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Issue #1683      May 6, 2015


Resist parasitic trade plans

Widespread protest has prompted federal Minister for Trade and Investment, Andrew Robb, to come out again in defence of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the “free” trade pact being negotiated by the governments and corporations of a dozen Pacific Rim countries. The minister used a carefully crafted opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review recently to insist that current top-level horse-trading is “confidential” rather than “secret”. When the TPP is finally “agreed between parties, it will be made public and also subjected to extensive scrutiny before implementing legislation is considered and voted on by the parliament,” according to Robb.

Parliament and the public can scrutinise all they like – the text cannot be changed. Parliamentarians – the majority of whom are confirmed neo-liberals in any case – will face a “take it or leave it” proposition. Most will be inclined to take it unless the movement against the pro-monopoly “partnership” continues to grow in influence.

Robb didn’t take up the other very telling arguments against the TPP in his short newspaper intervention. The threat of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement process in which overseas investors could sue governments for the “cost” to their profits of health, environmental, workers’ rights, local media content and other protective legislation was left alone. Concerns about the future of plain packaging of tobacco weren’t dealt with, either. Controls over future mining and seam gas activity were skirted, too.

The cost of medicines under the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme (PBS) has many Australians worried. In the US, politically influential pharmaceutical monopolies are pushing for an extension of the current seven year protection of a medicine’s patent to 12 years before it is released to potential competitors. Every year this secrecy is maintained costs the PBS millions of dollars. The TPP would further enforce this type of sanctioned price gouging and further sideline Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration. Pressure would build for an increase in the PBS prescription medicine co-payment currently set at $6.10 for pensioners and $37.70 for others.

The problem for Australian governments striving to advance US corporate interests via the TPP is that the longer the negotiations drag on, the worse the “deal” looks for workers and others of modest means. It’s a problem for the Obama administration in the US because US workers will be worse off, too. Obama is seeking Congressional approval to “fast track” the TPP approval process. No doubt he would like to see the agreement in place by the time he steps down in November – another service rendered to US corporations and their drive to pin down bigger markets with less resistance from target countries. He would also be aware of the strong resistance coming from the US trade union movement and the growing support for its anti-TPP campaign.

Pressure is being put on the governments of Japan and Canada to sell out more of their agricultural sectors. Canada is also being pushed to expose its health system to an assault from the “free trade” agreement. All over the region targeted by the TPP, the potential “losers” are mobilising. Naturally, so are the winners – the US and other transnationals and their servants in high places. How does one dress up such a lousy deal for the vast a majority of the people; to populations to be put into its legislative straight jacket? You sing the praises of “free” markets.

“Our aggressive approach to trade liberalisation is supported by an ongoing economic reform aimed at making us more competitive, as well as attractive to international investors,” as Andrew Robb said. “Ongoing economic reform and a commitment to trade in Australia has helped build great resilience into our economy, demonstrated by 24 years of growth.” The Coalition and Labor read from the same page on these questions. Decades of “reform” and “growth” have come at enormous cost to workers in terms of decent, secure jobs (particularly those in manufacturing) and in terms of economic independence and sustainability.

Privatisation, i.e. the theft of public assets, has left the community poorer and with a loss of basic services. If we don’t want to see more of this sort of “success story”, workers and others set to lose out under the TPP will have to increase the already impressive level of protest and public education.

Next article – Editorial – $4m to perpetuate climate change? No problem!

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