Latest Trade Agreements Are Re-defining Cultural Choices As 'Non-Tariff Barriers' That Need To Be Eliminated

from the insensitive-much? dept

It's something of a misnomer to call TPP, TTIP and TISA trade agreements: they go far beyond traditional discussions about things like tariff removal, and are encroaching on domains that are as much cultural as economic. That is, many of things that the US dubs "trade barriers" are in fact long-standing expressions of national priorities, preferences and beliefs. That's evident in an interesting post from Public Citizen's Eyes on Trade blog, which explores the 2014 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (pdf). Public Citizen points out:

The policies of other TPP nations criticized by the 384-page USTR report include New Zealand's popular health programs to control medicine costs, an Australian law to prevent the offshoring of consumers' private health data, Japan's pricing system that reduces the cost of medical devices, Vietnam's post-crisis regulations requiring banks to hold adequate capital, Peru's policies favoring generic versions of expensive biologic medicines, Canada's patent standards requiring that a medicine's utility should be demonstrated to obtain monopoly patent rights, and Mexico's "sugary beverage tax" and "junk food tax."
None of those is a real trade "barrier", but rather a policy choice seeking to bring about certain results that presumably correspond to the wishes of the local electorate. The cultural aspects of these so-called "barriers" are even clearer in the case of Malaysia:
The report takes issue with Malaysia's "extremely high effective tariff rates" on alcohol and its strict licensing policy for the importation of pork -- strange "barriers" to highlight in a country where three out of every five people are Muslim. Malaysia's halal standards for meat have also been targeted as a "barrier" in a companion USTR report on Technical Barriers to Trade (published in 2013, the most recent edition available). USTR is concerned that Malaysia requires "slaughter plants to maintain dedicated halal production facilities and ensure segregated storage and transportation facilities for halal and non-halal products."
Again, it's quite evident neither of those has anything to do with "market distortions", and everything to do with the fact that Islam is an important cultural element of Malaysian society. It is only natural that its laws and regulations should reflect that. Similarly, the following is likely to be an expression of Japanese society itself, not some evil plan to shut out foreign companies:
The report critiques Japan's laws protecting the privacy of citizens' personal data, calling them "unnecessarily burdensome." The U.S. government, according to the report, "has urged the Japanese government to reexamine the provisions and application of the Privacy Act, so as to foster appropriate sharing of data..."
Presumably those laws were passed because the Japanese value their privacy, and specifically wish to limit the sharing of personal data. But the USTR seems to think it is reasonable to demand that Japanese society change its attitudes in order to make the laws less "burdensome" to US companies operating there. The Japanese section also contains the following:
The report calls for "timely and accurate disclosure" of key texts related to Japan's postal reform, and "public release of meeting agendas, meeting minutes, and other relevant documents." In contrast, leaks have revealed that the United States and other TPP countries have agreed to keep TPP texts classified until four years after the agreement enters into force or talks collapse.
The lack of transparency for TPP is no simple matter of hypocrisy: it is an assault on local democracy. That's because the TPP negotiations are not haggling over a few tariffs, they are imposing a wide range of economic and social norms for an entire region. Conducted in secret, without any meaningful input from the people who will be most affected, these new-style agreements undermine the usual legislative process. This shift is yet another reason why TPP, TTIP and TISA must be opened up to allow greater public participation and input. If they are not, they are likely to be perceived as something imposed from above, and lacking in legitimacy. That's precisely what happened with ACTA; it led to tens of thousands of people taking to the streets, and ultimately rejection by the European Parliament.

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Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    icon
    PaulT (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 12:59am

    "The policies of other TPP nations criticized by the 384-page USTR report include..."

    ...a bunch of things guaranteeing fair pricing and privacy regarding personal healthcare. Can't have any of that.

    "USTR is concerned that Malaysia requires "slaughter plants to maintain dedicated halal production facilities and ensure segregated storage and transportation facilities for halal and non-halal products.""

    Because why should consumers need to know what they're actually eating? Next thing they'll be telling us that you can't label a product as vegan if it was fried in lard!

     

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  2.  
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    silverscarcat (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 1:36am

    Wait a sec...

    Is this saying what I think it's saying?

    In contrast, leaks have revealed that the United States and other TPP countries have agreed to keep TPP texts classified until four years after the agreement enters into force or talks collapse.

    ...Is that seriously saying that "we can't release what's in TPP until four years after it's ratified"?

    Please tell me that it's my sleep-addled brain that is reading that wrong and that's not what they really mean.

