For some reason, I’ve been asked to do an interview with a Korean radio station about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, frequently described as “the world’s largest trade deal”, on the basis that the countries involved have a combined population of 2.2 billion, more than any previous deal.
The most interesting thing about the deal is what’s not in it (also, who’s not in it, notably India and the United States). Early drafts followed the classic pattern, with strong Intellectual Property and Investor State Dispute Settlement, while excluding environmental and labour protections (which never had a chance in this deal) . In the final agreement, the IP content, which previously included things like a binding commitment to Plant Variety Rights has been watered down to a generic agreement that IP is a good thing, while ISDS is gone altogether.
ISDS was always an appalling way of institutionalizing corporate power. But the attempt by Philip Morris to use ISDS to overturn Australia’s plain packaging laws, using a spurious corporate base in Hong Kong, seems finally to have tipped the balance against it.
Much the same can be said about strong IP. The remorseless extension of copyright, calibrated to the lifetime of Mickey Mouse, seems finally to have come to an end in the US, and any attempt to extend the scope of IP now encounters vigorous resistance.
fn1. I’m sure there is a better word to express what I mean here, that corporate power is locked in more or less irrevocably by this kind of deal. But I can’t find it in the memory bank, or the Thesaurus. Any suggestions?