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Why the Trans-Pacific trade deal should be an election issue

Patricia Ranald

(extracted from the AFTINET June Bulletin)

The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) text was negotiated in secret for six years, released in November 2015 and signed by Australia, US and 10 other Pacific Rim governments in February. But it is far from a done deal. So far, no government has passed the implementing legislation required to ratify it.

Australia’s early election has interrupted the Parliamentary Inquiry examining the TPP. The election campaign provides an opportunity to debate its merits before the inquiry report and parliamentary vote following the election.

There is strong community opposition to the TPP in Australia and many other countries because it provides very little market access for trade in goods, but increases the power of global corporations at the expense of citizens. It includes stronger monopolies for costly biologic medicines, which will delay the availability of cheaper forms of these medicines, and cost hundreds of millions of dollars. The TPP also includes special rights for foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments if they can argue that a law or policy harms their investment, with inadequate protections for public interest areas like health and environment. Only tobacco regulation can be clearly excluded from such cases.

The US, Japan and at least four other countries must pass implementing legislation and ratify the deal before it can come into force. Ironically, this is least likely to happen in the US. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump oppose the TPP and there is strong bipartisan opposition in Congress.

Congressional opposition has been swelled by right-wing Republicans who want even more rights for pharmaceutical and other corporations, and have demanded such changes in return for supporting the legislation. The tobacco industry claims that the TPP is discriminatory because it prevents them from suing governments over tobacco regulation, while allowing other global corporations to sue over other public interest legislation.

The TPP could impact on several major Australian election promises including healthcare funding and tax policy. A recent Productivity Commission report confirmed that stronger monopolies on biologic medicines in the TPP would cost hundreds of millions of dollars per year. Election policies for government regulation to prevent tax evasion by global corporations could be under- mined if those same corporations are given additional rights to sue govern- ments for compensation in international tribunals.

Dr Patricia Ranald is Research Associate, Sydney University, and Convener of the Australian Fair Trade & Investment Network

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