47 community groups tell Trade Minister TPP not in national interest

 27 January 2015

The Hon Andrew Robb AO, MP

Minister for Trade and Investment

Parliament House

Canberra ACT 2600

Dear Mr. Robb,

As you know, the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network is a network of community organisations advocating for fair trade based on human rights, labour rights and environmental sustainability.

Our organisations, which together represent millions of Australians, continue to be gravely concerned about the impacts of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) being negotiated between Australia, the US, Japan and nine other countries. The continuing failure to conclude the negotiations, which have now entered their sixth year, indicates that many governments are unable to agree that the TPP is in their national interest. A recent US Department of Agriculture study has revealed zero benefits to the Australian economy from the TPP even before the significant health and environmental costs are considered. There is also mounting concern about the secrecy of the negotiations.

Medicines and Public health costs of the TPP

Proposals for stronger patents and data protection on medicines would delay access to cheaper generic medicines, with a recent study showing that the extension of monopolies on ten key medicines would cost the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) $205 million in one year. Other proposals in the agreement to limit the ability of governments to regulate wholesale medicine prices would also undermine the structure of the PBS, increasing costs to government and leading to pressure for higher retail prices at the chemist. There is no agreement to exempt tobacco regulation from the agreement, meaning that Australia could face challenges to future tobacco regulation. Proposals which could restrict government regulation of food and alcohol labelling could also reduce the policy space to adopt effective public health policies in the future.

The TPP would allow foreign investors to sue Australian governments

Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) allows foreign investors to sue governments in international tribunals if changes to laws or policies can be claimed to “harm” their investment. This not only gives foreign investors more rights than the sovereign people of Australia, it also gives foreign investors more rights than Australian investors. The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently using an obscure Hong Kong-Australia investment agreement to sue the Australian Government for damages over plain packaging legislation, despite the Australian High Court’s rejection of their compensation claim under Australian law. Attempts to “safeguard” health and environmental legislation from ISDS clauses have not been effective in other agreements and do not attempt to safeguard other areas of policy, such as industrial relations and tax policy. Recent Senate Inquiry reports, European studies and Australian High Court Chief Justice French have revealed additional evidence that ISDS can over-ride national court decisions, undermining democracy and sovereignty.

The only effective way to ensure governments are not sued over public interest legislation is to reject ISDS clauses in all trade agreements.

The TPP could erode workers’ rights and environmental protections

Without enforceable workers’ rights and environmental standards, trade liberalisation intensifies competition and leads to a race to the bottom on these standards. There appears to be no agreement so far in the TPP negotiations that labour rights based on International Labour Organisation Conventions, or environmental standards based on United Nations Agreements, will be legally enforceable in the same way as other provisions in the TPP. Countries without legally enforceable workers’ rights and environmental standards would gain competitive advantage based on worker and environmental exploitation, which is not acceptable.

Increased copyright provisions will mean higher costs and restricted internet use

Proposals to increase copyright payment periods would mean higher costs for libraries, schools, universities and consumers. Other proposals would impose criminal penalties for internet users for acts like temporary storage of copyrighted data, and make internet service providers report and penalise breaches of copyright.

The TPP could reduce Australian content in media

Australian content laws for audio-visual media ensure that Australian voices are heard and Australian stories are told, especially for our children. TPP proposals to reduce Australian content would result in erosion of our arts industries and undermine our culture.

Secrecy

Fourteen thousand people in Australia have signed petitions calling for the release of the TPP text before it is signed. There are precedents for this. The WTO has been publishing texts since 2003 and the text of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement was released in 2011 before it was signed. The EU has recently responded to similar community calls by releasing its proposals and pledging to release the full text before it is signed in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations.

In summary, the risks and potential costs of these harmful proposals in the TPP are unacceptable. It is not in Australia’s national interest for these public policies to be traded away in secret negotiations.

We call on the government to reject all of the harmful proposals in the TPP, and to release the full text of the agreement for public and Parliamentary scrutiny and debate before any Cabinet decision to endorse it.

We look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. Patricia Ranald

Coordinator, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network

This letter has been endorsed by 47 organisations:

National

Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network

Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Australian Conservation Foundation

Australian Council of Trade Unions

Public Health Association Australia

Australian Federation of Aids Organisations

ActionAid Australia

Caritas Australia

World Vision Australia

Friends of the Earth

Greenpeace

The Australia Institute

Catholic Religious Australia

Catholics in Coalition for Justice and Peace

Columban Mission Institute, Centre for Peace Ecology and Justice

St Columban’s Mission Society ANZ Region

Sisters of Charity

The Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education

The Grail Global Justice Network

APHEDA Union Aid Abroad

Australian Education Union

Australian Manufacturing Workers Union

Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation

Australian Services Union

Community and Public Sector Union (PSU Group)

Community and Public Sector Union (SPSF Group)

Finance Sector Union

Maritime Union of Australia

National Union of Workers

National Tertiary Education Union

National Union of Students

Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia

Genethics

Mothers Advancing Deliciously Good Eating

Older Women’s Network Australia

SEARCH Foundation

Whistleblowers, Activists and Citizens Alliance 

 

State and regional

Australian Education Union South Australia

Australian Services Union NSW

Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association of NSW Inc

NSW Nurses and Midwives Association

NSW Teachers’ Federation

Newcastle Trades Hall Council

Older Women’s Network NSW

Sutherland Shire Environment Centre (NSW)

Sydney Food Fairness Alliance

The Alliance to Expose GATS (Qld)