TPP will neuter Oz Parliament

Photo: Dr Pat Ranald speaking at the Grifith forum. Former MP Chris Emerson is seated. – Pic: Bill Rowlings
Photo: Dr Pat Ranald speaking at the Grifith forum. Former MP Chris Emerson is seated. – Pic: Bill Rowlings

Secretly negotiated, signed unseen by the Australian Parliament, handing over sovereignty to multinational corporations and ad-hoc tribunals, there’s a lot wrong with the TPP, Dr Pat Ranald says.

TPP will neuter Oz Parliament

 Address to a community meeting held in Griffith, Canberra, 2 June 2015 by Dr Patricia Ranald, Coordinator of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, and Research Associate at the University of Sydney


AFTINET is a network of 60 community organisations, and many more individuals including church, public health, aid and development, environment, union, pensioner and other community groups. We advocate for fair trade based on human rights labour rights and environmental sustainability.

The TPP is being negotiated between 12 Pacific Rim countries including Australia, the US and Japan. Negotiations began in March 2010, and have been missing deadlines since 2012.

Australia already has free trade agreements with the biggest players, US and Japan, and with all but 3 of the other TPP countries, so there are very few potential gains from increases in market access for Australian exports. In fact a recent study by the US Department of Agriculture found no overall economic gains in GDP growth for Australia (p.21). We are told that gains will come from removing non-tariff regulatory barriers to trade, but this depends on your point of view: The US for example sees Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as a barrier to trade.

The negotiations are secret, and we won’t see the full text until after the deal is done. What we know comes from leaked documents and industry publications.

These tell us that the US is driving the agenda on behalf of its largest export industries including pharmaceuticals, media, alcohol and tobacco. There are 29 chapters or topics and most of these seek to change our domestic regulation in ways which suit their needs, but are not in the interests of most Australians. Five of these are:

  • stronger monopolies on medicines which would delay the availability of cheaper generic medicines,
  • limiting regulation of medicine prices through the PBS
  • stronger monopoly rights for copyright holders including restrictions on the internet,
  • Restrictions on government regulation of labelling of food alcohol and tobacco.
  • And the big one: special rights for foreign investors to sue governments for damages if a future change in law or policy can be argued to harm their investment known as investor state disputes or ISDS.

This is not about free trade, but about increasing corporate monopoly rights. Despite these increases in corporate rights, and despite promises, there is still no agreement about enforceable labour rights or enforceable environmental protections in the TPP.

More on ISDS: The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently using ISDS in an obscure Hong Kong Australia investment agreement to sue the Australian government over our plain packaging legislation, a case that has dragged on for 4 years. This is despite the fact that this legislation was passed with bipartisan support through our Parliament and the tobacco companies’ claim for compensation was rejected by our High Court. Philip Morris is using ISDS to thumb its nose at our democratic legislation and our national legal system.

Despite promises about safeguards for health, environment and other public welfare regulation in recent agreements, these safeguards have not prevented cases which demand compensation for health and environment laws, and even a rise in the minimum wage. The US pharma company Eli Lilly is currently suing the Canadian government over a court decision which refused a patent for a medicine which was not sufficiently more medically effective than existing medicines. The US Lone Pine mining company is suing the Canadian government because the Québec provincial government dared to have a review of environmental regulation of gas mining. The French Veolia company is suing the Egyptian government over a contract dispute in which they are claiming compensation for a rise in the minimum wage! These cases show that ISDS undermines democracy and sovereignty.

The latest

‘…should not be secretly negotiated away…’

All of these are policy issues which would normally be decided through open democratic parliamentary processes. They should not be secretly negotiated away in a trade deal.

The good news is that is that community groups in many TPP countries have read the leaks and pressured TPP governments to say no to many of the US demands, so the negotiations have dragged on for over five years. Now the TPP is in deep trouble in the US itself.

The U.S. Congress has the constitutional power to amend a trade agreement after it is signed by the Executive. The Congress has to pass special legislation called Fast Track to give up this right, and restrict itself to a yes/ no vote. Community movements concerned about the potential for the TPP to restrict future legislation in the US have influenced most Democrats and a block of Republicans to oppose Fast Track.

Unusually, the Fast Track Bill was first introduced into the Senate, because it supporters knew they did not have the numbers in the House of Representatives. An initial procedural vote was won by TPP opponents but the Senate Fast Track Bill scraped through ten days ago.

The House of Representatives has just stared to debate Fast Track this week. Opposition to Fast Track is much stronger there. Many commentators are now saying that Fast Track will not be passed in the House of Representatives until the end of June at the earliest, if ever.

Other TPP governments have said they will not finalise the agreement until Fast Track has passed both houses of Congress, to ensure that what the US government agrees will not be undone. This led to the cancellation of the TPP Trade Ministers Meeting scheduled for May 26, another missed deadline!

The TPP is now so unpopular in the US that neither Democrats nor Republicans want it to be an issue in the US Presidential election. Hillary Clinton has not endorsed the TPP. If it is not passed by the end of June, TPP Fast track could be buried until after the presidential elections, effectively the beginning of 2017.

Opposition mounting, across spectrum

Public criticism of the TPP has grown in Australia and broken through into the mainstream media over the past year. Groups like the Public Health Association, the Australian Medical Association and Choice have analysed leaked chapters and criticised their possible impacts. There have been critical front-page articles in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age and the Canberra Times, and critical investigations by the 7.30 Report, Lateline and Channel 10’s The Project. Individuals and community organisations are talking to their politicians and politicians are responding, as we saw last week with the formation of a cross-party group critical of the TPP launched by ALP member Melissa Parke, independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Greens Sen Peter Whish Wilson, and this public meeting tonight.

It is time to ask why our government is continuing with these negotiations when the US cannot get endorsement for the TPP in its own Congress.

If the negotiations continue, we call on the government to say no to all of the harmful US proposals and to release the final text of the TPP for public and parliamentary discussion before the decision to sign it is made by Cabinet, so the community and Parliament can judge for ourselves if it is in the public interest.

If this does not happen and the current secretive trade agreement process proceeds, Cabinet will make the decision to sign, and the text will only become public after that. It will be reviewed by a joint Parliamentary committee, but Parliament will not be able to change the text, and will only be able to vote on the implementing legislation, not the whole agreement. This is unacceptable because many harmful aspects of the agreement like ISDS do not require legislation. This secretive and undemocratic process is currently under review by Senate Committee which is due to report on June 18.

AFTINET will analyse the text when it becomes public to see if it is in the public interest. If it is not, we will be campaigning for the majority in the Senate to reject the implementing legislation for the TPP. This would be the only way to prevent final ratification of the agreement if it is not in the public interest. We will be calling for your support to lobby your MPs and Senators.

For more information go to our website , where you can sign up for updates and there are links to Facebook and Twitter.

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