Economist and Greens trade spokesperson Senator Peter Whish-Wilson, in an interview with Mick Amadio, says the secretive Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a danger to ordinary Australians by favouring special interests over their interests.
Michael Amadio (MA): We all know that the TPP is a major secret. What can you tell us that you know about the TPP?
Senator Peter Whish-Wilson (PWW): The TPP is a big, complex 29 Chapter ‘secret’ agreement that covers topics beyond previous trade agreements. That is why we call it a ‘new generation trade deal.’
I understand 23 of the 29 chapters relate to ‘synchronising’ laws and regulations not associated with traditional trade in goods. I understand the chapter on rules relating to restricting commercial activities of state-owned enterprises is a first for a trade deal. Through leaked texts and other sources we know other chapters also cover issues such as copyright, patent terms, internet usage, digital rights, labour laws, environmental standards, investment regulations and regulations covering the funding of state-owned enterprises. These are just some of the topics we know are on the table through the TPP negotiations.
The fact that a deal this size, which will impact on significant areas of public interest, is a secret of real concern. It means that the agreement will have no scrutiny before it is signed by the Australian Cabinet and very little scrutiny before it is finally ratified by Parliament. It cannot be amended by Parliament, just voted on as a whole. Community organisations, unions and consumer representatives are unable to provide any real input while it is being negotiated.
MA: The Greens have opposed the TPP from the start. From a party and a personal perspective, can you briefly outline your major reasons for opposing the TPP?
PWW: Firstly, we want ‘model trade agreements’ which are transparent, not secret, and to allow for equitable stakeholder input (i.e., NGO’s should have the same access that big business has) — this is not the case with the TPP. This, like other bilateral agreements Australia has signed, are driven by lobbyists and special interests.
Secondly, we want ‘fair trade’ agreements — not so called ‘free trade agreements’, which are simply corporate de-regulation agendas.
The Greens see trade as an opportunity to get more equitable outcomes and whilst the TPP originally promised much in this respect, leaked chapters show this promise is hollow.
As an example, the successive leaked chapters on the environment showed watered down weasel-words on important issues such as climate change. The Greens see environmental and social problems as economic problems which can be targeted during trade deals. Solving for externalities such as climate change, species and biodiversity loss, sustainable fishing, and incorporating better labour agreements around wages and conditions, and the mandatory certification of ethical factors into trade, and so on, can be achieved via binding agreements in trade deals. This is not going to happen with the TPP. So we see trade as being an opportunity for more ‘regulation’ rather than the opposite.
We oppose dangerous and un-democratic trade deals giving corporations new, special rights to investment protections, allowing them to sue sovereign governments through international arbitration panels that lack transparency. The TPP is expected to include such rights. The Greens are the only political party that has campaigned against the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in current trade negotiations such as the TPP.
If agreed to, it is possible that Australian governments – federal, state and local – might be subjected to litigation from multinational corporations.
Former Prime Minister John Howard refused to allow ISDS in the Australia–U.S. Free Trade Agreement when it was signed in 2004. U.S. corporations are the biggest users of ISDS clauses, so if the TPP agreement, which includes the U.S., is signed it is likely Australia will be subject to increased litigation from corporations claiming government policies have affected their profits.
Nor do we want to see developing nations facing increased litigation from Australian or other TPP companies. The Greens believe this doesn’t allow governments to exercise sovereignty over the policies and legislation they want to implement in the public interest.
We also don’t believe secret trade deals are the appropriate forum for shaping/changing domestic laws and regulations on significant issues of public interest, such as changes to patent terms for medicines or the policing of digital rights. The Productivity Commission and the recent competition review of patents commissioned by the Government agree with us. These are just some of the reasons we have opposed the TPP.
MA: What do think about the ACTU wanting a pause in negotiations?
PWW: I think it is a sensible idea. The Europeans paused negotiations in their agreement with the United States, known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), to conduct community consultations on ISDS provisions in the agreement.
I think many Australians would be grateful if a pause in negotiations could lead to greater scrutiny of the negotiating text and appropriate community consultation on the agreement.
Community consultation on ISDS provisions would be a good start.
MA: Are there any benefits that you are aware of for ordinary Australians in the TPP?
PWW: As the text is secret, it is difficult to answer this question.
We do know from previous trade agreements they are never properly modelled, or ever examined ex post. They are always overhyped for political reasons and no proof exists they have ever delivered on their promises. For example, the Productivity Commission found that the Australia-US FTA did not deliver the economic benefits the Government claimed at the time. But still we rush headlong into even more agreements.
Trade theory tells us there are always winners and losers in trade deals, but who gets to decide this is the controversial point. You have to give something to get something in a negotiation and given how long we have been opening up our economy for, what little we have left to trade is valuable and controversial (such as the last remaining tariff level keeping the car industry afloat).
As mentioned earlier, lobbyist-driven trade deals may deliver for some interests (such as dairy producers) but not for others who don’t have the minister’s ear.
As I have already outlined the TPP goes well beyond ideas of traditional trade. My job as a parliamentarian is not to deliver just for special interests, but for the national interest. To determine benefits for the ordinary Australian and the country as a whole it is important to see the whole agreement. Australians working in certain industries could win out while others might not get any benefit or may even go backward.
Trade agreements come down to trade-offs, without transparency there is no way of knowing winners and losers until the agreement is signed and the text released.
MA: What is the Greens alternative and what is the Greens idea of a Free Trade Agreement?
PWW: The Greens are in favour of trade deals. However we believe fair trade is far more important than free trade.
As mentioned previously, fair trade is when you take into account environmental, social and ethical factors in business decisions. Environmental problems, social problems and a lot of ethical problems tend to be economic problems that should be built into negotiating agreements.
We also believe there is room for more consultation when deals are being negotiated. Groups who represent community interests should be able to view texts of agreements and provide advice to the Government and negotiators. Even Parliamentarians are not able to view the text of trade agreements until they have been signed. This is simply undemocratic.
Australia needs to consider this process and adopt a ‘model trade negotiation process’ to ensure transparency and full stakeholder input. This view of the Greens was recently supported by the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and other stakeholders.
This interview gives us a valuable insight into what we actually know about the TPP and what policy the Greens have prepared. Also highlighted is the difference between a free trade agreement and a fair trade agreement. Another major point of interest is the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses in the TPP, which allow corporations to sue if profits are affected by government policies (for example).
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