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Issue #1572      7 November 2012

Trans-Pacific trade pact and impact on Australia’s health care system

Since the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) began in 2005 the parliaments and the people they represent in the nine signatory countries which border on the Pacific Ocean; USA, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Australia have had very little say on what should or shouldn’t be contained in it. This is due to the agreement predominantly serving the interests of corporations and the governments which act in their interests. There are also two countries which have been accepted into the proposed agreement in principle; Canada and Mexico while Japan is thinking about it. There have been to date 14 Negotiating Rounds of the TPPA with the latest being in September 2012 in Leesberg, Virginia and next one being scheduled for Auckland, New Zealand from December 3-12, 2012.


Greens Senator Scott Ludlam.

China has not expressed interest in joining but according to Greens Senator Scott Ludlam, in a Senate Budget Estimates hearing on May 31, officials from China are keenly interested in being kept up to date on progress of the agreement. Brazil and India have openly condemned the TPPA.

Why do we need the TPPA when we already have so called Free Trade Agreements with most of these countries?

When Senator Ludlam put the question to the Senate Estimates Committee he got the following responses:

  • It is meant to be a very high quality, ambitious free trade agreement,
  • It is designed to expand over time and provide a pathway to the APEC objective of a free trade area in the Asia-Pacific. This includes for Australia building multi-lateral trade liberalisation objectives as far as we can.
  • Securing specific market access outcomes for Australian exporters of goods and services that we could be missing through the negotiations.

However, when Senator Ludlam tried to push for a quantifying of the economic benefits the responses were vague or evasive at best. Why is this so? This is quite possibly because we have bilateral or regional trade agreements with all but one of these countries already, in this case Peru. The operation of these FTA’s haven’t extracted the gains sought by capital originally and as a consequence they want to be able to free up capital more and therefore the ability to extract surplus value or profits from governments and the people. But the government can not come out and say that it is making trade agreements which will predominantly satisfy the interests of capital.

Health related impacts

Compliance with government legislation and policy often acts as a break on the profits of capital. An example of this is the operation of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) which aims to deliver subsidised medicine to people in need at the lowest cost. For this reason the Australian government, in order to keep the scheme viable must try to have the drugs on the list provided as cheaply as possible. One way of achieving this is through having the operation of intellectual property rights for pharmaceutical products to be low or restrictive.

The TPPA hopes to work against this as it seeks to expand intellectual property protections for pharmaceutical products. While it would make life harder for many elderly people and people with chronic illnesses such as AIDS who require a constant supply of retroviral drugs, it would be devastating for people with these illnesses in less developed countries of the Asia Pacific and other parts of the world such as Africa.

Yet, as much as Senator Ludlam and for that matter any popularly elected representative in the world would like to actually get hold of text to pin the drafters of the Agreement down to anything concrete, it hasn’t happened yet and it won’t.

This is because according to Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, “The agreement is confidential between the parties and nothing has been agreed to between the 9 and possibly 12 parties-and nothing has a status until it has been agreed to at the end of the negotiations, so that anything that people talk about is pure speculation.” On this last point the masses can at least ponder as to why so much secrecy is required to make this agreement and what chances do the masses have on effecting change.

Australia is already having to deal with supra state arbitration as a consequence of a challenge by tobacco company Phillip Morris Asia over its plain packaging laws which survived a challenge in Australia’s highest legal jurisdiction, the High Court. All that so capital can continue to make profits at any cost – including the lives of millions of people around the world.

Médecins Sans Frontières, not normally known for getting political noted at the 19th International AIDS Conference the profound contradictions between the US government’s goal of “an AIDS-free generation” and, “some of the US government’s trade policies”. To achieve this aim MSF says it needs to be able to provide antiretroviral drugs to more than seven million people still in need of urgent treatment.”

Médecins Sans Frontières predominantly use affordable generic brand drugs for their life saving work and if the intellectual property and if patent provisions of the TPPA were to go through it would not only make MSF’s job more difficult. In addition many developing nations such as Jordan, Vietnam and Malaysia who use mostly generic brands to ensure affordable access to medicines by a majority of their citizens would be adversely effected.

Where to now for improving public health for the masses and lowering the cost to governments around the world?

To accomplish these goals countries need to look at preventative health care measures such as diet, exercise and lifestyle. The recent “Globesity” program on SBS about China, Mexico, India and Brazil highlights some of the negative consequences. Looking to Cuba can highlight some of the solutions such as education on healthy lifestyles and cheap and affordable access to health care and medicines.

We need more people to talk about the impact of the TPPA and the undemocratic and secretive nature of the negotiations between governments and corporations. People should understand that the impacts of the outcomes from these negotiations will not be minor or trivial and will eventually touch all of our lives in all parts of the world as capital tries to hang on to its power and to profit from whatever it can however it can.

Once governments no longer spend large amounts of public money on health budgets for preventable diseases and to prop up privatised components of the hospital and medical systems of this country it will have the money instead to spend on science, technology and education and other matters which will improve the quality of life for all Australians.

As the 15th Round of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement approaches on December 3-12 New Zealand, a country that has already had widespread protests against the TPPA, especially for the protection of its own version of the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme, we should organise our own protests in Australia in international solidarity with the working class in all nations that are considering implementing this unequal and barbaric trade pact.  

Next article – Assassination Nation

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