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A host of organizations and citizens groups have convincingly pointed out that so called “Free Trade Agreements” have done more harm than good to the U.S. and other countries involved. Thanks to their protests, for the moment, the most ambitious multinational, neoliberal project of our young century, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has been defeated. If the agreement had been adopted, the TPP would have shaped new rules of trade for over 8 million people, spanning 40% of the global economy. Using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), my study shows how the complex language of the actual treaty compared to its more simplistic and optimistic summary on the US Trade Representative website reveals the TPP to be a corporate power grab, depriving nation states, public institutions and individual citizens of their democratic rights.

Due to its central importance in a number of realms (entertainment copyrights, pharmaceuticals, the internet), my analysis focuses on the Intellectual Property (IP) chapter of the TPP. As labor leaders, environmentalists, internet defenders, concerned physicians, and others have pointed out, the IP chapter essentially would have essentially enforced a ratcheted-up version of US intellectual property law across member nations. Given the TPP’s raw financial motivation and the unequal economic status of signatory nations, an analysis of the IP chapter requires a methodology which centers on uncovering ideologies, power imbalances, gender inequalities and the like. CDA works well for this purpose as it aims to expose socially-constructed inequality by uncovering how public discourses such as laws and treaties relate to power structures and actually construct power itself. Using CDA, I will show how rhetorical devices such as implied audience, genre and style, as well as socio-economic, and historical/contextual representations hide power imbalances and erase subjectivities.

CDA also welcomes quantitative measures such as computer-assisted linguistic and content analyses which add empirical weight to the conclusions of my investigation. When examining corpora such as the TPP full of legal jargon and qualifying hedges, computer-assisted content analysis offers a manageable way to characterize large or difficult bodies of textual data and often allows for broader and more valid interpretations. Content analysis is also useful for revealing non-obvious, but meaningful patterns of language use. Thus through word counts, frequency tabulations, and collocations, I will show how multinational neoliberalism manifests itself in the full TPP Intellectual Property chapter which supports the construction of a world in the US neoliberal image. The chapter summary, on the other hand, emphasizes the promotion of economic democracy and the collective good. This rhetorical duplicity will be situated conceptually, in my essay which draws on the work of Norman Fairclough, Teun Van Dijk, David Harvey, Ruth Wodak, and others, to show how the TPP reflects and contributes to the discourse which naturalizes US corporate hegemony and exploitation.