news An anti-Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) petition with over 300,000 signatures has been has tabled before Parliament by Labor MP Melissa Parke.
The petition was initiated by campaign groups GetUp! and SumOfUs and been signed by around 305,000 Australians objecting to the TPP agreement.
Parke also presented a letter addressed to members of parliament from the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network (AFTINET) on behalf of 59 community organisations representing two million Australians.
The TPP is a controversial trade agreement among twelve Pacific countries which reached agreement in early October last year after years of negotiations. The treaty is controversial because it forces countries such as Australia to adopt rules such as investor-state dispute mechanisms which can allow corporations to sue governments for taking certain actions, as well as introducing new intellectual property controls.
Digital rights activists globally have fought hard to block the TPP over the past seven years that it has been being negotiated. One of the last chance to do so appears to be in the United States, where the US Congress has yet to formally ratify the treaty and many MPs on both sides of the US Congress oppose it.
In the text of a speech before Parliament, Parke said: “The concerns expressed in the letter appropriately sum up the major reasons why this parliament should be supporting the call for independent assessments of the text prior to the agreement being ratified.”
The letter called for an independent assessment of TPP economic costs and benefits, as offered by the Productivity Commission, including analysis of the costs and risks to government of ISDSs and an extension of medicine and copyright monopolies, she said.
Further, the MP stated an independent health, environment and human rights and labour rights assessment for the TPP was warranted.
Parke welcomed that fact that “outrageously predatory behaviour on the part of tobacco companies” could lead to investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) cases against tobacco regulation potentially being excluded under the terms of the TPP.
However, she raised the issue of “biologics”, or biotechnology, saying that the Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, “claims to have had a big win in TPP negotiations” relating to the issue of market exclusivity for this type of medical commerce.
Parke explained that, since the TPP is set to provide clinical data protection for foreign companies, effectively blocking production of “biosimilars” for up to eight years, “Undoubtedly this will ultimately impact in the cost of medicines going up.”
Another “major issue” with the TPP, she continued, is the chapter on investment and its investor state dispute settlement clauses since it “magnifies the negative consequences and impacts of the other chapters.”
Foreign companies, she explained, will have the power under the TPP agreement to sue Australia in a private international tribunal for “any laws, policies or court decisions that may impact upon their profits”.
Decrying claims that fears over ISDS are “hysterical fear mongering”, Parke said that the Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, the Productivity Commission, Nobel Prize winner Professor Joseph Stiglitz, and the UN Special Rapporteur on Trade had all also warned against the inclusion of ISDS clauses in trade agreements.
As examples, she cited the examples of a number of countries such as Germany, Egypt, Canada, Costa Rica and others, which have all been sued by corporations under ISDS-like provisions.
It is a “supreme irony”, she said, given President Obama’s support of the TPP, that the USA was sued by a Canadian mining company over its rejection of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline under ISDS provisions in NAFTA – a “TPP-like trade deal”.
“This bodes extremely ill for government attempts to regulate or even make decisions for the benefit of the environment,” she said
Finally, Parke noted that, according to an economic analysis by the World Bank, Australia stands to gain “almost nothing from the TPP deal”.
The World Bank study shows that the TPP would boost Australia’s economy by just 0.7% by the year 2030. Parke pointed out that the annual increase in growth would be less than “one half of one-tenth of 1%” going by the study’s figures.