TPP: Bad for global health

Opinion: Columns

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By David Holmquist

On April 8, Oak Park Township approved putting a referendum measure on the November ballot that would declare Oak Park a "TPP-Free Zone." The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a proposed "trade agreement" that has very little to do with trade. It is actually an attempt to establish an international legal framework allowing trans-national corporations to trump local, state and national laws and regulatory authority in their relentless drive to maximize profits, protect monopoly investments, and externalize the costs they impose on society. Public Citizen has characterized it as a "global corporate coup d'etat." 

TPP would impact the rights and sovereignty of the citizens of all its members, including those of the U.S., with regard to financial regulation, environmental protections, labor standards, food safety, communications policy, and more. 

Our domestic policies would be required to comply with the rules negotiated, in secret, as part of the agreement. Those negotiations are being conducted almost exclusively by corporate lobbyists, and any disputes arising out of an eventual treaty would be decided by those same lobbyists in forums provided by the World Bank and the United Nations. 

One potential threat posed by the TPP, not often discussed, is in the area of public health and the provision of health care services. Those of us who are concerned with social justice, in the U.S. and across the globe, have been shocked to see the aggressive stance taken by American negotiators with respect to the intellectual property chapter of TPP. This chapter would govern the patent rights of drug and medical device manufacturers, and seeks to both broaden and lengthen patent protections. 

Such a move would raise the cost of drugs and treatments worldwide. It would pose a grave threat to global public health, particularly in its effects on the control of communicable disease, already compromised by the inability to provide treatment in the world's many conflict zones. 

Doctors Without Borders has said that these provisions would severely hamper their work in the developing world. TPP would also empower foreign corporations to challenge domestic toxics, zoning, cigarette and alcohol, and other public health policies, and to demand compensation from taxpayers for any policies that might undermine their "expected future profits." 

Arrangements such as these give a whole new meaning to the term "corporate welfare." Most alarmingly, TPP would very likely allow corporations to challenge the alleged "competitive advantage" of State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs). These are institutions that are fully or partially owned by governments, including public health systems. 

Notwithstanding the limited success of the Affordable Care Act, we in the U.S. pay the highest medical costs of any country in the world, however one measures them, and achieve at best only mediocre health outcomes. Over a half-trillion dollars a year are siphoned from the health care system as profits and administrative overhead by the private health insurance industry. Our health-care system is simply not sustainable. 

Making it sustainable will require increasing provision of public, and private non-profit, health services financed through a federal single-payer system. Proposed "trade" rules allowing corporations to challenge SOEs would foreclose the options we desperately need in order to truly reform our health-care system and ensure (not insure) health care to all American citizens as a matter of right. 

There is a wonderful irony in the notion of Oak Park declaring itself a "TPP-Free Zone." If TPP is finally negotiated and ratified, no place on the globe will be free of the rules it imposes. This agreement, and a similar one being negotiated with the European Union (the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), are anti-democratic in the extreme. While they purport to be about overcoming barriers to trade and promoting economic efficiency, they are actually about establishing global corporate monopoly power in a way that will be virtually impossible to reverse. 

Please support the Oak Park TPP-Free Zone, and continue to urge Illinois lawmakers to put the brakes on the destructive power of neoliberal globalization.

David Holmquist is an Oak Park resident.

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OP Resident  

Posted: May 29th, 2014 10:06 PM

Wow, thank you so much for the well-written and very informative article. These issues are very complex and tend to just wear people out which is part of the reason there is so little public outcry. We all need to be reminded to think global/act local and to remain engaged in our democratic process in spite of feeling powerless at times. Thanks again.

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