This week saw the beginning of the 15th round of negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) in Auckland, New Zealand.
Led by the US, its supporters describe it as a free-trade pact that would expand US exports. But critics say trade makes up only a small part of what is being discussed.
They argue that the pact will grant far-reaching rights and privileges for corporations, and impose permanent constraints on government regulation.
So far 11 countries are taking part in the negotiations - the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore and Vietnam.
If approved, the TPPA would have implications for a whole range of areas, including access to affordable medicines, food safety and labour rights.
"Given the details it would not do well to have the public looking at the threats of higher medicine prices, unsafe food and other imports, and job off-shoring that this agreement would likely result in."
- Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch
It could even revive elements of the hugely unpopular SOPA act, which placed restrictions on the internet, and was defeated in the US Congress.
Participating countries would also be forced to alter their domestic laws to conform with TPPA rules, something critics of the pact describe as a corporate coup d'etat.
Failure to comply would result in countries being brought before a special court, working outside domestic legal frameworks.
In addition, the three years of negotiations have been conducted in secret with just the delegates themselves and 600 corporate representatives privy to the discussions.
What little is known about the TPPA talks comes from a document leaked earlier this year.
Much remains under wraps, causing concern among legislators and activists in the countries involved, including in the US, where the secrecy contradicts President Barack Obama's consistent promises of assuring everyone of a fair shot and of playing by the same rules.
Inside Story Americas asks: Why is the TPPA so secretive?
Joining the discussion with Shihab Rattansi are guests: Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch, and Celeste Drake, a trade specialist from The American Federation of Labor – Congress of Industrial Organisations (AFL-CIO).
The offices of the US Trade Representative and the US Chamber of Commerce declined Al Jazeera's request to be on the panel.
"By their [US trade negotiators] public statements this really isn't looking to be a radically different trade agreement and that it will generally follow upon the model of prior free trade agreements that we don't think have worked out for US workers at all."
Celeste Drake, a trade policy specialist with AFL-CIO
|What the critics say:
- The TPPA will transfer sovereignty from the individual governments to the corporate sector
- Corporations could challenge laws that protect labour, consumers, the environment or food safety if they interfere with corporate profits
- The agreement creates private international tribunals to hear cases run by corporate trade lawyers who serve as judges and would be empowered to order governments to pay unlimited amounts in fines
- It would extend pharmaceutical patents that keep competitors out of the market and allow pharmaceutical companies to keep costs high and limit poorer nations' capacity to afford life-saving generic medicines
- It shields foreign investment capital from domestic laws, essentially deregulating big finance even further at a time when there are calls for more regulation
- It will also undermine internet privacy rights by forcing service providers to hand over private internet data without private safeguards and restrict internet freedom of speech by criminalising some web activities that are now considered commonplace
Source: Al Jazeera