     

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  3.  
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    That One Guy (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 1:55am

    Re: Wait a sec...

    Unless I'm misreading it as well, that is indeed exactly what they're saying, that even if the thing gets passed, the exact text will be locked up for four years, likely to keep the public in the dark until any changes have already been in place for a while, at which point any challenges would be met with 'Well the laws have been in place for a few years with no public outcry(ignoring the secrecy making it so people only know what's in the 'agreement' once it's been put into law), no need to change them now.'

    Such a plan also sheds a little light on why they're so desperate to get FTA for the thing, if the politicians were allowed to debate it piece by piece, keeping those pieces secret would be ridiculously difficult, but if it's an all-or-nothing vote, no such debate is possible, so there's no need to make the document public for them to look it over.

     

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  4.  
    identicon
    Techanon, May 14th, 2014 @ 1:59am

    Re: Wait a sec...

    Nope, it's not your imagination.
    It's been known for a while and it's one of main points of criticism towards the negotiations.

     

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  5.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 3:14am

    Corporations need a mono culture so that they can grow to their maximum size. Therefore cultural differences must be destroyed, along with all religions other than consumerism.

     

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  6.  
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    Seegras (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 3:30am

    Monopolies

    Well, then, I'd say we want the US to immediately ditch their system of awarding monopolies on technical inventions, since these obviously constitute a trade barrier.

    Either they do that, or the only thing we're left to conclude is that this is not about free trade, but about the opposite: Mercantilism.

     

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  7.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 3:59am

    Re: Wait a sec...

    ...Is that seriously saying that "we can't release what's in TPP until four years after it's ratified"?

    Not quite... The full text of the agreement will be released, but *just* that. Not any of the associated documentation or negotiating docs. We wrote about this a few years ago:

    http://www.techdirt.com/articles/20111018/05561916398/out-acta-ing-acta-all-tpp-negotiating-docu ments-to-be-kept-secret-until-four-years-after-ratification.shtml

     

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  8.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 4:00am

    Someone should shoot the conept of the USTR with a pocket nuke. It is not fit for purpose and any sentiments that it does its job correctly are either deluded, misinformed or lying.

    I cannot in good faith argue that the USTR has ever been correct in its actions in the last fifteen years.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 4:21am

    Re: Wait a sec...

    You have to pass it to read it. Typical stuff from the liberals and progressives in office now. But hey, keep voting for them thinking they are for the "little guy" and this is what you get.

     

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  10.  
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    PaulT (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 4:46am

    Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    What a surprise. A person attacking "liberals" who's basing an argument on false information gleaned from a deliberate misquote.

    Yawn.

     

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  11.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 4:48am

    Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    This tired old trope needs to crawl back under the rock it came from. Clearly, most congressional legislation backed by either party was not written by any members congress, most do not even read the legislation before giving their approval. This is a problem. With this in mind, how does one keep these ignorant opinions?

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 4:58am

    "requiring banks to hold adequate capital"

    Who do these people think they are, eliminating the need for huge bailouts and economic collapse?

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    David, May 14th, 2014 @ 5:01am

    We've come a long way

    Remember when the Military-Industrial complex bullshitted the public about "Weapons of Mass Destruction" in order to regain control over Iraq oil production?

    At least nowadays they have the decorum to route around democracy completely.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 5:07am

    "Other countries have policies that show hints of sanity, whereas ours do not. Therefore we are at an unfair disadvantage and we need to force them to stop those policies"

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    broken, May 14th, 2014 @ 5:16am

    re: we've come a long way

    Not quite. Have been ever thus... The empires of the past have done these sorts of things all the time in the name of fairness. Sadly the cry by the government trade negotiators, politicians, and heads of multinationals, "Democracy and freedom!" it simply means we want our cakes and eat them too and no one else should even think of eating crumbs until we say it's okay. It's all about our self-interests. And when the people in other countries complain about our shoddy cultural or material products, we decry about their corruptions, censorship, and non-democratic ways.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    David, May 14th, 2014 @ 5:19am

    Re:

    "USTR is concerned that Malaysia requires "slaughter plants to maintain dedicated halal production facilities and ensure segregated storage and transportation facilities for halal and non-halal products.""

    Because why should consumers need to know what they're actually eating?

    It's not a matter of "what" but rather "how". I'm not Muslim but I find the notion that Malaysians are not supposed to know whether or not their meat has been prepared according to their religious beliefs obscene.

    Indeed, it is violation of the separation of state and religion if the state prohibits the dissemination of information required to practice religion according to one's beliefs and prohibits businesses from catering to religions and being allowed to inform about that.

