Revised TPP-11 text is largely unchanged: independent assessment and Senate Inquiry needed

Media release, February 21 2018: “The new text of the revised and rebranded Comprehensive Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership between Australia and 10 other countries without the US contains minor additional change since last November. Some other governments have demanded further changes, but the Australian government has not,” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convener said today.

“The additional published text is only nine pages, with some changes from Canada to the non-binding preamble that mention cultural identity, indigenous rights and gender equity, but these are aspirational only, and will not affect the legally binding provisions in the rest of the agreement. There are also the 20 clauses which were suspended in November 2017 pending the US rejoining the deal.”

The new text does not include new side letters between specific countries that were signaled when the text was finalised in January. It is not clear whether these will be released later.

“Many of the most harmful clauses remain. The deal still includes special rights for foreign investors to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in unfair international tribunals over changes to domestic laws, known as ISDS,” said Dr Ranald.

“The Australian government has not sought changes to provisions for more vulnerable temporary migrant workers, from Vietnam, Malaysia, Japan, Canada Mexico and Chile without testing if local workers are available. This is contrary to its own claims to have reintroduced such testing. There have been no changes to the chapters on trade in services and state-owned enterprises which could restrict future governments from re-regulating essential services like TAFE, energy and financial services, even if there are demonstrated market failures.”

Dr Ranald explained that the 20 suspended clauses are mostly about medicine and copyright monopolies. Other governments had only reluctantly agreed to US proposals on stronger monopolies on biologic medicines and longer copyright monopolies to gain access to the US market. Some of these clauses have been suspended, pending the US rejoining the deal. But the intellectual property chapter still entrenches other restrictions on government’s ability to change such regulation in future, which have been criticised by the Productivity Commission.

“The 11 governments plan to sign the agreement in Chile on March 8. The text will then be tabled in Parliament and reviewed by a Joint Standing Committee on which the government has a majority, to consider the implementing legislation. This is virtually a rubber stamp process because, in addition to public submissions, the committee receives a major report from the Department that negotiated the agreement, which always says yes to the implementing legislation,” said Dr Ranald.

“The government has so far refused to commission independent studies of the costs and benefits of the CPTPP. We call for independent studies of its economic and social impacts, and for a Senate inquiry that can critically assess whether the deal is in the public interest and whether the implementing legislation should be passed. If it is not in the public interest, we will campaign for the Senate to block the implementing legislation,” said Dr Ranald.