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Trans-Pacific Partnership - how do we make sense of the TPP secret negotiations?

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: Can you provide an assurance that we won’t see any Australian standards watered down as a result?
ANDREW ROBB (sighs): Here we go again. Again, it’s... um... Our intent is never to undermine standards that are acceptable to our community.

ABC 7.30 | 17.03.2015

Trans-Pacific Partnership - how do we make sense of the TPP secret negotiations?

Reporter: Kirsten Drysdale

The Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, or TPP, is being seen as a boon for jobs or a threat to prices, standards and public health, but given the deal is being negotiated in secret and won’t be publicly available until it’s finalised, how do we make sense of it?



SABRA LANE, PRESENTER: For more than six years Australian officials have been working on a huge multinational trade agreement that may have impact on all of our lives.

Everything from the price of medicine to copyright laws to food safety is included in the deal known as the TPP, or the Transpacific Partnership Agreement.

Its advocates say it will boost free trade and jobs, while its critics argue that Australia’s sovereignty could be compromised.

Kirsten Drysdale has been investigating the upsides and the downsides of the TPP.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE, REPORTER: A lot’s happened in Australian politics over the last six years.

(montage of news events)

TONY ABBOTT, FMR PRIME MINISTER (Jun. 23 2010): We’ve got to zip.

GINA RINEHART, MINING MAGNATE (Jun. 9 2010): Axe the tax!

JULIA GILLARD, FMR PRIME MINISTER (Oct. 9 2012): I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man.

TONY ABBOTT, PRIME MINISTER (Sep. 7 2013): That Australia is once more open for business.

(montage ends)

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: So you could be forgiven for having missed this bit among all that noise.

SIMON CREAN, FMR TRADE MINISTER (Nov. 26 2008): Australia will participate in negotiations on a comprehensive Transpacific Partnership Agreement.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: That was the moment Australia joined talks on what is set to become the world’s biggest free trade deal: the Transpacific Partnership Treaty, involving a dozen countries around the Pacific rim and almost 40 per cent of global GDP.

Six-and-a-half years later we are on the cusp of signing it. And that’s got people not just talking but singing about it.

CONSUMERS INTERNATIONAL CAMPAIGN VIDEO (singing): Everybody, let’s talk the TPP / Everybody, let’s talk the TPP / Until we know how bad this agreement will be / We’re gonna have to stop the TPP...

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: The protest lyrics are simple, but the deal is anything but. It promises:

BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT (Uni. of Qld, Nov. 15 2014): To lower barriers, open markets, export goods and create good jobs for our people.


ANDREW ROBB, TRADE MINISTER (Uni. of Qld, Nov. 15 2014): Less regulation, the removal of tariffs, mutual recognition of standards, reducing approval times.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: But critics say we don’t know enough about what is being traded away.

GETUP! CAMPAIGN VIDEO (voiceover): The dirtiest deal you’ve never heard of.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: With even members of the Government frustrated by a lack of transparency around the negotiations.

BILL HEFFERNAN, LIBERAL SENATOR (Nov. 11 2014): It’s all shrouded in bloody - in secrecy. I mean, I would like to know what the details are.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: For his part, Trade Minister Andrew Robb says the very nature of trade talks means secrecy is unavoidable.

ANDREW ROBB: Because you’ve got to keep your flexibility in case things are not going your way late in the negotiation and you haven’t given it all away.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: One thing we can be sure of: the TPP’s 29 chapters deal with a lot more than you can fit inside a shipping container.

Draft chapters of the deal, published by WikiLeaks, have sparked concerns that the TPP puts corporate interests ahead of the public interest.

Health groups say one proposal being pushed by the US and Japan, to make pharmaceutical patents last longer, could increase the cost of medicines by delaying the entry of cheaper generic versions.

STEPHEN PARNIS, AUST. MEDICAL ASSOC.: We understand that pharmaceutical companies or medical device companies want to have profitability so that they can do the work that they do. But this has to be struck against a balance that is in the interests of the overall population.

ANDREW ROBB: It’s legitimate concern by the medical fraternity but it reflects the concern of the Government.

I haven’t conceded anything on that score. I do feel that this is a free trade agreement, this is not an agreement that’s to be used by others to increase protection for pharmaceutics. And that’s a point I’ve made in negotiations, time and time again.

