TPP sees light of day
After years of secret negotiations, the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has finally been released to the public. Now the trade agreement has finally seen the light of day, we think it deserves expert, transparent analysis so we can understand all of the implications for Australia.
Negotiations commenced years ago, but this is the first time that the public has had access to the official text of the wide-ranging deal.
Covering areas ranging from the environment, medicine and food to the way that we develop public-interest laws, CHOICE believes it's vital that the TPP is subject to a thorough cost-benefit analysis so that we can understand exactly what it is we're trading away.
What happens next?
Now that the agreement has been finalised, the government will sign the treaty. Then it will go before Parliament. An assessment of the finalised TPP will be conducted by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT), within 20 joint parliamentary sitting days.
After this comparatively short period of time, Parliament then needs to make a decision to accept or reject the finalised agreement in full, with no ability to influence the details or seek improvements.
New legislation might be needed to bring the agreement into effect, or existing legislation might need to be amended.
CHOICE calls for an independent assessment of the TPP
The TPP clocks in at almost 600 pages of core text, and includes several thousand pages of annexes and associated documents. DFAT has assured the public that the agreement will benefit Australia, but we don't know yet whether the potential overall benefits of the TPP outweigh the risks.
With a relatively short time before Parliament needs to make a decision, CHOICE believes expert analysis to help guide the JSCOT consultation process and inform the public will be vital. In the absence of a comprehensive, transparent analysis, the Productivity Commission tells us that it is not possible to be certain of the benefits of trade agreements. The government shouldn't sign us up to an agreement as significant as the TPP without being sure it will benefit Australia.
CHOICE is calling on the government to commit to a full cost-benefit analysis of the TPP by the Productivity Commission before Australia signs on to the complex new rules in this enormous agreement.
What do we know already?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership contains an investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanism. ISDS allows foreign companies to sue the Australian government over laws that are in the public interest, if these laws impact the companies' bottom lines.
This could have an impact on the way we develop policies and laws in Australia. For example, the government recently committed to improving country of origin labelling for food products. The TPP says that if Australia implements a law meant to protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as public health or the environment, as long as the law doesn't discriminate against particular countries, then ISDS action cannot be taken... except in 'rare circumstances'.
While it looks like this should protect policies like country of origin labelling, it could still leave the Australian government open to being sued. What is a 'rare circumstance'? What if the policy is for consumer rights reasons, not public health or the environment? There is a lot of room for corporations to wiggle around this protection.
There is also a very specific protection for laws and regulations relating to the tobacco industry. This is designed to prevent cases like the one in which Philip Morris sued the Australian government in an international tribunal
over our plain packaging tobacco laws. Including this protection is good, but it highlights the fact that the general protection for public health laws may not be sufficient on its own.
Beyond this, we know that the TPP will impact nearly every part of the Australian economy – it covers financial services, food, medicines, the environment, telecommunications, electronic commerce and how our public services operate. The TPP is too big and too important to simply wave through Parliament without a comprehensive and independent cost-benefit analysis so that we can decide whether the gains outweigh the risks.