ACTU: Trade Talks Resume Under Shroud of Secrecy

Tell Australia’s Trade Minister to say no to TPP demands in 2015.

By Patricia Ranald
Convenor of AFTINET

AS secret Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks resume in New York this week, calls are growing for the release of the text for public scrutiny amid mounting evidence that the trade deal is not in national interest.

Concerns have been raised that the agreement could delay access to cheaper generic medicines, undermine domestic workplace laws and drive a race to the bottom on living standards, and weaken environmental protections.

The European Union has responded to community pressure and announced that it will publish the full text of the Trans-Atlantic trade deal (TTIP) between the EU and the US before it is signed.

A diverse mix of Australian community groups including unions, public health, environment, church and development aid organisations, have written to Trade Minister Andrew Robb to do the same.

Why the secrecy?
The TPP is a trade agreement being negotiated between Australia, the US, Japan and nine other Pacific Rim countries.

Although the negotiations are secret, we know from leaked documents and industry reports thatpharmaceutical companies want increased delays before we can access cheaper generic medicines, media companies want longer copyright payments and restrictions on the Internet and tobacco companies want to prevent stronger public health labeling.

They all want the right to sue governments for damages in international tribunals if a change in law or policy can be claimed to harm their investment, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). These cases are growing in number, and include the French company Veolia suing the Egyptian Government over a rise in the minimum wage.

These proposals are not about free trade but about increased monopolyrights which undermine democracy and could prevent future governments from regulating to protect public health, the environment and workers’ rights.

The Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network of 60 unions and community groups and many more individuals campaigns against proposals in the TPP and other trade agreements which would increase the monopoly rights of international corporations and reduce people’s rights.

In 2014, we spoke at over 50 public meetings and rallies, gave over 100 media interviews and organised thousands of social media messages.

Our campaigning has made a difference.
The TPP negotiations have missed several deadlines and entered their fifth year because social movements in Australia and other TPP countries, including the US have pressured governments to resist US proposals on medicines, copyright and investor rights to sue governments over domestic legislation.

We held protests at the TPP negotiations and Ministers’ meetings in Canberra and Sydney in October 2014 which received widespread media coverage.

The TPP negotiations again missed their November deadline and are continuing with a meeting in New York this week, finishing on 1 February.

The danger is that the Coalition government will trade off their rights to regulate in return for dubious promises of access to US and Japanese markets.

Renewed focus on China FTA
AFTINET has campaigned strongly against ISDS, in the TPP, and also in the free trade agreements with South Korea and China.

Our campaigning helped send thousands of message to the Trade Minister and to establish two Senate inquiries which focussed on ISDS, one on a Greens Bill to ban ISDS in all trade agreements, and one initiated by the ALP on the Korea FTA.

These inquiries have educated politicians and held them accountable. Over 11.000 people wrote letters and submissions to these inquiries.

The Australian and Chinese governments started negotiating a free trade agreement in 2005. On 17 November last year, they announced they had reached agreement in principle on key issues and would finalise and sign the text early this year.

The text will remain secret until after Cabinet approves it for signing, and cannot be changed by Parliament, which will only vote on the implementing legislation.

There has been much breathless publicity about access to Chinese markets for Australian agriculture and services. But the government’s summary shows that it has allowed more temporary labour for projects worth more than $150 million and has agreed to ISDS.

Union and industry groups are concerned about the impact of the agreement on local employment. AFTINET also opposes allowing Chinese companies to sue our governments over domestic legislation.

We want the full text of the agreement to be released before it is signed so there can be public and parliamentary debate about these issues.

AFTINET does not receive any government or corporate funding. We rely on donations from our members and supporters. You can join to receive regular bulletins or make a donation to support our work.

Say no to the TPP by emailing the Minister and Trade and Investment here.