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Issue #1710      November 11, 2015

Editorial

Not just a trade agreement

As the Guardian neared press time the transcript of the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal was made public. But even a cursory reading of it confirms the manifestly devastating effect it will have on the people of the countries entering into it.

Even limited democratic rights were denied during the negotiations of the TPP. This so-called “architecture for these 21st century trade agreement” is designed to serve US corporate and strategic interests and to act as a model for future agreements.

The big corporations were at the table, consulted on every move but the public were kept in the dark. If it were not for WikiLeaks we would have had little idea of how the Australian government was signing away our democratic and sovereign rights.

The Senate had called on the government to release details but it flatly refused, treating this democratically elected, representative body with total contempt.

US corporations, in particular, are driving the agenda – Big Pharma, big financial institutions, the mining corporations and so on.

The TPP might be referred to as a trade agreement, but only about five of the 26 chapters are about trade. The remainder go to the heart of the powers and role of government, in particular, they seek to override the government’s sovereign powers and responsibility to legislate in the interests of its people, its economy and environment.

The government’s capacity to act or likelihood of not acting because of fear of being sued for hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars covers almost every aspect of life including: price of prescriptions; environmental protection; workers’ rights; local content on TV; foreign investment rules; food and tobacco labelling; coal seam gas mining; financial regulation; internet privacy; environmental protection; government procurement, and much more.

The government claims it is committed to protecting the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and Australia’s interests. Its promises mean nothing.

One of the most dangerous, amongst many, policies is the investor-state disputes settlement (ISDS) provision, which the government is supporting.

ISDS gives foreign corporations the power to sue the Australian government for potential (what they might miss out on), not even actual, losses in profits resulting from government legislation or policy relating to health, environmental and other policies. Already under trade agreements with these clauses there are more than 500 such cases involving 98 countries.

Cases under the ISDS will not be heard by an Australian court but by international tribunals whose decisions override Australian courts.

Decisions in these closed door tribunals are made by three investment lawyers working on a for-profit basis with no obligation to balance the public interest with the profit-making interest of corporations.

There is already a lot of resistance to many of these developments. Across Europe there have been strikes against privatisation of the public sector, the cuts to social spending, and the decimation of agriculture. The opposition to the TPP is global.

There is a need to do much more to tackle the various capitalist myths being used to justify privatisation: that private enterprise is efficient while public enterprise is inevitably inefficient; that prices will go down with privatisation; that “competition”, de-regulation, self-regulation, etc, are good for the community; that self-provision, meaning individualism, is better than community interests and collective participation and provision; that the budget deficit has to be eliminated; that there isn’t enough money, and so on.

Finally, there is the need to promote the public sector itself – the advantages it offers and the potential it has if expanded and democratised. The public sector can play a major role in job creation, financing government projects and providing the government with the means to influence the whole economy so that it puts the needs of the community first, not corporate greed and power.

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