Trans-Pacific Partnership: A new threat to our Sovereignty

Leaders of Trans-Pacific Partnership member states and prospective member states at a TPP summit in 2010

Celeste Liddle National Tertiary Education Union 4 March 2014

There are some concerns for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People in the current secret negotiation of a new free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TTP).

The profits from intellectual property rights should include the value of the thousands of native plant species used by First Nations peoples.

Many of these species are unique to this land and most (if not all) have been acknowledged and employed by First Nations peoples for many thousands of years for food, medicines and other uses.

However, only a token number of these known values provide the First Nations peoples with royalties for their intellectual property rights.

Secret TPP agreements endangers existing intellectual property rights and may make it even more difficult in the future to obtain advancement in self determination through the income from rightful intellectual property.

Accusations of loss of sovereignty by nation states have been raised as has the threat to everything from Intellectual Property to Pharmaceutical Benefits Schemes.

Of particular concern to Aboriginal People is the attack on Intellectual Property of a cultural nature and the loss of ‘ownership' and on flowing benefit from traditional medicines.

Further, there is the potential challenge to the ability to protect (as custodians of the land) the landscape itself, biodiversity and ward off attacks to the integrity of the environment, that have been hard won, such as The Wild Rivers legislation in Far North Queensland.

Sacred sites would be at greater risk than they are currently.

Investor State Dispute Settlement, ISDS, would enable foreign investors the right to sue the Australian government for lost profits.

Currently, El Salvador is being sued for millions because the Indigenous population is opposing a gold mine that would pollute their water supply.

It has been stated about TPP;

It's not free, it's not about trade and there isn't much agreement on it.

One might add that it is also not fair and needs to be fought vigorously and urgently.

Terry Mason
Chair, Indigenous Policy Committee
National Tertiary Education Union

Trans-Pacific Partnership is big, but hardly anyone knows about it

Matt Wade Sydney Morning Herald 17 February 2014

Trade Minister Andrew Robb ... reckons many conspiracy theories are being peddled about the TPP ...

The Trans-Pacific Partnership could be Australia's biggest trade deal for decades, but most people have not even heard of it. A new survey by the Australia Institute found 55 per cent of respondents did not know about the TPP, as it is known. Another 19 per cent said "I'm not sure."

Consumer groups say the trade pact - which involves 12 Asia-Pacific nations including Australia and the US - could have a significant impact on consumers across the region. There are claims it will increase the cost of medicines, films, computer games and software. Critics believe it could compromise environmental protections and allow foreign corporations to sue Australian governments if their policies reduce future profits. A leaked draft suggests the US is pushing for criminal penalties, even jail, for illegally downloading popular television shows.

With issues like those at stake, you would expect debate about the TPP to be raging. But the Australia Institute survey found just one in 10 voters had even heard of it.

TPPA = Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership for free trade.
There appears to be much more awareness of Trans-Pacific Partnership and its dangers in New Zealand

If the TPP is such a big deal, why is public awareness so low?

One reason is that trade pacts like the TPP are never hot topics. It's hard for the media to sustain interest in such an arcane and slow-moving process - the TPP negotiations have already been going for nearly four years. They are also shrouded in secrecy. It's become a convention for international trade agreements to be discussed behind closed doors. The TPP negotiating texts remain confidential under an agreement signed by the previous Labor government when the talks started. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade claims this confidentiality "safeguards our negotiating positions and strategies, which cover sensitive national interests in relation to market access and Australia's trade and commerce more broadly".

The Abbott government claims there has been "a lot of consultation" across industry sectors affected by the agreement, but consumer groups say they have been excluded from any meaningful dialogue. They've had to rely on leaked draft texts to get a sense of what is going on. Choice says it doesn't know what the final agreement will contain.

When voters were informed of the TPP's agenda they had strong opinions about many of the issues, the Australia Institute survey revealed. Nearly nine out of 10 surveyed wanted the public to have a say before the agreement was signed (only 5 per cent disagreed).

So far, both major parties have been strong supporters of the TPP. Australia joined negotiations when Labor was in power and the first round of negotiations was held in Melbourne in 2010. The Coalition government has been an enthusiastic participant since taking office last year. Trade Minister Andrew Robb claims many conspiracy theories are being peddled about the TPP. His spokesman said the claims of secrecy were overblown and a "straw man set up by anti-traders" in an attempt to undermine the negotiations.

Robb argues the TPP will promote regional economic integration in the Asian Century and give Australian businesses big trade opportunities. The countries involved in the TPP are responsible for 40 per cent of the world's gross domestic product and 26 per cent of its trade.

Robb says the text of the TPP will be "publicly released and subject to parliamentary scrutiny prior to its ratification" once the negotiating parties come to any agreement.

But consumer groups fear that process will not allow adequate public consultation.

They are not the only sceptics. The benefits of regional trade deals such as the TPP have been questioned by some economists who champion free trade but favour broader multilateral agreements. A study by the government's own Productivity Commission Report on Bilateral and Regional Trade Agreements concluded that the benefits of such agreements "have been oversold" and called for an improvement in the process.

A deal as significant as the TPP should be fully debated in the community. It's not good enough that just one in 10 voters know about it.