SYDNEY - The 11th round of the
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks
concluded in Melbourne on Friday, with member
states suggesting the negotiations had made
significant progress but civil society groups
reiterating concerns that the United States'
corporate demands could undermine social, economic
and environmental policies.
"We do know
that global corporations are pushing hard for the
inclusion of provisions that benefit companies,
but not necessarily workers and communities,"
Gerardine Kearney, president of the Australian
Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), told IPS.
"This can be seen, for example, in the
negotiations on intellectual property and the risk
that it poses to pharmaceutical companies' rights
to charge higher prices for medicines. We are
seeing it in the investment negotiations, where
[corporate success] will
undermine the right of
governments to regulate in the public interest and
will provide companies the right to sue
governments for damages," Kearney said.
The TPPA is being negotiated between the
US, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia,
Vietnam, Brunei, Chile and Peru with the goal of
developing a comprehensive "21st century" regional
trade agreement by the year-end.
Australia's lead negotiator, Hamish
McCormick, told reporters in Melbourne, "We have
made further strong headway. We are looking to
conclude this year but we want to have a
that diversifying trade flows across the Pacific
would be beneficial, but civil society groups,
calling for strong labor rights and environmental
protections in the trade deal, have raised
concerns over investor state dispute settlement
(ISDS) provisions, amongst others.
provisions allow foreign corporations to sue a
government for regulatory actions. The Australian
Labor government has made it clear that it does
not support the inclusion of ISDS clauses despite
immense pressure from corporations and the US
"ISDS provisions can constrain
the ability of governments to introduce
legislation on social, environmental and economic
matters; confer greater legal rights for foreign
businesses than those available to domestic
businesses by providing an avenue to take legal
action for alleged breaches of the investment
chapter of the trade agreement; and ISDS
arbitration is lengthy and costly," Kearney said.
The Philip Morris case against the
Australian government's legislation on plain
packaging of cigarettes is an example of this.
"Taking on the Philip Morris challenge to
this legislation has made Australia a global
champion for the cause of public health over
commercial interests, but US demands [on] the TPPA
would roll all that back," Patricia Ranald,
convenor of the Australian Fair Trade and
Investment Network, told IPS.
society groups, academics and trade unions have
also expressed concerns about the US proposal that
corporations be empowered to sue governments over
broad social, economic and environmental policies.
"A number of the demands made by US
multinational corporations [MNCs] in submissions
on the TPPA have become official US government
positions in the negotiations. For the US, it
seems a zero-sum game between their MNCs and the
rest of the world - either they win large, or
nobody wins at all," Sanya Reid Smith, legal
advisor and senior researcher at Third World
Network, told IPS.
Another key concern for
the US is intellectual property (IP) rights on
medical technology, which health groups feel would
restrict access to affordable medicines and would
spell the end of the Pharmaceutical Benefits
Scheme (PBS) in Australia and similar schemes in
"If US proposals for
intellectual property and pharmaceuticals in the
TPPA were accepted by other countries, we would
see significant reductions in access to affordable
generic medicines in Australia and the region.
Developing countries would be hit particularly
hard because they are very reliant on life-saving
generic medicines to treat conditions like
HIV/AIDS and non-communicable diseases," Deborah
Gleeson, spokesperson for the Public Health
Association of Australia, told IPS.
Australian government has reiterated its policy
that it won't accept provisions in the TPP that
would undermine the integrity of the country's
Doctors Without Borders (or Medecins
Sans Frontieres, or MSF) has also expressed
profound concern over the impact this agreement
would have upon their health programmes.
Over 80% of all medicines used by MSF are
generic and MSF has warned that losing access to
this source of medicine will result in literally
millions of deaths.
Another sticking point
in the negotiations has been over the issue of
capital controls. Under the proposed deal, nations
would not be permitted to regulate speculative
capital flows to protect their economies from
"At a time when the
world is still recovering from a crisis caused
largely by poorly regulated financial activities,
it is critical that trade negotiators allow
governments the full range of policy tools to
promote financial stability, including capital
controls. There is strong economic evidence that
capital controls can be used to prevent financial
crisis," Sarah Anderson, global economy project
director at the Institute for Policy Studies in
Washington DC told IPS, citing the example of
Malaysia imposing controls on capital outflows at
the height of the Asian financial crisis in 1998.
Prior to the final round of negotiations,
Anderson, along with more than 100 economists,
sent a letter to trade ministers urging TPPA
negotiators to promote global financial stability
by allowing the use of capital controls.
Eight of the nine countries, with the
exception of the US, negotiating the TPPA are net
In February 2011,
a draft US proposal for the IP chapter of the TPPA
was leaked to the public. As Ranald said, "Broader
copyright and intellectual property rights demands
by the US would lock up the Internet, stifle
research and increase education costs, by
extending existing generous copyright from 70
years to 120 years, and even making it a criminal
offense to temporarily store files on a computer
without authorization. The US, as a net exporter
of digital information, would be the only party to
benefit from this."
Over 500 negotiators
were in Melbourne from March 1-9, along with civil
society groups campaigning for negotiating texts
to be released for public and parliamentary debate
before the pact is signed.
Wallach, director of Public Citizen's Global Trade
Watch, a prominent US consumer organization, told
IPS, "The reason these negotiations are so
extremely secret and there is such a rush to get
it [done] quickly is that the content is so
extremely biased towards increasing corporate
power at the expense of most of us.
are so many outrageous specific proposals that if
people knew the details then the whole process
would get derailed by widespread outrage."