    Big business wants to treat their consumers like their cattle: under their control from birth to death, kept stupid and powerless to make any decision. You'll not see them threaten an organized stampede unless food quality improves.

    The difference is that cattle produce dairy and meat as end product, and consumers produce money, or more tangible, power.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    It is funny that liberal love attacking conservatives, but when you use liberal leaderships own words against them they act like its just business as usual. So which is it, the fault of the party or the fault of the system over all? Wish you guys would make up your mind.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 6:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    Wish you guys would make up your mind.

    So you prefer the state to tell you what to do, rather than participate in a democracy.

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 7:21am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    @ anon @ 5:20

    don't worry, Big Daddy will tell you what to think and everything will be alright...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 7:36am

    The U.S. is in no position to discuss 'market distortion', look at all the monopolies we grand and the anti-competitive laws we pass.

     

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  21.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 7:40am

    people need to wake up to the indoctrination that is going on everywhere by the USA. it certainly isn't doing it for the good of anyone other than itself!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:04am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    Not sure why that is aimed at me, it is the liberal mindset that likes big government. Conservatives want small government and less control. You see with the current administration what happens when the government takes control. They kill their own citizens with drones, they spy on the entire world including their own citizens, they spy on journalists, they send the IRS after the opposition, they cover up attacks on our embassies, they spend unbelievable amounts of money, they negotiate far reaching treaties in secret and so on. That is big government. I am not for big government.

     

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  23.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:05am

    I thought free trade was supposed to be about making sure foreign businesses are not treated unfairly by removing privileges given only to domestic businesses or removing restrictions placed only on foreign businesses. If a regulation applies both to foreign and domestic businesses, where is the discrimination?

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    John Thacker, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:17am

    Re:

    Well, take the example of the US government's restrictions on flavored cigarettes. They banned clove cigarettes (kreteks) but allowed menthol as the one flavor to continue to be sold.

    Cloves are mostly made in Indonesia, menthols are made by US companies. Menthols were (and still are) more popular in the US, so you could call it simply a "cultural choice" by the American people to prefer menthols. Still, it is easy to see why the Indonesian government saw it as a discriminatory non-tariff barrier, not just as "cultural choice," and sued.

    Sure, Indonesian companies could just make menthols instead, and US cigarette companies are also banned from making cloves (or other flavors except menthol) so the US claims, making your argument here, that it's not discrimination. The Indonesians view that "a flavor is a flavor," and that menthol should be banned too or its discriminatory.

    There are lots of similar situations. What makes this tricky is that some so-called "cultural choices" really are non-tariff barriers, designed to discriminate against what other countries are good at. There will inevitably be accusations that go too far, but the concept has some validity.

     

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  25.  
    icon
    John Fenderson (profile), May 14th, 2014 @ 8:20am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    "Conservatives want small government and less control."

    Baloney. What I hear them say and see them do indicates that conservatives are no more in favor of a small government with less control than liberals are. They only differ in exactly what parts of the government should be huge and overbearing.

     

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  26.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:21am

    Re: Re:

    Where, oh, where are the free market enthusiasts?

    *Crickets*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:24am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Wait a sec...

    Define "Liberal."

    "Not a Republican/right-wing party" member or supporter is the wrong definition. Don't kid yourself, partisan theater is just that: theater. This is about corporatism, not liberalism, and anyone who says otherwise is helping to keep us divided so the megacorps can conquer.

    Don't fall for it.

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Pragmatic, May 14th, 2014 @ 8:25am

    Re: Monopolies

    What Seegras said.

     

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  29.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 9:27am

    Humanity has had top down rulers for thousands of years, in the form of king and emperors. Now-a-days are top down rulers are CEOs, lobbyists, and the USTR. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

     

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  30.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, May 14th, 2014 @ 10:02am

    Why scarequote non-tariff barriers? These provisions clearly meet the definition; the fact that they do doesn't mean that they are evil or that they were instituted solely to block trade.

     

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  31.  
    identicon
    Andrew D. Todd, May 14th, 2014 @ 3:14pm

    Pork

     

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  32.  
    identicon
    Jean Sievers, May 26th, 2014 @ 5:42am

    The TPP large multi nationals win and everybody else loses. The Treaties are secret because they and our political 'leaders' know they are pushing something down our throats that we would not approve of. It shows who the political 'leaders' think are more important. It exposes them as agents of foreign multi nationals. Abbott and Hockey in Australia commission a report for their Budget from the Business Council (top 100 companies in Australia).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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