Did we give too much away to Big Tech and Big Pharma in the USMCA?

Earlier today I talked about how this trade deal might be the best we could hope to achieve while still having serious flaws that left me with misgivings. Now let’s take a look at a couple of those flaws if only to establish some signposts to keep an eye out for as we move forward.


Ed already covered some of the key developments of the US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement, particularly the fact that Nancy Pelosi called it the “Easiest Trade Deal That We’ve Ever Done.” Strangely, she still didn’t seem capable of moving it forward for quite a while because of… something (cough… impeachment). We also learned that the AFL-CIO was on board with USMCA.

But were there too many big giveaways to big industries that plenty of voters simply loathe at this point? This seems like easy an easy issue to address, but the reality has been more… complicated. Critics pointed to Big Pharma giveaways in Article 20 F. 14 of the deal that could drive drug prices up. Polling from early this year “found that 80 percent of Americans believe that congressional ‘action to lower prescription medicine prices is extremely important,’ making it the top issue for voters in both parties.”

Heck, even Nancy Pelosi was carping about the Big Tech giveaways in the package. (Axios)

New opposition from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi this week left the tech industry at risk of losing a cherished trade deal provision that could help cement its liability shield.

Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects online platforms from liability for content their users post, and Pelosi cited the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s extension of its principles to U.S. trade partners as a sticking point for getting the trade deal through Congress.

While tech companies have been pushing to extend their Section 230 protection to other countries, the provision has faced new criticism from a collection of industry groups, advocacy organizations and lawmakers amid a debate on revising or eliminating the law.


It’s not just liberals complaining about all the handouts. Ted Cruz and other conservatives were warning about this as well. (Politico, subscription required)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) today urged the Trump administration to remove language enshrining tech’s sweeping liability protections in trade pacts with Canada and Mexico as well as Japan, according to a letter obtained by POLITICO.

In a missive to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Cruz also warned against adopting such language, which mirrors Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act — a U.S. law shielding websites from lawsuits over users’ posts — in future trade deals.

The provisions that extend liability protections for tech providers are found in Article 19.17, and calls for their removal have been conveniently ignored. Keep in mind that the President isn’t really a big fan of Big Tech at the moment. (Think Amazon, Facebook, and Google.) So if both Pelosi and Trump are against this, who precisely is keeping these provisions in the deal? Justin Trudeau or AMLO? That seems unlikely. And yet the Speaker plowed ahead anyway. (The Hill, emphasis added)

Legal protections for technology companies are still in the free-trade deal between the United States, Mexico and Canada that was endorsed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calf.) on Tuesday despite her efforts to remove them.

“I had one disappointment… 230, but I was too late coming in on it,” Pelosi said Tuesday during a press conference announcing the deal between House Democrats and the White House on the trade deal.

Pelosi announced last Thursday that she would try to remove the language from Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). This language gives platforms legal immunity for content posted by third-party users while also giving them legal cover to take good-faith efforts to moderate their platforms.

I lost – they had 230 in the agreement, there are some members that wanted that… it’s a real gift to big tech,” Pelosi said Tuesday. “But I had said to the trade representative that we’re not adding any more issues to the discussion.”


So there were “some members that wanted it.” Who were these members? How many of them were there? Would the deal have been sunk without their cooperation?

A consultant working this issue told me the rumor mill in the swamp this week was saying that this is all because the Impeachment unveiling went so badly. Pelosi was sending a signal that Democrats would do a quick impeachment and then quickly get back to “kitchen table” issues and let the impeachment announcement drop off the front page. That’s why she scheduled the USMCA announcement presser within an hour after the articles of impeachment were rolled out.

The recent Japan Trade Agreement also has some of these Section 230-style provisions, but that one already looks like a done deal. USMCA, however, still needs congressional approval. So is this all written in stone or is there still time to make a few changes like this that should be very popular with voters in both parties?

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