TPP-11 Senate inquiry welcomed by community organisations

March 29. 2018: Dr Patricia Ranald, Convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, today welcomed the Senate decision yesterday for an inquiry by the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade to assess whether the rebadged Comprehensive Progressive TPP-11 is in the public interest, before Parliament considers the implementing legislation.

“Achieving a Senate inquiry is a victory in our campaign for more transparency and accountability in the trade agreement process,” said Dr Ranald.

The motion for the inquiry was initiated by NXT Senator Rex Patrick and supported by Labor and the Greens.

“The usual process is that the deal is reviewed by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties, on which the government has a majority, to consider the implementing legislation. This is virtually a rubber stamp 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 impact of the CPTPP. We welcome the 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.

“The rebadged CPTPP still has 30 chapters and 6000 pages of legally binding rules which suit global corporations but mostly restrain future governments from regulating in the public interest in areas like access to medicines, essential services, the internet and financial regulation. Only 22 clauses have been suspended, but not removed, pending the US rejoining the deal.

“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 first 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 22 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.

“Australia already has free trade agreements with all but two of the other CPTPP countries, and without the US market, any economic benefits are likely to be even less than they were under the original deal. A Senate inquiry can conduct a critical assessment of 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.

Contact Dr Patricia Ranald 0419 695 841