Singapore PM warns US over TPP ratification

Whether the US ratifies the TPP will test its credibility among APAC nations, the prime minister of Singapore has told the US Chamber of Commerce.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor

Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has told the United States Chamber of Commerce that the ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is "a litmus test of your credibility".

Lee, who has a meeting with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday, added that the US will be better off with its "doors open" to trade.

Obama's administration signed off on the TPP.

"The TPP allows American businesses to sell their products both at home and abroad. The more we sell abroad, the more higher-paying jobs we provide here at home. It's that simple," Obama said in June.

However, both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican nominee Donald Trump oppose the trade agreement, putting its ratification at risk, with critics claiming it will undercut American workers by introducing lower-wage competition.

US Senator Orrin Hatch, a US Senate Finance Committee chairman, last month also claimed that Australia wants to use the TPP to steal medicine patents from the US.

"We cannot agree to something that would just destroy the biologics industry. In essence what the Australians are saying is, 'let us steal your patents'," he told the ABC.

The claims were made in response to Australia asking for patent data exclusivity to extend for five years, while the US wants it to be changed to 12 years.

"There still has to be enough patent term to be able to recoup the approximately $2 billion and 15 years of effort that you have in biologics, and there's no way you can do that in five years," Hatch argued.

Australian Trade Minister Steve Ciobo said Australia will not change its mind on the five-year patent time frame, however.

"There's a hard stop in terms of our commitment -- that is the Coalition's commitment to Medicare and to the health system more generally," Ciobo said in July.

American technology giant Google has spoken in support of the TPP, saying free-flowing information and reasonable copyright exceptions for the internet will be beneficial.

The ecommerce chapter [PDF] allows for free data flows between member states, as well as providing for non-discriminatory treatment of digital products.

"TPP promotes the free flow of information in ways that are unprecedented for a binding international agreement. The TPP requires the 12 participating countries to allow cross-border transfers of information and prohibits them from requiring local storage of data," Google senior VP and general counsel Kent Walker wrote.

"These provisions will support the internet's open architecture and make it more difficult for TPP countries to block internet sites, so that users have access to a web that is global, not just local."

The TPP, which will regulate trade between the US, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, Brunei, and Chile, reached agreement in October, and was signed by all 12 member states in February.

Among other things, the TPP will force internet service providers (ISPs) to give up identification details of alleged copyright infringers so that rights holders can protect and enforce their copyright through criminal and civil means with some limitations; remove the barriers from government procurement, opening up equal market access to tech companies from each of the 12 member countries; and promote transparent and reasonable costs for international mobile roaming services.

The Intellectual Property chapter [PDF] states that member nations must enable copyright holders to access the details of alleged copyright infringers through ISPs, albeit with a non-exhaustive list of limitations and exceptions.

"It balances the interests of copyright holders with the public's interest in the wider distribution and use of creative works, enabling innovations like search engines, social networks, video recording, the iPod, cloud computing, and machine learning," Walker said.

"The endorsement of balanced copyright is unprecedented for a trade agreement. The TPP similarly requires the kinds of copyright safe harbors that have been critical to the internet's success, with allowances for some variation to account for different legal systems."

With AAP

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