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Are TPP supporters talking to themselves?

Opponents of the Transpacific Partnership are increasingly vocal and making their concerns heard. But are supporters of the trade treaty missing the point?

Earlier this week, an online petition protesting against the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) was delivered to the Australian Parliament. Signed by 1.8 million internet users worldwide, the petition demanded that the details of the negotiations be made public (Like several other plurilateral treaties before it, a major criticism of the TPP concerns the secretive nature of the negotiations).

Despite the fact that governments increasingly laud the importance of intellectual property and innovation as drivers of the modern economy, there is also what many see as a countervailing anti-IP sentiment. INTA president Mei-Lan Stark alluded to this in an interview last month, and she cited it as one of the biggest challenges for those who work to increase IP protection. Stark notes that this sentiment, and the protests against the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, seem to have taken IP owners by surprise. As she explained, “[ACTA was legislation] that had everybody's support but then suddenly was just unpalatable."

Not really unexpected

If rights holders were truly caught off guard by the anti-ACTA backlash, they have no excuse this time. A petition of 1.8 million internet users demanding a more transparent negotiation process, even taking into account the inflationary nature of internet petitions, shows that there is serious concern about the deal. A simple search for “TPP” on Google or the #TPP hashtag on Twitter also returns considerably more negative results than positive ones.

Furthermore, despite some attempts to make the TPP negotiation process more transparent, what has been done has fallen far short. TPP opponents, despite whatever faults one may find with their claims, often make arguments with direct reference to specific sections of the TPP. Many critics, like James Love of Public Knowledge International, have similarly provided detailed analysis of the draft versions coming from WikiLeaks.

Meanwhile, the US Trade Representative, despite having a webpage dedicated to the TPP, merely provides outlines broadly describing its positions while talking about the importance of IP protection. Similarly, supporters of the treaty, like the Global IP Center, attempt to debunk myths about the TPP by pointing to provisions from the US-Korea Trade Agreement as stand-ins for possible text in the TPP, rather than referencing the treaty itself.

Yelling past each other

The dialogue over the merits of the TPP at this point sounds more like an argument rather than a discussion. A good bit of the blame can be placed on supporters of the treaty, who seem content to talk past the detractors and ignore the details of their arguments. Many of those opposed to the TPP are likely not against IP protection on principle, but while they raise specific critiques and parse the language of leaked drafts, the treaty’s supporters provide what often sound like dismissive platitudes combined with a “seriously, just trust us” attitude.

Such a response does not help generate support for the TPP, and only further stokes anti-IP sentiment.

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