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Issue #1814      March 14, 2018

Trade as plunder

Rebadged TPP

Secret deals with sneaky corporate intent must surely be the hallmark of international trade deals, especially since the establishment in 1995 of the World Trade Organisation which extended the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) to services and intellectual property. Specific to Australia in recent times is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now to be known as the Comprehensive Progressive TPP.

Guardian readers would be aware that originally the TPP involved the United States of America which, via President Trump’s announcement to withdraw, in January 2017, killed it off; much to the curious smiles of all those involved in the six-year campaign to expose the TPP’s injustices.

Speaking at a forum last Friday March 9, organised by the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET), Dr Pat Ranald noted that “the rebadged TPP still has 30 chapters and 6,000 pages of legally binding rules which suit global corporations but mostly restrain future governments from regulating in the public interest in areas like access to medicines, essential services, the internet and financial regulation.”

Only 22 clauses have been suspended, but not removed, “pending the US re-joining the deal”. She added that “many of the most harmful clauses remain. The deal still includes special rights for foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in unfair international tribunals over changes to domestic laws, known as ISDS.”

Ranald explained that the 20 suspended clauses are mostly about medicine and copyright monopolies. Other governments had only reluctantly agreed to US proposals on stronger monopolies on biologic medicines and longer copyright monopolies to gain access to the US market. But the intellectual property chapter still entrenches other restrictions on government’s ability to change such regulation in future, which have been criticised by the Productivity Commission.

“The Australian government has not sought changes to provisions for more vulnerable temporary migrant workers, from Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Canada Mexico and Chile without testing if local workers are available. This is contrary to its own claims to have reintroduced such testing. There have been no changes to the chapters on trade in services and state-owned enterprises which could restrict future governments from re-regulating essential services like TAFE, energy and financial services, even if there are demonstrated market failures,” said Dr Ranald.

Michelle Higelin (executive director, ActionAid) not only suggested that the CPTPP was made for the benefit of businesses in rich countries, but had five fundamental flaws with, firstly, that women are shut out of the decision-making process and that secondly it enshrines the feminisation of low paid jobs. Thirdly, in poor countries the removal of tariffs means less money for governments for community and social initiatives which are particularly important for women in developing nations.

And fourth and fifthly the CPTPP like the TPP represents a shift of power from citizens to corporations and facilitates a privatisation agenda. Jane Brock from the Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association outlined with heart-rendering tales the way the CPTPP will further the suffering of migrant women workers.

After bringing together questions and comments from the forum’s participants Ranald reminded us that whilst the TPP has been signed, the process is not over. And whilst a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on which the government has a majority, may virtually rubber stamp implementing legislation, a Senate inquiry could critically assess whether the deal is in the public interest and whether the implementing legislation should be passed. “If it is not in the public interest, we will campaign for the Senate to block the implementing legislation,” said Ranald.

Next article – International Women’s Day – The rate for the job

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