Leaked memo casts doubt over controversial TPP agreement

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Doubts emerge over whether the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement will ever be implemented, with a leaked memo showing major rifts between an unwavering United States and all eleven other potential parties, including Australia. Parashar Das reports.

ON THE CUSP of what were predicted to be final negotiations, a leaked intergovernmental memo has described the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement as approaching impasse between an unwavering United States and its eleven partner countries, including Australia. 

Following Wikileaks' posting of the TPP's Intellectual Property chapter, this month's leaked intergovernmental memo points to the ‘zero flexibility’ of the United States as preventing substantial progress at the 19th November round of negotiations in Salt-Lake City.  

The leaked memo particularly mentions Singapore's uncertainty at concluding negotiations ‘given the number of outstanding issues that still remain’, and follows with a warning of ‘partial closure or even a failure’ at the upcoming December negotiations.  

La Trobe University Public Health lecturer Dr Deborah Gleeson assesses the U.S. led TPP provisions as causing

‘… deep rifts among the negotiating countries, with the United States pushing provisions that, in many areas, are not in the interests of other countries.’

The scope of the provisions requires consensus, ranging from regulation of pharmaceutical prices to local media content, though the commitment to confidentiality by participating countries leaves little public insight into the specific terms.  

Australia's alarm at the secrecy surrounding TPP negotiations escalated this week as Minister for Finance Mathias Cormann rejected the Greens-led Senate order for production of the TPP final text ahead of Federal cabinet signing off on the deal. Cormann's letter noted the lengths of secrecy to be ‘normal practice in negotiating international treaties’ and confirmed the text will be made public during the parliamentary process of ratification to legally bind Australia to the Partnership. 

The element of secrecy is a widespread concern, particularly echoed by US Congress, with a letter of opposition attracting 150 member signatures in the House of Representatives as President Obama attempts to fast-track TPP approval.

Australia's TPP representative, Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb, has been criticised for considering the inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause — a move opposed by the previous ALP government.  Robb believes that consenting to the ISDS clause, an avenue for foreign corporations to sue the Australian Government, is justified by the ‘substantial market access’ Australia will be granted in return, reported the Sydney Morning Herald.

Australian Greens Senator Peter Whish-Wilson sees the ISDS as

'... a real threat to Australia's public interest laws that protect our environment and rural industries, and underpin public health.'  

Notably, the inclusion of an ISDS clause between Australia and Hong Kong allowed tobacco company Phillip Morris to launch further action challenging Australia's tobacco plain packaging laws despite rejection by the Australian High Court.

In a press release approaching the final negotiations, Robb claims:

‘I will be pushing hard for outcomes that provide significant and material opportunities for Australian businesses and exporters, including farmers, manufacturers and service providers.’

University of Ottowa Law Professor Dr Michael Geist indicates the leaked documents show Australia's close agreement with the United States on ‘several key issues’, including controversial intellectual property provisions, criminalising copyright contravention and allowing the termination of internet access. 

Despite Australia's close proximity to the U.S. viewpoint, unsurprising given the existing Australia-U.S. free trade agreement, rejection of the provisions by the majority of participant countries casts doubt over whether any agreement will be reached let alone ratified by Australia.

Follow Parashar on Twitter @Parashar_Das.

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