The Australian Parliament is reviewing the Trans-Pacific Partnership amid scepticism from prominent international politicians and academics.
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been heavily promoting the free trade agreement after the former Australian Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb signed off on it at the start of this year.
There will be “unprecedented scope and ambition (involving these countries) Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam … about 40 per cent of the global economy and a quarter of world trade,” the Liberal MP Rick Wilson told the House in February.
The deal is important to Australia because it highlights trade and investment opportunities, job creation and integration of the economies that from the TPP block. The Department says parliament’s joint standing committee on treaties will consider the TPP, before the parliament considers any legislative changes. This will help to examine the opposition to the TPP.
The problem is the Investor-state dispute settlement clause (ISDS), which opponents say allows a foreign country within the TPP block to sue a fellow TPP country for projected losses if they are not allowed to conduct business operations banned by the other country. Leading academic Dr Abbe Brown, a trade expert from Aberdeen University, applied this theory to aspects of the Paris Climate deal, such as sharing of renewable energy technology, which she believed may come unstuck because of an international corporations pushing a coal mining agenda.
Coal mining is a big issue for TPP critics. Academic Dr Kyla Tienhaara from the Australian National University said offshore tribunals could easily sue over coal seam gas bans, in the same way that cigarette companies might sue a country for forcing them to put health warnings and anti smoking slogans on cigarette packets. Corporations launched 35 ISDS legal challenges against Canada due to the North American Free Trade Agreement – 63 per cent of these were from challenges to environmental protection.
Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton are also opposed to the TPP because they have seen the negative impacts of the Investor State Dispute Settlement in the North American Free Trade Agreement The US President, Barack Obama, had difficulty pushing the TPP through because of such negative perceptions.
A spokesperson for the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade gave this explanation of the ISDS.
“[It] provides a mechanism for foreign investors, including Australian investors to protect their investments overseas. A foreign investor can only use ISDS to resolve disputes around breaches of rules set out in the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement’s investment chapter and similar rules … ” he said.
“The TPP Investment Chapter contains robust safeguards to preserve the right to regulate to protect public welfare, including in the areas of health and environment,” he said. – Joseph Walz
Photo of the EIF pledging conference, Nairobi, December 2015 from the World Trade Organisation’s Flickr stream.