WHAT IS THE TPP?
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is so-called "free trade" agreement being negotiated right now between the US, Australia and several other countries. The US hopes to finalize these negotiations as soon as possible. The most dangerous feature of the agreement is the introduction of an Investor State Disputes Settlement System (ISDS), in which foreign corporations are allowed to sue countries in order to protect the profitability of their investments.
CORPORATIONS CAN SUE COUNTRIES IN EXTRAJUDICIAL TRIBUNALS
The ISDS provisions of the treaty authorize supra-national tribunals independent of any other judicial system to settle disputes between corporations and countries. A leaked text reveals the settlement of disputes is based on the system of extreme corporate privilege called the investor-state tribunal. Under the TPP, if a company believes an Australian law endangers its "expected future profits," it can take this dispute to an investor-state tribunal. This tribunal has the power to overrule Australian laws and levy fines against the Australian government.
THE GOAL OF THE TPP IS COMPLETE DEREGULATION
Rather than dealing with trade, the real focus of the TPP is remove laws and policies in areas such as the environment, workers rights, food safety, internet freedom, the costs of medicine, and financial regulation. The TPP treaty is nothing less than an international framework to deregulate the activities of corporations by removing a countries' ability to enact laws or regulations which might hinder the profitability of a foreign corporation. The fundamental assumption in these negotiations is that corporations can sue sovereign states, but sovereign states cannot sue corporations operating in their territory. These tribunals are a one way street.
THE TPP MEANS RULE BY FOREIGN CORPORATIONS INSTEAD OF DEMOCRACY
The TPP constitutes an unprecedented frontal attack on a century of progressive domestic policy. At stake is nothing less than a democratic society's ability to regulate a market economy in the broad public interest. This would constitute an unprecedented shift of power towards corporate rule without the normal means of democratic accountability, such as elections, advocacy and public protest.
HOW DO THESE TRIBUNALS WORK?
These tribunals already exist as a part of the World Bank and the UN. They are made up of three corporate lawyers, unaccountable to any electorate, who rotate between suing governments for corporations before these tribunals and acting as the "judges" in other disputes. Tribunals are not bound by precedent and there is no appeal mechanism. When an investor-state tribunal rules in favour of the foreign investor, the government must hand the corporation an amount of taxpayer money decided by the tribunal. The obvious consequence of even the threat of such a challenge is that countries either change their laws to avoid the fines or do not enact legislation which might attract a fine.
SOME EXAMPLES OF DECISIONS BY THESE TRIBUNALS
Such tribunals have already ordered governments to pay over $3.5 billion in investor-state cases under existing U.S. agreements. This includes payments over toxic bans, land-use policies, forestry rules, etc. More than $14.7 billion remain in pending claims under U.S. agreements alone. Even when governments win, they often must pay for the tribunal's costs and legal fees, which average $8 million per case. The TPP would expand the scope of policies that could be attacked. For example, the TPP could be used to block the Australian government's requirement that cigarette companies use plain packaging. If the policy was successfully challenged, Australia would either need to pay "compensation" to the relevant corporations and/or remove the rule altogether.
THE TPP IS BEING NEGOTIATED IN COMPLETE SECRECY
Why don't you know anything about the TPP? Because the negotiations are completely secret. It is so secret that even in the US Members of Congress, state governors, the press, and the public are not allowed to see drafts of the agreement. At the same time there are over 600 business representatives serving as official U.S. trade advisors who have full access to an array of draft texts and an inside role in the process. In Australia, a few people involved in the negotiations know the details, but they are not allowed to reveal them to Parliament, let alone the Australian public. The strategy is to minimize informed political and public debate until a deal is signed, and at this point any alternations become impossible.
THE LIBERALS/NATIONALS WOULD ACCEPT ISDS TRIBUNALS
Before the 2013 election the shadow Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Julie Bishop has stated they "would be prepared to consider" ISDS clauses in the TPP negotiations. The Liberal/National Coalition are generally hostile to regulation of the "free market". Since the election they have said nothing against the TPP. It is clear they are happy to empower these tribunals to stop any future government from making rules which might limit the profits of foreign corporations.
