The Australian Government has today signed off on the most secret trade agreement in our history.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) encompasses 12 countries and 30 chapters that cover vast areas of public policy, not only those related to international trade. The TPP sets rules and regulations relating to intellectual property, copyright, healthcare, labour and environmental standards, the rights of multinationals to sue Australian governments, as well as more traditional tariff rates.
Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union Secretary (AMWU), Paul Bastian, was scathing of the secrecy surrounding the deal.
“We don’t know what the government has traded away in this deal and we don’t know what we’ll get in return. Based on this government’s record with the Japan, Korean and especially Chinese trade agreements, we fear that it may sell Australian workers, businesses and the entire community short.”
Despite the Australian Government having signed the agreement, it will be at least a month before Australian businesses, unions, community groups and the population at large see the details for themselves.
The AMWU has long criticised the secrecy with which trade agreements are negotiated and has repeatedly called for open debate on the entire content of agreements, both by the public and by Parliament.
Mr Bastian cited past agreements that failed basic standards of reciprocity and sold Australia short.
“We saw sugar get a bad deal with the USAFTA, we saw rice get a bad deal in the JAFTA and most recently, we saw Chinese exports get tariffs removed for paper and printed products while Chinese tariffs on Australian imports remain in place under CHAFTA. We won’t even know what has been traded away in the TPP for another month at least.”
Of significant concern is the inclusion of an Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision, which allows foreign companies to sue Australian governments for policies that hurt their profits. While it’s been reported that tobacco regulation has been excluded from ISDS provisions, huge questions remain to be answered.
“Under ISDS, Australian government can get sued in tribunals that have no independent judiciary, no respect for precedent and no appeal process. We know US business is by far the largest user of ISDS provisions, with twice as many cases as the next largest users” said Mr Bastian
“Mr Robb needs to answer some basic questions immediately. For example, under this agreement, can Australian government’s get sued for changes in labour market or climate change regulation? And most fundamentally, if our court system is good enough for Australian businesses, why isn’t it good enough for foreign investors?” he said.
At a minimum, the AMWU is seeking the following commitments from the Government before the agreement is ratified:
- Immediate release of the entire text of the agreement,
- Commission an independent analysis of the agreement to estimate its real economic and social impacts on Australia,
- Allow a full community and parliamentary debate on the entire TPP agreement, and
- Commit to reform of how these agreement are made in future, to ensure they serve the social and economic interests of the whole country, rather than the short-term political interests of the government.