TPP dead but threats live on
With a stroke of a pen, Donald Trump buried the discredited Trans Pacific Partnership agreement. Now Malcolm Turnbull wants to resurrect the deal despite its threats to our health system and jobs.
When Donald Trump signed a presidential memorandum withdrawing the United States from the TPP in January, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe spoke for many world leaders when he said the TPP would be “meaningless” without US participation.
Despite this, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull wants to push ahead with a vote in the Australian Parliament on legislation to implement the deal.
“The TPP is a very important element in continuing to build those open markets of trade in our regions,” he said.
But as the ABC’s business editor Ian Verrender points out, the TPP isn’t about trade and certainly not free trade.
“It’s about entrenching the interests of major corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens. It’s about entrenching power and governance among the wealthy,” he writes.
Verrender calls the TPP “a stinker for Australia”.
“Negotiated by Labor and Coalition governments for the best part of a decade, it delivered almost no benefits and came saddled with a dreaded clause that would deliver foreign companies the power to seek compensation for any decision that might harm their business activities.”
NSWNMA opposed provisions harmful to health
The NSWNMA opposed many TPP provisions including the ability for pharmaceutical companies to slow, or stop, access to more affordable ‘generic’ medicines.
General Secretary Brett Holmes warned last year the TPP would extend patent rights on medicines and delay the access to research data for costly biologic medicines used to treat cancer and other serious diseases.
“It would restrict and delay access to lower-priced medicines for millions of people, especially in developing countries,” Brett said.
He said the TPP would have allowed corporations to sue state and federal governments in international tribunals if a change in law or policy “harmed” their investment.
“This provision would have been used against health, environment and even minimum wage laws as evidenced by the case brought by big tobacco company Philip Morris against the Australian government over our plain packaging laws.”
Ian Verrender reported that the US last year clocked up an $US11 billion ($A14.6 billion) trade surplus with Australia thanks to the US Australian Free Trade deal we signed 12 years ago.
“That also was a stinker,” he wrote.
“As the Australian National University’s (ANU) Thomas Faunce reported, that deal was a major contributor to the 80 per cent blowout in the cost of the Pharmaceutical Benefits System, which has put enormous strain on the federal budget.”
Verrender said the government was ignoring numerous Productivity Commission reports “that repeatedly call for greater caution in signing ‘free trade agreements’ because they deliver few benefits and may ‘impose net costs on the community’.
TiSA is a vehicle for privatisation
While public attention has been focused on the failed TPP, governments and corporations have been working hard to push through the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA).
Negotiations are going on behind closed doors but leaked documents show that global services corporations and some governments are using the deal to push a deregulation and privatisation agenda, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) warns.
European countries as well as the US, Australia and 20 other mostly high-income countries are involved in TiSA negotiations, meaning the deal will cover around 70 per cent of global trade in services, says AFTINET’s convenor Dr Patricia Ranald.
She says TiSA could set rules affecting almost all service provision including health care, aged care, child care, education, transport, water, telecommunications, postal services, energy, retail and banking services.
TiSA aims to promote privatisation of government services and reduce government regulation on services, by freezing regulation at current levels and reducing it over time.
As Dr Ranald points out, this suits global services corporations but not peoples’ needs, since “many services require regulation or public provision to ensure that they are delivered safely and equitably.”
TiSA requirements that licensing, qualifications and service standards must not to be “burdensome” could prevent future improvements in staffing and qualifications in industries like childcare and aged care, she says.
TiSA also has provisions to increase numbers of temporary overseas “contractual service providers” without testing if local workers are available.
“Studies show these workers are vulnerable to exploitation, which can undermine wages and conditions in those industries.”
More ‘trade deals’ on the way
The Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) is not the only worrying international agreement our government is negotiating.
The Australia-Indonesia Free Trade agree-ment is due to be finished later this year.
Entry of temporary workers is a major element of this agreement, AFTINET reports.
In a submission to Australia’s department of foreign affairs and trade, AFTINET calls for greater transparency in the negotiation process and says temporary movement of workers should not be included in trade agreements.
“Labour mobility discussions should happen in separate agreements and include extra protection for vulnerable migrant workers,” it says.
“There should be no erosion of Australia’s high standards for qualifications and prerequisite language skills.”
Meanwhile, discoveries of imported Chinese asbestos in Australian buildings have highlighted the need for greater import controls to prevent workers from being exposed to the deadly substance.
Asbestos also remains in common use in Indonesia.
Donnellan explains that China’s lower standards for asbestos are creating confusion, because “asbestos free” products in China can still contain quantities of asbestos.
The Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) has written to Trade Minister Steve Ciobo calling for the suspension of free-trade agreement talks with India until there are better systems to stop asbestos imports.