The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was radically different from past trade deals that focused on traditional trade matters, like cutting border taxes. Instead, most of NAFTA’s provisions granted new powers and privileges to multinational corporations. NAFTA was the first international trade agreement to include specific obligations related to intellectual property (IP) – patents, copyrights and trademarks. Far from encouraging “free trade,” these IP terms actually blocked access and creativity by locking in long monopoly rights for Big Content, including the music recording industry and Hollywood studios, as well as pharmaceutical giants.
These industries were able to insert anti-consumer, anti-internet-user provisions because trade negotiations are done behind closed doors with hundreds of official U.S. trade advisors representing industry interests while the public is locked out. Under NAFTA rules, every country must conform their domestic policies to the pact’s terms. And NAFTA’s terms are not subject to change unless all three countries agreement. So public opinion may change, governments may change, but thanks to agreements like NAFTA, corporate protections remain shielded from democratic change. The result: Using NAFTA to lock in these forms of corporate protectionism has compromised cultural and educational sharing ever since.
Now with NAFTA renegotiations underway, the industry wants to lock in even more expansive monopoly rights and limit governments’ regulation of the internet. Big Content and other corporations are pushing for new NAFTA rules that would restrict our access to information and educational resources, protect the big, established companies and stifle innovation. The internet is a growing, ever-evolving platform. Many rely on it for information. Increasingly, it has become a dominant marketplace. Governments must have the ability, now and in the future, to regulate it and protect users and consumers without having their hands tied by so-called “trade” agreements.