protocol, to come with an alternative.

I approach the second issue of intellectual property rights with some trepidation as that would mean arguing with Medicines Sans Frontiers (MSF) , a saintly organisation, which I am neither competent nor entitled to do. The issue is primarily of patent protection to pharmaceuticals. The US would like patent protection similar to what it has inside its own country. This would mean high prices for drugs for a long time in other countries and inhibition of development of far cheaper generic drugs. As this would disproportionately hurt the poor, MSF has been objecting to patent advancement through Free Trade Agreements. It is a difficult and thorny issue on which there are no easy answers . I am ducking this issue as this is not a big issue with the opposition to the TPP in the US, which is the prime theme of this series of posts. To its credit, the US negotiating team is trying to promote the principle  of "active window" - a period of time which would be longer for developed countries and shorter for developing countries when patent protection would exist and after that the country would be free to promote generics. That might be the best compromise.

This is probably an easy post - neither of these issues are ones on which US politicians should  kill the TPP. Despite the lunacy of a not insubstantial number of US politicians, this is unlikely to happen.

Tomorrow I will conclude this series with examining the secrecy surrounding the negotiations which is common cause made both by my good friend and Elizabeth Warren !!

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