WASHINGTON – After years of secret negotiations, the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was finally released Thursday. The agreement covers 12 countries and is billed as the largest trade zone in history.
Its contents will be pored over for weeks and months — given the thousands of pages of the agreement, its series of side-arrangements and annexes, and all the industries and people it affects.
But here are some initial highlights:
—Entry into force: The agreement must be ratified by all 12 countries, and then it takes effect six months later. In Canada, this requires a parliamentary vote. Alternatively, it can also take effect if it’s ratified by half the countries representing 85 per cent of the zone’s economy. A country can withdraw any time, on six months’ notice. Canada’s new Liberal government hasn’t taken a position yet, and the debate will begin in multiple parliaments over the coming months.
—Enforcement tribunals: Like past trade deals, this one will be enforced by special tribunals that operate outside national legal systems. Opponents call this undemocratic. Proponents call it a fair means of arbitrating disputes. Here’s how it works. If a company feels its rights have been infringed by a government policy, it can sue. The case is heard by a three-member panel. Each side chooses one member and they pick a chair, together. The tribunals can’t explicitly overrule government policies, but they can impose fines — and can use the threat of fines to urge governments to change a policy.
—Canadian winners: Hundreds of companies across a multitude of sectors will benefit from reduced tariffs, especially in Japan. For example, the current 39-per-cent tariff on cattle exports will be mostly eliminated — and these kinds of provisions exist across many sectors ranging from agriculture to high tech. Consumers will see lower prices on different products.
—Canadian losers: More foreign dairy will be allowed into the country, causing a market-share loss of at least three per cent for Canadian producers of some dairy products. There’s also fear of job-losses in the auto sector. Some pockets of the auto sector will face greater competition from lower-cost producers in Asia. The previous Conservative government promised compensation packages for those industries.
—Pharma: Some poorer countries could see new financial barriers to cutting-edge medicines. Next-generation, hyper-expensive biologics drugs can cost thousands per dose. They’ll be spared from cheaper, generic-like competition for anywhere from five to eight years. This doesn’t really affect Canada, as it already has an eight-year protection. But some poorer countries had no exclusivity at all — and this rule represents a big change for them. American industry isn’t happy, however, because it wanted 12 years’ exclusivity — and it remains to be seen whether it will spend money to lobby against the deal in U.S. Congress.
—Copyright: Don’t expect free downloads of Elvis Presley songs before 2047, or the right to publish transcripts of Martin Luther King’s, “I Have A Dream Speech,” before 2038. They’re both copyrighted, and will continue to be so for quite a while under this deal. Copyright protections will exist for 70 years after an author’s death. That’s already U.S. policy. But it’s 20 years longer than the status quo in Canada. So this means the works of author Mordecai Richler, for instance, are protected for an additional generation — instead of being available in 2051, they won’t be in the public domain until 2071. On the other hand, Internet-piracy provisions are not as strict as some expected. They do set out financial penalties for ISPs that fail to deliver notices of infringement to customers.
—Environmental and labour standards: When he first ran for president, Barack Obama promised a new deal that would create new standards for the environment and workers. This agreement does include provisions for both. One example is that disputes involving workers’ rights or the environment should have at least one arbitrator specializing in those areas.
—State-owned enterprises: There were lots of fears expressed over social media in recent months that the deal could kill Crown corporations like the CBC, Canada Post and Telefilm. The deal does set rules for state-owned enterprises, with guidelines against anti-competitive behaviour and transparency provisions that force financial disclosures. But it’s loaded with exceptions. It clearly says state-run enterprises and monopolies are allowed. A big exemption touches public procurement. There’s even a specific exemption mentioning for several Canadian institutions like the CBC, Telefilm, and the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation. There is no specific mention of Canada Post. Some opponents have expressed fear about the impact on mail delivery. However, the previous Harper government said the deal would exempt public services.