In Tokyo on January 24, 11 Pacific Rim countries including Australia reached an agreement to sign a revived Trans-Pacific Partnership (rebranded the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, CPTPP).
The huge free trade deal almost fell into oblivion last year when US President Donald Trump pulled his country out, citing concerns for the loss of US jobs.
Australian Free Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) convener Patricia Ranald said in the revised deal, there were new provisions between Vietnam and the other countries that weakened obligations on labour rights.
The deal also includes new provisions between Canada and the other countries on cultural issues, and new provisions for automobile industry access between Canada, Japan, Malaysia and Australia.
Twenty provisions, which had been pushed for by the US, have been suspended pending the US returning to the deal. These include some of the deal’s most damaging provisions, such as stronger intellectual property rights for corporations, which other nations had only agreed on to gain access to the US market.
Ranald called the CPTPP “a mess of separate deals cobbled together to meet issues raised by Canada and others”.
The secrecy of negotiations has been highlighted by anti-TPP activists from the start.
“As usual, the government has released only positive information about possible market access gains from the deal, but the full text of the changes is not available for public scrutiny,” Ranald said. “The full text will only be released in March at the time of the signing of the deal.”
AFTINET is calling for a Senate inquiry and independent assessment of the real costs of the deal.
The ABC reported trade minister Steve Ciobo said the Turnbull government had worked hard to revive the TPP. Last year, the Labor Opposition had declared the TPP “dead”.
In response to the revived deal, Labor trade spokesperson Jason Clare called on the government to commission independent economic modelling to determine the deal’s potential impacts on Australia, saying: “What we really need to know now is how many jobs this agreement will create, how many more business it will create.”
ACTU President Ged Kearney was blunter. In a statement, Kearney said the CPTPP would “sacrifice workers and Australia’s sovereignty for the profits of multinational corporations”.
Kearny said: “Steve Ciobo has said that the deal is ‘18 free trade agreements’. The Australian people haven’t seen the text of one agreement, let alone 18. This process is a mess and makes a mockery of our democratic principles.”
“Trade agreements like this are pin ups of the failed neo-liberal experiment that has left us with flat wages and inequality at a 70-year high,” she said. “The Turnbull Government should abandon this deal and focus on improving wages for working people and creating jobs for Australian workers.”
The CPTPP still contains the worst elements of the original TPP: provisions for investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS). ISDS gives corporations the right to sue governments in special tribunals if they change laws in a way that harm their profits.
The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law held talks in November to discuss concerns about ISDS. AFTINET reported that the main concerns were the “cost and lengthy duration of ISDS disputes, the issue of corporations failing to pay costs if awarded against them, frivolous claims by investors, inconsistent rulings and lack of transparency”. There were also concerns about the “independence and impartiality of arbitrators”.
At the UN commission, some nations raised concerns about negative public attitude towards ISDS. Mauritius, for instance, noted that ISDS has become “highly politicised”.
Illustrating the potential impact of ISDS, The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives released the report “Canada's Track Record Under NAFTA Chapter 11” in January. The North American Free Trade Agreement is a free trade deal between Canada, the US and Mexico, signed in 1994 and including ISDS provisions.
The report found that Canada has paid out nearly C$220 million in NAFTA ISDS settlements, all to US investors, and lost $95 million in legal costs.