You should be concerned. Very concerned.
First of all, we don’t at the moment know everything that will be in the final agreement, but Wikileaks has released drafts of some parts, including sections on intellectual property and the environment. The content of those sections would appear to confirm your suspicion that “it sounds like this is a pact designed to further expand the wealth gap”.
What about the rest of the agreement? There’s a good article about it here. Some excerpts:
The TPP continues a direction set by Bill Clinton when he passed NAFTA, helped create the World Trade Organization and gave China new permanent access to the U.S. market. This policy can best be characterized as making the world an easier place to do business for multinational corporations. Aside from reducing tariffs, a global policy the U.S. has encouraged since the Roosevelt administration, NAFTA-style agreements have provisions that constrain domestic food safety, environmental and health regulations, shield foreign investment capital from domestic laws, and generally transfer sovereignty from the government to the corporate sector. Consequences of these kinds of trade agreements include offshoring of U.S. manufacturing and service-sector jobs, inexpensive imported products, expanded global reach of U.S. multinationals, and less bargaining leverage for labor.
The most controversial part of NAFTA is the investment provision. It not only removes the risks usually associated with offshoring production to low-wage countries. It also allows foreign corporations investing in the U.S. extra-legal rights to dispute American environmental, labor or consumer protections in foreign tribunals favorable to corporate interests, to demand taxpayer compensation for having to meet the same norms as domestic firms. NAFTA is just one agreement; U.S. trade agreements, including the World Trade Organization, also allow imposition of indefinite trade sanctions if the U.S. does not change its domestic laws to meet the pact’s limits on financial, environmental and other public interest regulation. Recent cases of U.S. law being slammed by the WTO include dolphin-safe tuna labeling requirements, country-of-origin meat labeling and the ban on candy and clove-flavored cigarettes. In addition, states and municipalities must bear the cost of helping to defend their regulations in international tribunals (such as California spending $8 million to successfully defend its right to ban the harmful gasoline additive MTBE or regulate mining on state lands).
I spoke with a few other international trade experts, and they gave me some more detail on what is in [the TPP]. Lori Wallach, of Public Citizen, says the agreement strengthens investor provisions, allowing a whole set of new disputes to be removed from the U.S. courts and remanded to international tribunals run by corporate trade attorneys.
Some of these include natural resource concessions from the federal government, contracts to run utilities (public-private partnerships), and procurement contracts relating to infrastructure construction. In order words, if a government entity wanted to prioritize awarding a government contract to a local firm, the TPP would allow foreign firms to challenge this as a TPP violation. And the challenge wouldn’t be in an American court, it would be held in an international tribunal.
There are also concerns that the TPP would undermine access to HIV drugs and other essential medicines in countries that sign the agreement. A spokesperson for Doctors Without Borders even claimed, “Bush was better than Obama on this.” The ACLU claims that the copyright provisions in the TPP are “the biggest threat to free speech you’ve never heard of.” A former White House staffer told me that the USTR is simply working for the copyright industry to get legislative changes through trade agreements it couldn’t get when the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was stopped.