STEPHEN PARNIS: The details really matter here. And if he says the PBS is protected but the agreement extends intellectual property rights or patent laws in favour of pharmaceutical companies, then the reality will be the opposite.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: How the TPP will deal with copyright is also causing concern.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL, INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY LAWYER: The whole copyright chapter really locks in a 20th-Century version of copyright, where copyright owners get to control every last copy, including every digital copy and computer memory.

GETUP! CAMPAIGN VIDEO (voiceover): And you could be fined or even sent to jail for downloading copyrighted content on the internet.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL: Really, is anyone going to get arrested for that? But the thing is, you know, it will be criminal and you will be doing these criminal things. You know, going about your ordinary life or going about your ordinary business: you’re going to be actually committing criminal acts. And, you know, that’s a little bit discomfort-making. I don’t know about you but I don’t like the sound of that.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: Time for an asterisk, because remember: these concerns are all based on leaks - leaks Andrew Robb says are being used by scaremongers with an anti-trade agenda.

ANDREW ROBB: They’re more interested in frightening people and running their agenda than they are about trying to find in substance: is this leak substantive?

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: A main aim of the deal is to harmonise domestic regulation, which means requiring participating countries to recognise each other’s standards.

BRYAN CLARK, AUST. CHAMBER OF COMMERCE & INDUSTRY: You will see benefits to consumers because things will be lower cost than they might be before. And the regulations which apply across the various marketplaces will be much more harmonised and easier to navigate.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL: The problem is: if you’re harmonising domestic regulation by a deal that’s done behind closed doors, what you’re doing is: you’re setting what domestic law and what domestic policy can look like.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: Can you provide an assurance that we won’t see any Australian standards watered down as a result?

ANDREW ROBB (sighs): Here we go again. Again, it’s... um... Our intent is never to undermine standards that are acceptable to our community.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: But perhaps the most controversial aspect of the TPP is what’s known as an Investor State Dispute Settlement clause - or an ISDS.

GETUP! CAMPAIGN VIDEO (voiceover): The TPP could give corporations the power to sue our Government in secret foreign tribunals over any law or regulation they claim affects their expected future profits.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: ISDS clauses are increasingly being used by big business to sue governments around the world.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL: Philip Morris has, you know, already pursued a case through the Australian courts, lost, gets another bite of the apple by pursuing it through this investment process.

STEPHEN PARNIS: If this opens the door to private companies to push against Australian governments in future, then what that’s saying is that company profits matter more than the health and wellbeing of Australian citizens. And that’s something that’s unacceptable to the AMA.

So we’re saying to the Government: ditch the ISDS. Do not allow it to be part of the Transpacific Partnership Agreements.

ANDREW ROBB: The ISDS is there to give investors protection in those markets where we don’t understand the legal system; where the legal system may not, you know, be as fair as we think it should be.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: Any disputes under ISDS would be judged by a special international tribunal.

ANDREW ROBB: It’s a panel of people who are nominated by both parties and the UN panel for disputes.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL: The people who sit on these panels and make these decisions: one minute they’re acting as judge, you know, the very next case they could be a counsel representing one of the parties that is bringing claims under the Investor State Dispute Settlement.

So there’s this, you know, feeling that maybe they might make decisions somewhat more sympathetic to the companies that might hire them the next time around. There’s also the problem that there’s no appeal.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: The TPP was expected to be finalised at a meeting in Hawaii this month, but those hopes may well be dashed by a hostile American Congress.

GETUP! CAMPAIGN VIDEO (voiceover): In the US, Democrats and Republicans are uniting to oppose a fast-tracking of the TPP, demanding open debates and negotiations instead.

KIRSTEN DRYSDALE: Andrew Robb says Australians will have plenty of time to see the deal once it’s done.

ANDREW ROBB: Once everything is concluded, it will be out there for months and months before the Parliament finally ratifies it.

KIMBERLEE WEATHERALL: Well, I think the text should be released. The current negotiating text should be released and there should be an opportunity for civil society - for everyone to comment and, you know, provide input on where things are at.

SABRA LANE: Kirsten Drysdale with that report.

You can also watch the full interview with Trade Minister Andrew Robb.

 source: ABC