Campaigning against a bill in Congress that could affect American trade and the cost of medicine isn’t a typical activity for a registered student organization, except for one.
Fast Track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, was introduced to Congress in January. The bill would give the White House the power to sign the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade agreement between Pacific Rim countries.
The Central Michigan University branch of Universities Allied for Essential Medicine, collected 150 signatures from students who are opposed to the passage of Fast Track. UAEM member Samuel Mehr said the legislation would limit the ability of Congress to debate and modify the trade agreement.
“Fast Track gives congressional power over the trade negotiations to the president’s administration,” Mehr said. “We’re looking at something that could potentially undermine the democratic process.”
The Trans-Pacific Partnership is at the center of an ongoing discussion among the United States and 11 other countries involved. Much like the North American Free Trade Agreement, the agreement would lower tariffs among member countries to encourage trade.
UAEM is concerned the trade agreement will result in more restrictive intellectual-property rights on generic medicine.
Generic medicines can be developed at lower costs because they use data gathered by larger companies in expensive clinical trials, Mehr said. The property rights chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement could prevent the sharing of this data.
“The TPP enhances property rights in a way that would stifle innovation and harm generic companies,” Mehr said. “As a result, it would raise the price of generic medicine so it will no longer be affordable to those who need it.”
Many third-world countries rely on affordable generic medicine in order to deal with illnesses. A rise in cost would make it harder for the people of those countries to gain access to medicine, Mehr said.
U.S. Rep. Dave Camp R-Midland, introduced the Fast Track bill in Congress. Camp represents Michigan’s 4th District, which includes Mount Pleasant.
Because they are in Camp’s constituency, CMU’s UAEM group saw they were in a unique position to speak out against the bill. After they presented their petition to Camp, his office advised the group to compose a formal list of concerns and suggested amendments for the bill.
The trade agreement
The Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement is surrounded in secrecy. The document is not available for the general public to read and scrutinize. Information about the agreement, such as the chapter on intellectual-property rights, has reached the public through sites like Wikileaks.
Many of the agreement’s specifics are still unknown, but it is clear that joining the partnership would have far-reaching effects on the country. Speaking generally on trade agreements, CMU professor of economics Christopher Bailey said such trade agreements have positive and negative aspects for different parts of the economy.
“Greater international trade tends to have net positive effects on the economy,” Bailey said. “However, there are always winners and losers in a trade deal.”
Trade agreements can increase America’s exports with the other member countries. Bailey said this could create more high-paying jobs in the domestic export sector, while leaving few jobs available in the import sector.
Critics of the TPP are concerned that it could have a number of negative effects outside of economics. Some believe the TPP would change intellectual-property policy in the U.S. to allow companies greater control over the Internet. There has also been speculation that the partnership could have repercussions for the ecosystem.
“The trade agreement could allow corporations to undercut regulations in place in the United States,” said Student Environmental Association member Traven Michaels. “That could pose serious problems for the environment.”