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Labor drops opposition to Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal

The Guardian | 11 September 2018

Labor drops opposition to Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal

by Paul Karp

Labor has agreed to pass government legislation enabling the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leading minor parties to accuse the opposition of selling out after months of criticising the deal.

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Labor’s trade spokesman, Jason Clare, overcame left faction and union objections to negotiate support for the TPP-11 through shadow cabinet on Monday evening and caucus on Tuesday, with a suite of measures to change the way Australia negotiates trade deals when Labor retakes government.

In a statement Clare promised Labor would introduce laws that prohibit governments from signing trade agreements that waive labour market testing or include investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) which allow foreign companies to sue the Australian government for policy changes.

Labor’s support means the TPP legislation can pass the Senate, despite Centre Alliance and the Greens’ opposition to the government bill.

Centre Alliance senator Rex Patrick told Guardian Australia he would seek to amend the bill so that it only came into effect when labour market testing was reinstated and ISDS provisions removed.

The move is aimed to stoke internal opposition in Labor to spark a revolt against the trade deal. In caucus on Tuesday, at least a dozen of the 23 speakers in a long debate on the TPP raised concerns.

Those MPs warned that trade deals were used by the the Liberals to deregulate the labour market, including by waiving labour market testing and changing the rules on mutual recognition of qualifications.

Under the TPP-11 deal negotiated by the Turnbull government after the withdrawal of the US, labour market testing is waived for workers from Canada, Peru, Mexico, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Clare and supporters of the TPP said the trade deal improved Australia’s access to 13% of the global economy and contained meaningful environmental and labour standards.

Clare also suggested side-deals could be negotiated to remove unpalatable elements of the TPP, including reinstating labour-market testing and Canada and Australia agreeing to remove the ISDS clause between the two nations. Australia’s bilateral agreements with the other states already include ISDS clauses.

The decision to support the deal is a pragmatic one to avoid a damaging split while Labor is in opposition, but with potential to relitigate the issue in government. Labor left sources who objected to the TPP now point to the example of New Zealand, which has sought to change its trade agreements under Jacinda Ardern.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions has been a strident critic of the TPP and its president, Michelle O’Neill, wrote to MPs urging them not to support the deal on Monday.

Patrick said he was “very disappointed that Labor has not shown courage of conviction on this”. He accused the party of “crying wolf on ISDS and labour market testing”, “undermining Australia’s legal sovereignty” and “betraying Australian workers”:

Patrick said it was “disingenuous” to suggest these aspects could be unwound, arguing it was “always much harder” to reverse them once the legislation had passed parliament.

The Greens trade spokeswoman, Sarah Hanson-Young, said that the trade agreement “gives corporations the power to sue governments for raising wages, protecting the environment or reducing the cost of life-saving medication”.

Hanson-Young said the deal “gives countries the ability to bring in temporary migrant workers with no need to first check if there are Australians ready, willing and able to do the job instead”.

“This deal will result in Australia losing 39,000 jobs.

“Labor has betrayed Australian workers, and our sovereignty, by paving the way to locking our nation to the dangerous TPP.”

Hanson-Young said it was “baffling” that Labor would support the deal, and also vowed to bring amendments.

Clare said trade agreements should not include ISDS clauses or waive labour market testing.

“It’s not protectionism to say that before a company brings in an electrician or a carpenter or a mechanic from overseas it should first have to check if there is an Australian who can do the job,” he said. “It’s just common sense.”

Labor also proposes greater consultation with industry, unions and civil society groups before deals are signed, a new national interest assessment before trade deals are signed and a review of their effects after 10 years.

The secretary of the ACTU, Sally McManus, labelled the TPP a “a trade deal that encompasses all the worst elements of our broken trade system” but laid the blame at the feet of the Morrison-Turnbull government.

“The ALP has now committed to serious and much-needed reforms of our trade system to make sure that future deals benefit working people and are subject to real public and parliamentary accountability,” she said.

 source: The Guardian