A hush-hush trade agreement, being negotiated by 12 governments behind closed doors, is possibly the greatest current threat to the civil liberties of all Australians, Pauline Westwood writes.
Secretive trade pact killing democracy
By Pauline Westwood
Arguably the greatest threat to our civil liberties today is the looming “free trade agreement” known as the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), currently being negotiated by our government under conditions of utmost secrecy.
Twelve countries are involved: Australia, the US, NZ, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, Japan and Vietnam. Our elected members of parliament will not be allowed to see the texts before they are signed. Once signed, the agreement will be tabled for only 20 days.
On the other hand, employees of 600 corporations are being shown successive drafts, and are permitted to provide input to the process – even though they will not be signatories! Although it is referred to as a “free trade agreement”, leaked reports say that as many as 24 of the 29 chapters actually cover extensions to corporate (mainly US) power, not free trade. The public in the European Union has also been kept in the dark about similar negotiations for a Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TATI) agreement. A leaked European Commission memo actually recommended a public relations strategy of “transparency management!”
Joseph Stiglitz, acclaimed American economist, was so concerned by leaked information about proposed restrictions on internet use; relaxing controls on banks (which could put millions of depositors at risk); expansion of US copyright law; criminalisation of copyright “infringement”, patenting of surgical procedures and much higher prices for pharmaceuticals, etc, that he wrote to all TPP negotiators to warn them against signing up. Having already faced significant price increases to pharmaceuticals due to changes made by the Howard government, Australians should expect to pay even more, as corporations will be able to set their own price. Australian legislation will be overridden and we may be subject to harsh penalties under US law.
As if this weren’t enough, there is pressure from the US government for all signatories to accept ”investor-state dispute settlement” provisions or ISDS.
These allow corporations to sue governments whenever their laws or policies might impinge on a company’s profits. They were originally designed to protect corporations from the vagaries of operating in unstable states. Now they are being misused and inserted as standard clauses even with developed democracies.
Whereas the Labor government refused to countenance ISDS, Coalition Trade Minister Andrew Robb stated he might agree to the provisions, in exchange for market access for agricultural produce, especially to the US and Canada. Australia is already being sued by Philip Morris over plain-packaging cigarette legislation, under ISDS provisions of a treaty with Hong Kong. Similarly, Bayer is trying to force the European Commission to remove a ban on pesticides destroying millions of bees worldwide. Citizens of the European Union are very concerned at the prospect of having to accept hormone-drenched beef, chicken washed in chlorine and (unlabelled) genetically modified foods. A province of Canada is being sued for placing a moratorium on fracking, and Germany for phasing out production of nuclear power. Although Uruguay stipulated that its treaty could not be used to overturn public health regulations, Philip Morris is trying to overturn Uruguay’s decision to place health warnings on tobacco products. Metgasco is challenging laws in NSW protecting people and the environment from risks emanating from coal seam gas drilling.
It should be noted that such disputes will not be settled by the legal system of the signatory state, but instead by private international courts, staffed mainly by corporate lawyers, whose deliberations will be held in secret. There is no avenue for appeal. Considerations of the public welfare are irrelevant.
If we ratify the agreement along with ISDS, we will lose our ability to preserve our environment and water supplies, protect bio-diversity, control pesticide use, maintain adequate quarantine safeguards, protect Australian crops, control pollution, regulate mining, provide low cost pharmaceuticals, ensure food safety, regulate genetically modified foods and maintain decent working conditions and minimum wages. “Buy Australian” campaigns will be prohibited.
Even our banking regulations, which protected us from the worst effects of the global financial crisis, will be under threat. Under the terms of the TPP, such regulations are dismissed as “non-tariff barriers to trade.” A corporations will be able to sue the Australian government for billions of dollars over any legislation, policy or service (such as the ABC, Medicare, public hospitals or state-run prisons), simply because it maintains that its profits may be affected by their existence.
