1) The deal could be signed by the twelve countries involved any day now. Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb has said that the negotiations are ‘at a very advanced stage’.
2) Only one in ten Australian voters have even heard of the TPP. The mainstream media has failed to inform the public about this most serious issue. Polling has revealed that when the matters being negotiated in the TPP are explained to Australian voters, nine in ten agree that they want the public to have a say on the TPP before it is signed.
3) The TPP is being negotiated in complete secrecy. The draft texts have not been released to the public in any of the twelve nations party to the agreement. Robb has stated that neither the Senate nor the Australian public will gain access to the texts until after the deal has been signed. However, the Julian Assange-edited news site Wikileaks has gotten access to and released the draft chapters on Intellectual Property and Environment, which contain a number of concerning revelations.
4) The released texts reveal that the US is pushing for all parties to agree to be bound by Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses. This would allow foreign companies to not only challenge Australian legislation in ‘transnational forums’ (rather than Australian courts of law), but to sue our government where it is seen to have enacted legislation impeding those companies from making profits. This is precisely what tobacco company Philip Morris is attempting to do after the former ALP government introduced plain packaging laws, via a similar mechanism provided in the largely-unknown bilateral agreement between Australia and Hong Kong.
5) The TPP could harm our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). During negotiations on the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) in 2004, US representatives (under heavy lobbying from large American pharmaceutical conglomerates) pushed to allow companies to extend the life of drug patents for ‘new uses’ – effectively allowing companies to have perpetual exclusive rights to drugs, a practice known as ‘ever-greening’. Only an amendment to the legislation by the then-opposition ALP prevented this aspect of the agreement from going ahead. The US are now pushing for this to be part of the TPP. Were evergreening to be allowed, Australia’s PBS would be greatly hampered as it relies on generic drugs which are produced once initial patents expire. The practice of ‘evergreening’ effectively means that those patents never expire, so generic drugs cannot be brought to market.
Under the aforementioned ISDS provisions within NAFTA, a large pharmaceutical company attempted to sue the Canadian government to the tune of $100m for not granting it a patent on a particular drug, claiming that this was ‘an expropriation of intellectual property rights’.
6) The TPP could subvert laws which protect the Australian environment. Under ISDS provisions within the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a large resource company sued the Canadian government for $250m as a result of Quebec’s moratorium against fracking.
7) The TPP could compel governments to legislate draconian laws regarding the internet. The leaked chapters reveal that Australia voted with the US to force internet service providers (ISPs) to block access to ‘repeat offenders’ of copyright violations, and was one of only two countries – again siding with the US – to block a proposal which would limit ISPs liability for users’ copyright infringement.
8) Both of our major parties have indicated support for the TPP. Negotiations began under the former ALP government and continue today under the Coalition government. The new Senate as of July 1 this year contains sufficient Coalition and aligned senators to pass the legislation even if the ALP and Greens vote against it. The only way for Australia to avoid the myriad consequences of the TPP will be to apply pressure to the major parties directly and spread the word amongst our friends and family. The proprietors of the major commercial television, print and radio networks have vested interests in many of the TPP’s proposals so we cannot rely on them to inform the public. We must do it ourselves. Spread the word.