By Bob Briton, in The Guardian, weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia, November 2015
The planners behind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) have bowed to mounting international pressure and released the text of the trade and investment pact. Revelations from WikiLeaks and the alarm they have caused are the likely cause for the sudden shift towards “transparency”. The architects no doubt believed that few would be able to plough through its 6,147 pages to discern the dangers to their future collective well-being. “The agreements – filled with jargon, convoluted technical, trade and financial terms, legalese, fine print and obtuse phrasing – can be summed up in two words: corporate enslavement,” as US journalist Chris Hedges noted.
The deal comprises 12 signatory countries – the US, Chile, Mexico, Peru, Canada, Japan, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, New Zealand and Australia. This accounts for roughly 40 percent of the world’s economy. If and when it comes into effect and combined with the corresponding Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), 85 percent of the global economy will be operating under a new, very different order. The related Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) will complete the transformation to untrammelled corporate dictatorship.
These agreements leave out some very major countries and economies, notably those involved in BRICS – the economic co-operation framework established between Brazil, Russia, India and China. The TPP will enhance competition with this rival bloc by stripping away the rights of previously sovereign countries to legislate in any way that limits transnationals’ profitability. Trade unions will be further sidelined.
The rules set out in the TPP will trump any commitments made at the climate change conference in Paris. There are references to a “low-emissions” future economy but none to climate change. This document was written by and for the big polluters.
Governments are giving assurances that they will retain the right to regulate. This is misleading. The agreement will work to lock in any weakening of regulation and this has been the trend with governments covered by the TPP, with their commitment to cutting “red tape”, removing “obstacles to investment” and hiring and firing.
The same governments say that problems with the highly controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions have been fixed. Not so. As the New Zealand It’s Our Future website points out, “Most arbitrators are still likely to come from a small club of investment lawyers, with no effective control of conflict of interest rules (though some are promised). There is no guarantee they will apply consistent rules and no way to appeal if they make rogue decisions. There’s no cap on damages or compound interest.”
The case of Oceana Gold versus El Salvador, which has the mining giant suing the Central American country for affecting profits through a moratorium on mining activity, is a foretaste of the sort of corporate bullying to become widespread under the TPP. Nothing will stop the exporting of jobs to low wage centres.
Though the trade and investment regime is designed chiefly to favour US corporations, it will dramatically and negatively impact the people of the United States. Fifty-one percent of working Americans now earn less than US$30,000 a year. Forty percent are getting less than US$20,000 a year and the federal government considers a family of four on an income of less than US$24,250 to be living in poverty. This crippling reality has developed despite official promises of highly paid jobs to flow from the North American Free Trade Agreement, a precursor of the TPP and TTIP, concluded between Canada, Mexico and the US in 1994.
Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has picked up on widespread concern and gone public with her “reservations” about the rash of new trade and investment agreements. The people in countries to be impacted by the TPP would be wrong to take comfort from these comments. Her Democrat colleague, current US President Barack Obama, has done all he can to limit debate and “fast track” the agreement becoming law. It is estimated that corporations paid US$200 million-worth of contributions to members of the Congress to vote for a Trade Promotion Authority to negotiate treaties like the TPP. Hillary will change her tune if elected.
The text does nothing to dispel fears of the people of Australia for their public services, including health and education and the viability of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). There is some eyewash concerning “legitimate public policy” but market models will remain the norm. Any new state owned enterprise, such as a public national superannuation scheme can receive no advantage over commercial rivals. People will simply not be able to reverse the neo-liberal agenda.
Threats to food labelling, regulation of mining, fracking and action on climate change are still there. Medicines will be more expensive with pharmaceutical companies’ monopoly over drugs to be extended from five years to eight years. New generation biologic medicines to treat diseases like cancer and diabetes with low side-effects will be more expensive for longer than they need be.
“The TPP creates a web of corporate laws that will dominate the global economy,” as US attorney Kevin Zeese and TPP opponent said. “It is a global corporate coup d’état. Corporations will become more powerful than countries. Corporations will force democratic systems to serve their interests. Civil courts around the world will be replaced with corporate courts or so-called trade tribunals.”
The people of the world are responding to the threat. Large demonstrations are occurring in the US. Over 250,000 people in Berlin protested recently against the TTIP. Australians must play their part in binning the TPP. The trade unions, which have shown considerable energy in opposing negative aspects of the China Australia Free Trade Agreement, must take an even stronger stand against the much bigger threat posed by the TPP.