October 5 marks a dark day in the history of Australia with the Coalition government signing an agreement for the recolonisation of Australia. Not by Britain but by monopoly capital, by the largest, global corporations. It will enable giant monopoly corporations and international tribunals to over-ride Australia’s sovereignty and democratic processes, including judicial and parliamentary processes once it comes into force.
The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations were concluded after five years of secret negotiations and it now depends on each country to follow through with their domestic requirements for ratification to become a binding treaty.
The TPP encompasses 12 Pacific Rim countries representing more than 40 percent of global GDP. The other 11 signatories are Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. Russia and China are not participants.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb describes it as “the biggest global trade deal in 20 years”, which “will deliver enormous benefits to Australia, including unprecedented new opportunities in the rapidly growing Asia Pacific region, with its rising middle class, for our businesses, farmers, manufacturers and service providers.”
The TPP covers a host of issues including workers’ rights, environmental protection, health, pharmaceuticals, manufacturing, the resources sector, agricultural products, transport, banking, finance, education tourism, telecommunications and government purchasing.
But the TPP is far more than a trade agreement. Its content is far reaching and will affect every aspect of life in Australia and the environment. It enshrines the rights of foreign investors over those of governments and people. It even gives foreign corporations more rights than domestic ones.
The giant global monopolies sat around the negotiating table with government bureaucrats and a token representation from “civil society” to negotiate the various sections of the agreement. The people and their elected parliaments were kept in the dark throughout the whole process. The only information revealed prior to the signing was from WikiLeaks.
The Australian Parliament will not be able to amend it.
The investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) allow foreign corporations to sue governments before international tribunals if a change in policy or regulation is seen to “harm” their investment.
The US Philip Morris tobacco company is using ISDS in an Australia- Hong-Kong investment agreement to sue the government over our plain packaging law, despite the decision of the Australian High Court that they were not entitled to damages under Australian law.
It affects workers. Similar ISDS provisions are being used by the transnational corporation Veolia to sue the Egyptian government for loss of profits after it raised the minimum wage.
A government imposing strict labelling rules or banning a toxic substance could face being sued for hundreds of millions of dollars. The reverse does not apply. There is no provision for governments to sue foreign corporations. Nor do domestic corporations have similar rights.
In effect it means that unelected foreign transnational corporations can dictate the policies of democratically elected governments and over-ride the highest courts in the land if they so wish.
On October 9, WikiLeaks released the text of the TPP Treaty’s Intellectual Property Rights Chapter. This chapter will have wide-ranging effects on internet services, publishers, privacy, democratic rights, medicines and biological patents.
One of the most contentious and important areas of the TPP is the protection of patents for pharmaceutical products. Monopoly protection of a product is for a minimum of five years following marketing approval in a country. This is extended to eight years in countries where new uses, form and methods of administering are offered.
Only when this monopoly period is over can far cheaper generic forms be introduced in that country.
Minister Robb boasts about standing up to Big Pharma and limiting the protection of monopoly rights on biologics to five years – actually it is a minimum of five years and could be as long as eight years. Biologics are medical products derived from living organisms, including many new and up and coming cancer treatments, vaccines and therapies such as insulin.
Monopoly pricing by Big Pharma can run into tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars per patient per year, even where they might be life-saving. The Australian government might be able to make them more accessible with heavy subsidies under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, but what about poor countries such as Vietnam.
The TPP does not curb the monopoly prices charged. In fact there are provisions which will enable the pharmaceutical companies to lengthen, strengthen and broaden special patent and data protections and thus delay the entry of generic competition.
The TPP is the first of three major agreements aimed at securing US-EU economic global domination, commonly referred to as the Trinity or three Ts.
The second is the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) which covers 52 countries including Australia and accounts for almost 70 percent of world trade in services.
It will bring about the deregulation of banking, finance, insurance, transportation, telecommunications, construction, accountancy, energy provision, water distribution, health, education, and other services and open up pubic services to private operators.
Corporations based in other signatory countries would have the same rights as domestic companies or even greater rights arising from the ISDS procedures.
The rights of workers would take a hit with liberalisation of the movement of labour without any guarantees or legal protections for these “temporary workers”. It would be 7-Eleven on steroids.
TISA is being driven by the US and the EU. As with the TPP it is being negotiated in secret. Without the great work of WikiLeaks we would not even be aware of the negotiations. But worse than that, it has been classified to be kept in secret for five years after it enters into force! So much for transparency and democratic rights!
The third member of the Trinity is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an EU-US version of the TPP. It is also being negotiated in the same undemocratic manner as the other agreements.
The Trinity, if the agreements are concluded, would cover 51 states, 1.6 billion people and two-thirds of the global economy.
Economic arm of US pivot
“The Trans-Pacific Partnership is the economic side of the US [military] Pivot into Asia-Pacific and is driven by the US and its multinationals and banks. It is being ruthlessly imposed on 40 percent of the world and nearly one billion people. The TPP will open up and create new markets and areas of investments for its corporations, banks and giant financial institutions to intensify and broaden the exploitation of people and the environment to maximise profits.” (Shirley Winton, “Dangerous allies: US bases and troops in Australia”, Guardian, #1699 August 26, 2015)
As James Petras points out: “The Pentagon and the White House developed the ‘military pivot’ to deal with China’s ascendancy as an economic world power. This is essentially a policy of strategic confrontations, including military encirclement through regional base agreements, deliberate economic exclusion through regional trade agreements and political provocation through threatened sanctions.” (“US-China: Pentagon vs high tech”, Guardian, #1704 September 30, 2015)
Further, “The US Pivot is defining Australia as a major US military and intelligence base, and a launching pad for its drones, overseas military incursions, targeted assassinations and, eventually, major wars in our region.”
At the same time building its military encirclement of China, and expanding its armed forces in the region, including in Australia, the US has promoted the TPP and TISA. The Trinity do not include Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – the grouping of four nations known as BRICS. Their large and growing economies pose a future challenge to the global economic hegemony of the US.
The Trinity also excludes a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, Cuba, Ecuador and Bolivia which are building their economies and asserting their independence from the US.
The US is also concerned about the growing strength of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SOC) which held a summit with BRICS in July this year. Its members include Russia, China, Kasakhstan, Kyrgystan Tajikistan, Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan are joining after some years of observer status. Iran and Turkey attended the July summit.
SOC is both a political and military organisation. Since its formation in 1996 the SOC has expanded its work from the original aim of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions. It has initiated many large-scale projects related to transportation, energy and telecommunications and held regular meetings of security, military, defence, foreign affairs, economic, cultural, banking and other officials from its member states.
It also carries out military exercises.
The world is becoming increasingly polarised into two blocks, as the US uses everything at its disposal to assert economic, military and political power.
The text of the TPP has still to be ratified. It looks set to meet stiff opposition in the US Congress. In Australia, the only opportunity now to defeat Australia’s membership is for enabling legislation to be defeated in Parliament. The Australian Greens have consistently opposed and campaigned against the TPP but Labor looks set to support it. The Independents are divided.
The next step for Australia involves tabling the treaty text in parliament along with a National Interest Analysis and a review by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties to which all interested parties can make submissions.
Next article – Editorial – Globalisation – Midwife to the New World Order