Sydney TPP meeting outcome vindicates community concerns

Trade negotiators from 11 of the original 12 TPP countries met in Sydney from August 28-30 for their third set of talks to see if the TPP can be revived without the US, aiming to complete talks by November this year. The 11 countries are Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Before the meeting Trade Minister Steve Ciobo was leading the charge for endorsement of the TPP with minimum changes to the text.  This was despite the fact that opposition from a broad range of Australian community groups meant an Australian Senate inquiry refused to endorse the TPP, and the Australian Parliament has not passed the implementing legislation.

Community groups oppose the TPP because it gives pharmaceutical companies stronger monopolies on costly biologic medicines, delaying the availability of cheaper forms of those medicines. It entrenches copyright monopolies at the expense of consumers. It gives special rights to foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in unfair international tribunals over changes to domestic laws. It would also restrict future governments from re-regulating essential services like energy or financial services, despite demonstrated market failures, and it would result in more vulnerable temporary migrant workers, without testing if local workers were available. In short, the TPP is a US-driven agenda for greater corporate rights at the expense of people’s rights.

Many of the 11 other governments only agreed to this agenda because the US demanded it in return for access to US markets. They will not give a free ride to the US without that market access, and nor should Australia. Malaysia and Vietnam  said before the meeting that, without the US, the terms of the TPP should be renegotiated. 

A protest outisde the talks was addressed by ACTU President Ged Kearney, and speakers from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, ActionAid and Greenpeace. See photos here.

Sixty-seven national and international health and consumer groups, including the Public Health Association of Australia, the World Public Health Association and Médecins Sans Frontières also called for deletion or complete renegotiation of the clauses on medicines and foreign investor rights to sue governments.

Community and other TPP governments’ concerns have been vindicated by the reported outcomes of the meeting.  Nikkei Asian Review quotes the Japanese chief negotiator saying that the 11 TPP countries agreed to suspend some parts of the text that were only reluctantly agreed to get access to the US market. These include the controversial three-year increase in data protection monopolies for biologic medicines, which would delay cheaper versions of these medicines. These clauses would only be resurrected if the US decides in future to re-join the agreement.

The Nikkei Asian Review also reports that Canada and Mexico want to suspend several parts of the TPP text to prevent the US from using them as a model in the renegotiation of NAFTA, and that other governments, including Malaysia and Vietnam, want to renegotiate other parts of the text, including government procurement and state-owned enterprises. There is no agreement on investment rules, copyright and other issues. Further negotiations are planned for Japan in late September.

It is clear from these reports that some governments recognise that many clauses in the TPP are not in their national interests. Any renegotiation of the TPP will be a long and painful process, which may not produce an outcome.

In practice, the Australian government has quietly conceded that a TPP without the US is unlikely by starting separate bilateral negotiations with Peru and Mexico, two of the three TPP countries without FTAs with Australia. If it really believed that the TPP could be revived this year, these negotiations would not be necessary.

The current text of the TPP is dead because it requires ratification by the US as the largest economy. Even with the minimal change of deleting the US, it would be a new agreement, and would have to be signed, tabled in Parliament and reviewed by Parliamentary committees before any implementing legislation. If harmful clauses remain, there would still be strong community opposition and the majority in the Senate is likely to reject it again.

The Australian government should not waste further time and resources on trying to resurrect the dead TPP, but instead should develop fairer trade policies which will actually deliver benefits to most Australians.

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