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PoliticsSocial issues

Australia’s Trans-Pacific Partnership

– by Ryan Morgan-Kleinman

What is a 2015 historic and momentous release that is only made available to the public once it had been made? Star Wars? No, I’m talking about something much less exciting, the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) Australia’s latest free trade agreement.

Like Star Wars, it’s a money-spinner for many of those involved, but unlike Star Wars there’s no heartwarming heroics or endearing comic relief characters (unless you count the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, who looks like a small, evil magician on the best of days). Instead, all we see is corporate hegemony and further evidence that the economic sphere is drifting further and further from our democratic reach.

So what is the TPP? Broadly speaking it’s a free trade agreement between 12 different nations. Australia, New Zealand, Canada, The United States, Peru, Chile, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, and Mexico. It lays out a number of economic policies designed to “promote growth” and “enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness” between these nations, setting out to knock down as many trade barriers as possible, abolishing trade tariffs.

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Okay, so what’s the problem? The problem lies in the undemocratic nature of both the TPP’s content and the very manner in which it was conceived and executed. As well as getting rid of tariffs, the TPP has embraced Investor State Dispute Settlements, or ISDS as you’ll hear them referred to most often. The ISDS clauses allow foreign investors to take governments to international tribunals, should they believe that that government has passed legislation that could harm their foreign investments.

This means that the Australian government will now be held back in its ability to legislate for environmental protection, healthcare cover, and anything else that treads on the toes of businesses that have no interest in our national wellbeing or state sovereignty.

Possibly the worst aspect of all this, is that these international tribunals are held outside of national judiciaries, costing taxpayers millions of dollars to fund unaccountable trials, in some corner of the world in a process we know very little about.

Just this February, former Labour Treasurer Wayne Swan was in Singapore defending Australia’s plain packaged cigarette laws. Costing Australian taxpayers $50 million to defend a multinational tobacco company. Philip Morris International had taken advantage of ISDS clauses within China and Australia’s latest free trade deal (CHAFTA) in order to sue Australia for its loss of profits due to plain packaging legislation.

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This is what ISDS enables corporations to do, despite the fact that the TPP has specifically disallowed tobacco companies to take advantage of ISDS. In Canada alone after signing the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the country has now been involved in more ISDS cases than any other nation and has been sued more times than Mexico. Out of 35 claims it has lost or settled 7, paying out $170 million in damages and incurring millions of legal fees.

To top it all off, the TPP was negotiated and formulated in secret and only released to the public last Thursday 5th November, two months after it was officially signed. At 6000 pages long, it’s a doozy, and you could be forgiven for not reading through it all (the prose doesn’t exactly ‘pop’), but there’s more to it than I’ve described here and it is something we should all know about.

As Australians, the citizens of any nation affected by the handover of power from our sovereign states to corporate interests, we must at the very least be aware of how badly the TPP erodes our hard fought democratic freedoms and general right to have a say in the future of our country.

Featured Image by Hoosie Rag Today; TPP image by TPPinfo; TPP Tribunal image by Wikipedia; TPP YouTube clip by GetUp! 

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