UK Australia FTA announcement hides possible nasties on corporate rights and medicine monopolies in secret deal

MEDIA RELEASE                                                                            

June 15, 2021

“The announcement of ‘in-principle’ agreement for an Australia-UK free trade agreement continues the unacceptable government secrecy about the details of the agreement,” Dr Patricia Ranald, AFTINET Convenor said today.

“The negotiations are secret and only selected titbits are announced to avoid public scrutiny about other possibly harmful details of the agreement. We won’t see the full text until agreement is signed and the text is released after several months,” said Dr Ranald.

“The agreement is not only about tariffs on beef and wine. It has up to 30 chapters that create common rules for corporations but restrict future government regulation, ranging from essential services like aged care and digital data privacy to numbers of vulnerable temporary workers,” said Dr Ranald.

“The UK Trade Minister confirmed in parliament last month that the UK was still pursuing special rights for global corporations to sue governments for millions if they could claim that a change of law or policy harmed their investment, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS,” said Dr Ranald.

“This would give UK mining companies like Rio Tinto the right to claim compensation for new laws to protect Indigenous heritage areas, and UK aged care companies like Bupa the right to claim compensation for new regulation arising from recommendations of the Aged Care Royal Commission,” said Dr Ranald.

“The UK has also said in its negotiating objectives that it wants to preserve its “existing IP standards” which include rules for longer medicine monopolies than Australia has. Pharmaceutical companies already have 20 year monopolies on new medicines.

“The UK has additional monopoly of up to 10 years for data protection before data is released for production of cheaper medicines. The current Australian standard is five years. The UK standard would delay the availability of cheaper medicines in Australia for up to 5 years, costing the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme hundreds of millions of dollars per year,” said Dr Ranald.

“There has been no independent Australian assessment of the economic and social costs and benefits of this agreement,” said Dr Ranald.

“We call on the Australian government to release the text for public scrutiny and independent assessment of its costs and benefits before it is signed, so that everyone can see what is being traded away and the government can be held accountable before the deal is done,” said Dr Ranald.