The hypocrisy of “free market” advocates is astounding. While they trumpet increased competition and the elimination of state imposed barriers as a means of spurring economic advancement, they ignore how the Trans Pacific Partnership and other “free trade” accords increase monopolistic intellectual property provisions.
In a recent CTV interview on the TPP, Carleton business professor Ian Lee began by saying we’ve known for three centuries that “free trade” increases wealth, while a Maclean’s editorial “celebrating” the accord noted “as with most things, the best sort of trade is free: free from tariffs, restrictions and other government-imposed barriers.”
But the TPP actually significantly strengthens many “government-imposed barriers” to free exchange. The recently negotiated accord harmonizes intellectual property provisions upwards across the 12 nation zone. In Canada the deal will increase the length of copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of an author. It will also increase (corporate) copyright holders’ capacity to compel Internet Service Providers to block content on websites and to pursue individuals who transfer content they own between devices or upload/repost highlights from trademarked work such as professional sports.
The TPP will also extend drug patent protections. Brand-name pharmaceutical companies in Canada will be given patent term restoration to compensate for time lost during the drug approval process.
In some other TPP countries the patent extensions will be even greater, along with the resulting social costs. Médecins Sans Frontières warns that “the deal will further delay price-lowering generic [drug] competition by extending and strengthening monopoly market protections for pharmaceutical companies.”
Intellectual property is also listed as an asset under the Investor State Dispute Settlement section of the agreement. This will give patent or copyright holders the ability to sue governments — in a private, investor-friendly international tribunal — for pursuing policies that interfere with their profit making. Techdirt editor Mike Masnick notes, “including intellectual property in the investment chapter is a poison pill designed to ensure that intellectual property can only continue to ratchet up, rather than back.”
And, one might ask, what does extending patent, trademark or copyright provisions have to do with free trade? In fact, as a type of monopoly, they stifle competition, which is supposed to be a pillar of free trade ideology.
The TPP isn’t the only “free trade” agreement that promotes anti-competitive monopolies. The Canada-Europe Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement gives patent holders the ability to appeal overturned patents, increases patent data protection terms and grants patent term restoration for any time lost during the approval process. The extension of Canadian patents under the yet to be signed CETA is expected to drive up already high pharmaceutical drug costs in this country by between $850 million and $1.65 billion a year, according to a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study. This far surpasses the $225 million Canadian companies paid in tariffs to the EU in 2013.
To a lesser extent, other “free trade” accords such as the World Trade Organization and North American Free Trade Agreement also strengthened intellectual property monopolies. With patents, trademarks and copyright ever more important to big corporations, there’s been heavy pressure to extend intellectual property systems.
While the Maclean’s editors denounce “government imposed barriers,” they ignore how the TPP and similar agreements they promote extend state-designated monopolies. I guess it’s preferable to consider oneself a “free marketer” rather than a “sycophant of corporate power.”
This article first appeared in Ricochet.