Thursday, 21 May 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 !!


gils said...

oru doubt..those whoe oppose..if they are more precise like..intha mathiri industrieslaam allo panna koodathu and intha mathiri arealam industrykaga kudukka koodathu apdiun condition poattu oppose should be acceptedla? why waste an already productive resource for something which is a lottery

Ramesh said...

You are absolutely right Gilsu. This is the question of trade offs and choices. For eg - we need power; there is simply no way to economic growth without power. And yet the activists object to every form of power - try constructing a dam and there is a huge agitation. Try a thermal power station and there are protests. Try Kudankulam and you know what happened. So what are we supposed to do. This is why I have little time for these activists who only oppose and propose nothing constructive. The likes of Arundhati Roy who only protest and object without contributing anything positive.

Anne in Salem said...

I am enjoying this immensely. Thank you for explanations a layman can understand. I look forward to the final post and a well-deserved skewering of Warren.

Ramesh said...

Aww. Thank you.

Sriram Khé said...

Ahem, you duck an issue because you don't want to argue with Doctors Without Borders?
So, are you saying that their complaint has merit?
And if so, then the TPP ought to factor in that complaint and the language has to be changed?
Which means that the TPP is up for discussion after all?
Who gets to decide which issue is weightier than others?
The US President does?
When was the last time the constitution that is difficult to amend said that the US President is the king (or perhaps a queen after 2017!) of the country with divine rights to make such decisions?

democracy is, by its very nature, messy, my friend. Which is why sometimes even the frustrated idiot, er, pundit, Thomas Friedmann ends up touting the Chinese political model as being more efficient in how it can get things done! Which is why the George Obama presidencies have vastly increased the reach of the White House ...

I suppose all these comments can also serve as my comments against your defense of secrecy ;)

As for the environmental issues, the complaint is not that a Japan or a New Zealand will become less environment-friendly. In the TPP, the complaint is that the US is not using this wonderful opportunity to go after climate change issues. Especially when the rabid right is dead set against internal and international climate change deliberations. With the TPP, the worry is not anywhere like how it was with NAFTA--where it became easy for the polluting industries to flee south of the border, and that was also the time of the notorious Larry Summers memo in which ... well, Wikipedia has the goods on that.

Ramesh said...

Of course the MSF position has merit. Considerable merit. It is the balance between patent protection and cheap drugs which is difficult to strike. The reason I hesitate to criticise them is simply because they are a sainted organisation. I do not believe I have the right to criticise them in any way on any issue - I know you have a different point of view on this, but for me this is what I feel. By the way, the US position of different active windows for different countries appeals much to me.

And of course the TPP should be debated, criticised, argued etc. Isn't that what we ourselves are doing. I am only defending the US stand on TPP and you can, should, and will, disagree. The secrecy isn't about suppressing debate as I have elaborately argued in the next post. So no quarrels there. As far as the President's rights are concerned, I frankly don't care who the US puts up as the authority with the power to negotiate - that's your call. But don't put up somebody to negotiate and then say he has no power to bind the country. You want to put the whole Congress as your negotiator - that's fine. But put somebody up with the authority to negotiate.

Disagree with your view on environmental issues being pushed through the TPP. If you have a clear environmental goal , push it through the Kyoto Protocol, or its successor. That will anyway have precedence over any agreement in the TPP. Far from pushing an environmental agenda, the US wrecked the Kyoto protocol. I rest my case !!

Sandhya Sriram said...

I read today morning, about antartic ice loss altering earth's gravity. whether the US did something or did not do something with the Kyoto Protocol, i do not disagree with the point that when you are doing such a massive trade treaty, why not a stronger and a more emphatic environmental agenda. that would also strongly communicate that when you mean business, you mean business the right way. whatever be the political reasons for wrecking teh Kyoto Protocol, that doesnt punish US to sit tight and do nothing in every thing else that follows. dont agree with you here Ramesh.

Ramesh said...

The problem with environmental issues is that there is no overwhelming majority of people who think something should be done in the US. With issues like child labour, no discrimination, etc, probably 90% of the people support - so getting it in a treaty is easier. In evironment , there is absolutely no consensus. That is the problem.

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