THE TPP IS JUST A PART OF A GLOBAL PUSH FOR CORPORATE CONTROL
The TPP negotiations between Australia and the US must be seen in a global context. Not only are there many other South East Asian and Latin American countries involved, but there are similar moves in other parts of the world, and similar "trade" agreements have been going for years. One example is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), between Canada, Mexico, and the United States. NAFTA created a trilateral trade bloc in North America which came into force in 1994, almost 20 years ago. Another being negotiated now is the Transatlantic Free Trade Area (TAFTA) between the US and the European Union. This is also known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). "U.S. and European delegates will negotiate TAFTA secretly, mirroring the same undemocratic processes that led to the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA). Like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, TAFTA's objective is to address a wide range of cross-border regulatory issues under one overarching agreement."
INVESTOR-STATE TRIBUNALS ARE THE NEW METHOD OF CORPORATE CONTROL
At the recent World Economic Forum, the EU pushed for measures to protect investors with international investment agreements involving investor-state tribunals, but several Latin American countries protested. They have had many bad experiences with these tribunals which are used to protect the profits of foreign corporations. "Latin American countries have been taken to international courts at least 153 times, 34% of the total number of known cases." There has also been a huge increase in such litigation. Until 1991 there were only 24 recorded cases of investor-state disputes, but in 2011 there were 450 known cases. In other words, investor-state tribunals are becoming the weapon of choice for corporations to avoid regulation in the countries where they operate, and their use is increasing year by year.
ONLY LATIN AMERICAN COUNTRIES STAND UP TO INVESTOR-STATE TRIBUNALS
Notice that most of the opposition to these investor-state tribunals comes from the same Latin American countries that have supported Julian Assange and Ed Snowden. The leaders of these countries are not afraid to protect the interests of their own people rather than the interests of giant foreign corporations. The only way we can expect this of our leaders is to make them realize that we will not tolerate putting foreign corporations beyond the reach of our laws.
SOME EXAMPLES FROM SOUTH AMERICA
"In 2009, the government of Uruguay, following recommendations from the World Health Organization, increased the size of health warnings on cigarettes packages. A year later, it was sued for US$2 billion by tobacco giant Philip Morris which claimed Uruguay had expropriated its trademark. Back in 2000, when Argentina was in a deep economic crisis, the government eased people's hardship by freezing electricity and water tariffs. It has since been battling over 40 law suits demanding multi-million dollar compensations. After an Ecuadorian court ordered Chevron to pay US$18 billion in damages and clean up for oil-drilling-related contamination in the Amazonian rainforest, Chevron counter-sued Ecuador arguing that the government breached its investment treaty with the US by allowing the legal case to continue."
IS LITTLE AUSTRALIA IS GOING TO STAND UP AND SAY NO?
Since there is a world wide push for investor-state tribunals to protect the profits of foreign corporations, it is difficult to imagine any of the politicians in Australia will stand in the way of such powerful pressure from overseas investors. As we can see in foreign and domestic policy, the current leaders in Australia believe our future lies with the US, the EU, and their policies. Just as they have abandoned Julian Assange, Labor will almost certainly cave in at the last moment, when it finally comes to the Senate for a vote.
Recent Articles on the TPP:
Why the Trans-Pacific Partnership Is Bad for Workers, and for Democracy
The Trans Pacific Partnership is the most significant threat to the Australian way of life in 2015
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What doctors should know about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
Trans-Pacific Partnership Contains Provison To Help Wall Street Avoid Regulations
The Chinese have an Answer to the TPP:
"To counter the US attempt to economically isolate China in Asia through creation of a US Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Beijing has announced its own Chinese vision of a Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP), an “all inclusive, all-win” trade deal that really promotes Asia-Pacific cooperation."
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