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Another Voice: Secrecy plus ‘fast track’ does not equal free trade

By Thomas L. Knapp

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., wants President Obama to declassify details of an upcoming “free-trade agreement,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Obama’s response incorporates two mutually exclusive claims: First, that the deal is not secret and that Warren is just tub-thumping to rouse her progressive base; second, that OK, yes, parts of it are secret, but the secrecy is necessary.

Setting aside Obama’s poke at her motivations, Warren is right. The TPP is a bad deal. The secrecy surrounding some of its components is there for a reason: Most of us won’t like what’s in it.

That’s also why Obama is pushing the U.S. Senate to give him “fast track” authority, getting him a straight up-or-down vote as soon as he unveils the treaty instead of having to justify its details and face the possibility of amendment demands.

The first and most important thing to understand about the Trans-Pacific Partnership is that it’s not a free-trade agreement.

Even if we knew none of the details of the TPP (we do know some of them), we could reach that conclusion by noticing how lengthy, complex and detailed the negotiations are. Free trade is simple. All it requires is for the involved governments to forswear restrictions on commerce between their nations.

Heck, it could even be done unilaterally. The United States could simply announce that it’s lifting all tariffs, quotas and limits from imports and exports, and invite other nations to do likewise. And mandate that if any nation imposes restrictions on American goods, the worst of those restrictions will be mirrored for all goods originating in the offending country.

The TPP isn’t free trade. It’s managed trade. Its managers are industry lobbyists and their pet politicians. They don’t care a fig for freedom. Their priorities are easy profits and political advantage.

We already know that in at least one sector – so-called intellectual property – the TPP is the opposite of free trade, or for that matter freedom of any kind. We know this because the whistleblower group Wikileaks procured and released a copy of the treaty’s IP draft chapter.

That chapter would impose the worst parts of America’s draconian Digital Millennium Copyright Act, patent system and other anti-freedom, anti-innovation laws on all parties, globally damaging the ability to copy, to improve, to innovate – and bringing de facto Internet censorship into force – all so Disney can wring a few more bucks out of its 88-year-old mascot mouse and Big Pharma can hold the world’s patients hostage to high drug prices for a little bit longer.

The TPP is a bad deal for producers and consumers worldwide. Let’s demand real free trade instead.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.