Corporations prepare to sue governments over actions to save lives as pandemic reveals other trade policy flaws and need for alternatives

April 23.2020: Dr Patricia Ranald’s article in The Conversation shows how legal firm are already advising global companies on how to use clauses in trade agreements which allow them to claim millions in compensation for government regulation during the pandemic which may harm their profits.

More generally, she argues that the realities of the pandemic have forced governments to act in ways which show the flaws in the current trade deals that are negotiated in secret. These flaws include dependency on global production chains, lack of local manufacturing capacity, opening up essential services to private foreign investment and strengthening monopolies on medicines, which delay access to cheaper versions of those medicines.

The Australian government has directed private hospitals to treat pandemic patients, assisted local firms to make facemasks and other equipment, and has ramped up screening of foreign investment by the Foreign Investment Review Board, in a way trade agreements would normally prevent.

Ranald argues for post-pandemic trade policies that reject both the extremes of current agreements and the Trump and Hanson policies of building walls and a return to high tariffs.

Trade agreements should be negotiated openly in a system that takes account of the specific needs of developing countries, They should reinforce internationally-agreed and fully-enforceable labour rights and environmental standards, allow countries such as Australia to maintain the manufacturing capacity that will be needed in the event of crises and enable governments to regulate for purposes of public health and the environment.

Trade agreements most certainly should not strengthen medicine or other monopolies, or give legal rights to sue governments to global corporations that already have enormous market power.