With the release of the full text of the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) on February 21, activists in the 11 signatory countries finally got to see if their worst fears of a corporate power grab would be confirmed.
Unfortunately, they mostly were.
The CPTPP is a “free trade deal” involving Chile, Peru, Mexico, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Singapore and Vietnam. Set to be signed in Chile on March 8, it will encompass about 13% of global GDP.
With the abandonment of the deal by the United States last year, the remaining countries suspended some of the most controversial clauses the US had been pushing — mainly involving stronger intellectual property rights on medicines and stronger copyright provisions. But if the US returns to the deal, these may be raised again.
After the text’s release, Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network (AFTINET) convenor Dr Patricia Ranald noted: “The new text does not include new side letters between specific countries that were signalled when the text was finalised in January. It is not clear whether these will be released later.”
Ranald said of the released text that “many of the most harmful clauses remain”. In particular, investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) remains in the deal, which allows multinational corporations to sue a government if it legislates in a way that adversely affects the corporation’s profits.
Activists around the Pacific Rim have slammed the TPP and their own governments for going ahead with the deal. Activists are concerned with the lack of transparency that surrounds the negotiations, the lack of independent analysis of its possible effects, the effects on workers and the environment, and the strengthening of corporate power written into the agreement.
New Zealand Council of Trade Unions economist Bill Rosenberg said: “Citizens risk losing our ability to use government purchasing and our state-owned enterprises for the public good.
“The documents released by the government today do not have an independent analysis of the health and environmental risks. Neither do they have anything to say about who gains and who loses – the impacts on inequality...”
The national president of Canadian transport union Unifor Jerry Dias said: “Ontario is acknowledging that the CPTPP is a job killer and is asking for measures to offset the known damage that it will inflict.
“Rather than covering the wound it should be seeking to prevent the injury by calling for an exemption for auto or better yet pushing to prevent ratification.”
The union said trade agreements “must serve to enhance our collective economic and social development, and must be guided by progressive, fair trade principles”.
In Australia, ACTU assistant secretary Scott Connolly said: “This is a bad deal for working people and a win for corporate power. It lets companies exploit temporary workers...
“The [Malcolm] Turnbull government must stop trading away our jobs, wages and opportunities for corporate profits.”
In Chile, the People’s Democratic Movement said on Twitter that the CPTPP will be disastrous for small- and medium-sized businesses. It called for a demonstration against it on March 7.
If the US was to return to the CPTPP, the agreement would extend to cover 40% of global GDP. Participating governments would likely welcome the inclusion of the huge US market, but some remain wary of the now-suspended provisions the US had pushed, particularly those regarding medicines, which could wreak havoc on their health systems.
Outgoing Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, for instance, said that if the US wished to return, it must accept the CPTPP as it is.
The Japanese government, however, is keen to see the US back in. Government estimates put GDP growth from the CPTPP at 8 trillion yen (about US$76 billion), but under the original deal with the US, it was estimated at 14 trillion yen.
The Japanese government, among others, is concerned that ratification could be a long and difficult struggle. In Japan’s case, the original TPP was opposed by all opposition parties except one. They expect the same difficulty this time as the final CPTTP is not much different.
In a sign of the public pressure governments are under, Nikkei Asian Review quoted a source close to the Japanese government saying: “The new administrations in Canada and New Zealand won the public over on the [CPTPP] by saying the agreement is different from the original version … Having them go back and approve the original version represents a high political hurdle.”
The movement against the CPTPP and other pro-corporate “free trade” deals seek to raise that hurdle as high as possible. To do this, many opponents seek not just to expose the dangers of the CPTPP, but put forward a better model for trade.
The Socialist Party of Malaysia (PSM) is one group that has sought to set out an alternative vision for international trade, releasing a People's Charter on International Trade Agreements in January.
“We knew just how damaging the TPPA was and we have others like the RCEP [the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership trade deal involving 10 South-East Asian nations] that are also dangerous to the country,” said PSM secretary-general Sivarajan Arumugam.
“There is no point fighting each trade agreement, so we have decided to fight all the agreements together with our People’s Charter on International Trade Agreements.”
The People’s Charter proposes “people-centred” trade agreements. It puts forward nine themes that should define future trade agreements, including:
- protecting government’s capacity to protect people and environment;
- access to medicines;
- food security;
- banning the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism, where corporations can sue governments
- protecting small- and medium-sized business;
- cutting tax evasion;
- favouring poorer countries;
- transparent negotiations and public consultation; and
- enhancing people’s livelihood.
One of the most interesting proposals in the charter is a call for a regional minimum wage, “preventing the race to the bottom, countries competing amongst each offering low wages in order to attract [foreign investment].”
Such a mechanism would alleviate one of the primary concerns of the wealthier nations, such as Australia, that the CPTPP will allow in more foreign workers to “take our jobs”. The protectionist push back against foreign workers, which may be rooted in genuine concern for workers, often encourages the growth of racist and right-wing movements.
This is an inherent characteristic of capitalist trade relations, which are inevitably competitive. The People’s Charter shows a way forward to global trade that is based on international solidarity and mutual benefit.