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TPP: 'Scary' US-Pacific trade deal published – you're going to freak out when you read it

'Cos all those pitchforks you bought will go to waste

Analysis The text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has finally been revealed, after seven years of negotiations and following formal approval last month.

The text was first published by the government of New Zealand, but was swiftly followed by the United States government, which has uploaded it across a number of websites and in different formats.

US president Barack Obama has informed Congress that he intends to sign the deal in 60 days. Unless Congress formally prevents him from doing so, the biggest trade deal in a generation, covering trade between most countries on the Pacific Rim (with the notable exception of China), will likely come into effect in 2016 and 2017.

The deal is long and complex: it stretches to 2,000 pages and is written in largely technical and legal language, making quick analysis difficult.

The fact that the deal was negotiated in secret, however, has created a default in many people's minds that the plan is a bad deal cooked up in secret between large corporations and government. As a result, initial review and coverage has focused almost entirely on finding things wrong with the text – to the detriment of rational analysis.

Our summary so far, based on digging into a number of specific examples highlighted by critics, is that the fears are overblown, and that the deal is so broad and balanced across multiple industries that claims to know what the impact will be are wildly speculative at best.

Where can I find it?

Probably the best place to scour the text is through the US government posts on Medium. There it is broken out by section and easily readable.

If you are more of a PDF person, then all sections are downloadable on the US Trade Representative website.

Or if you want to search on a specific word, then the Washington Post has done a searchable version of the deal. It's ok, not great, but may be useful to you.

Do I really want to read it?

Honestly? No.

But you will probably want to at least read a bit of one section to make yourself feel better. There are summaries of sections available that are written in plain language, and the Obama Administration has also written very short overviews on their webpages. But note that the overviews are slanted in favor of the deal.

Unless you are a public policy wonk or a lawyer being paid to summarize what the impact may be for your organization, the truth is that the actual text of the plan is dense and legalistic, so you may want to wait for others to provide summaries.

That said, if you do want to dig in, we would point you to the sections on Electronic Commerce and Intellectual Property.

Be straight with me, what is this really all about?

It's about simplifying trade rules between countries. As time goes on and markets change, more and more ad hoc rules are created and over time they become overly complex and difficult.

The trade deal is an effort to hit a sort-of reset, and simplify things for everyone involved. In some cases that works and you end up with a relatively universal and uniform agreement; in others, the topic is so tied in with countries' values and economies that the agreed text ends up with all sorts of opt-outs for specific countries.

A good example is in the case of ISP liability. The United States pushed heavily for an expansion of its law in this case (which is also used in the European Union), which grants internet providers legal protection if they cooperate in shutting down copyright infringers. This has largely happened.

But Canada has developed a different system for copyright infringement: a notice-and-notice system where someone hosting copyright-infringing material is sent a notice and an ISP is entitled to monitor their activity. There is no requirement to take the material down, since Canadian law says that it is only illegal to upload, and not download, copyrighted material. There is however a system for removing links to such material in search engines.

In this, the US approach – powered by a phalanx of IP lawyers from the world's largest content-creating companies – has prevailed, but the Canadian approach has been accommodated for Canadian citizens in Canada.

What is especially notable about this example is also the fact that even when the Canadian compromise was revealed in leaks of the IP section of the TPP, commentators took incomplete text and fretted that the TPP would still override Canadian law. In the end, the final text shows that it doesn't.

And this slightly panicking response has been repeated across the trade deal.

So, for example, we have the Sierra Club bellowing that the released text is "concrete evidence of a toxic deal" that threatens "the health of communities, the environment, and our climate."

Dig in a little further, however, and those fears appear based on the fact that the phrase "climate change" does not appear, and concerns that what is in place to protect the environment is not sufficiently enforceable.

There is a world of difference between a deal going the wrong direction and the wording not being as strong as you want it to be. At the same time that some are complaining bitterly that the extension of the US approach to intellectual property is a sign of corporations taking over the world, the complaint over the environment is that the US approach over environmental protection is not being similarly expanded.

In the criticisms there are lots of uses of the words "could" and "may," and what actually seem like reasonable changes for 2015 have been seen through a lens that the TPP is evil.

An example: the fact that signatories must allow for the cross-border sharing of data in electronic form is in all likelihood a good thing. But, desperate to find something wrong with it, it has been conflated to the fear that your personal data "may be put at risk."

Likewise Wikileaks has taken a section on source code that says the following:

No Party shall require the transfer of, or access to, source code of software owned by a person of another Party, as a condition for the import, distribution, sale, or use of such software.

And decided that it represents a "major attack on open-source with this NSA-friendly anti-open source provision." Which is of course utter nonsense.

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