The tribunal process favours corporations. Even when governments win their case, they are often required to pay full costs. Given the risk of repercussions, governments will be unable to regulate the global market in the interests of their citizens. All the effort our society has put into research, policy formulation, advocacy, benchmarking, awareness campaigns, developing political party platforms, etc. will be swept away by a signature on a treaty designed to extend the reach of unaccountable corporate power.
If our laws and policies are to be decided by large corporations rather than Australian voters, there will be no more democracy. Civil rights will be but a faint memory of a quaint, bygone age. Having been trained to consume additive-laced food, expensive cars, ill-fitting sweatshop clothes and successive releases of technological gadgets which track our communications and monitor our every move, we will be compelled to comply with law, policy and services dictated by foreign firms whose sole motivation is to plump up their profits. Our gradual transformation from active citizens to passive “consumers” will be complete.
(1) The Trans-Pacific Partnership AgreementTPP: Corporate power versus peoples’ rights (AFTINET: Australian Fair Trade Investment Network) http://aftinet.org.au/cms/trans-pacific-partnership-agreement
(2) Update from the latest Trans Pacific Partnership Meeting, 12 December 2013 / Deborah Gleeson (The Conversation) http://theconversation.com/update-from-the-latest-trans-pacific-partnership-meeting-21416
(3) Secrecy surrounds Trans Pacific partnership talks, Dec. 9, 2013 / Peter Martin (SMH) http://www.smh.com.au/national/secrecy-surrounds-transpacific-partnership-talks-20131208-2yzea.html
(4) The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA): When Foreign Investors Sue the State https://blu180.mail.live.com/default.aspx?id=64855&mkt=EN-US&lc=1033&id=2&vv=1500#n=184584545&fid=1&mid=9fc153ef-5ef4-11e3-9e67-002264c18ba0&fv=1
(5) When trade agreements threaten sovereignty: Australia beware / Ruth Townshend15 November 2013 (The Conversation) https://theconversation.com/when-trade-agreements-threaten-sovereignty-australia-beware-18419
(6) Trade treaty stance the same, despite promise / Peter Martin , Sept. 23 (SMH) http://www.smh.com.au/business/trade-treaty-stance-the-same-despite-promise-20130922-2u7wm.html
(7) “Managing Transparency” Politicians and officials are desperately seeking to justify their transatlantic assault on democracy / George Monbiot 2 December, 2013 (The Guardian) http://www.monbiot.com/2013/12/02/managing-transparency/
(8) The Trans-Pacific Partnership sure sounds benign enough. It isnt’t!!!! http://www.politicususa.com/2013/11/28/trans-pacific-partnership-sounds-benign-enough-isnt.html
(9) Secret negotiations TR[a]P our rights http://www.politicususa.com/2012/06/28/secret-negotiations-trap-rights.html
(10) Secret negotiations – Facts and Myths about the Chilling Implications of ACTA / Adalia Woodbury, Feb. 3, 2012 (PoliticusUSA) http://www.politicususa.com/2012/02/03/acta-facts.htm
(11) Towards Global Government? :Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Corporate Escape from Accountability / Paul Craig Roberts, July 2012 (Global Research)
(12) Public Citizen’s analysis of the TPP. http://www.citizen.org/documents/Leaked-TPP-Investment-Analysis.pdf
(13) Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP)http://ncncs.wordpress.com/2013/04/11/trans-pacific-partnership-tpp/
(14) Power relations in the Trans Pacific partnership Agreement / Genevieve Nielson – August 1, 2013 http://pacificusforum.com/
(16) TPP: a free trade deal from hell / Stephen Lendman, 5 July 2012 http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article31773.htm
(17) Inside free trade – news (you have to join to read full article) http://wtonewsstand.com/index.php?option=com_customproperties&view=show&tagId=159&Itemid=668&limitstart=50
(18) Why Australians should be worried about the TPP / Ken Sievers, 2 August, 2013 http://www.wikileaksparty.org.au/why-australians-should-be-worried-about-the-tpp/