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March 4, 2021

Aussies in the dark about risky trade deal

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Communities on the NSW north coast and across Australia who have protested against coal seam gas mining now face a controversial new trade deal giving mining companies the right to sue governments that try to stop them. Photo Luis Feliu

The Australia Institute

Most Australians aren’t aware of a trade deal that could risk environmental laws, increase the cost of medicines, and enable corporations to sue Australian governments, according to a new survey by The Australia Institute.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is currently under negotiation and establishes a free trade area including Australia, the United States of America, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, New Zealand, Singapore, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru and Vietnam.

The federal government has indicated that it is open to including investor–state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) in the deal. These would allow foreign companies to sue Australian governments in some circumstances.

‘For example, some state governments have conducted environmental reviews of coal seam gas mining and introduced regulations,’ executive director of The Australia Institute (TAI) Dr Richard Denniss said.

‘But will state or federal governments be able to further regulate CSG or protect our environment from other damaging activities if they are likely to end up in a long and costly case in an international investment tribunal?’ Dr Dennis said.

Convenor of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network, Dr Patricia Ranald, said:

‘The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently using ISDS in an obscure Hong Kong Australia Investment Agreement to sue the Australian government over our plain-packaging legislation.

‘This is an attempt to override legislation passed with bipartisan support by our parliament, and after the tobacco companies lost their claim for compensation in the Australian High Court.

‘ISDS is an attack on our democracy and sovereignty. If it is included in the TPP we will face more cases like this,’ Dr Ranald said.

The TAI survey found that only 11 per cent of respondents said they ‘definitely know’ about the TPP.

It also found:

  • Only 12 per cent are aware of the ISDS provisions likely to be included in the deal and nearly 85 per cent of them think the ISDS is a bad idea;
  • 87 per cent think free trade agreements should be made public before they are signed by the government;
  • 67 per cent do not trust the federal government’s promise that free trade agreements won’t increase the cost of medicine;
  • 76 per cent would not support Australia’s being prevented from mandating labelling of genetically modified foods;
  • 52 per cent think free trade agreements are bad for jobs in Australia; and
  • only 29 per cent think free trade agreements improve labour rights and environmental standards around the world.

‘Given that this free trade agreement has such potential to negatively impact on Australia’s capacity to legislate in the public interest it is disturbing to see how few Australians are even aware of the negotiations going on behind closed doors,’ Dr Denniss said.

‘The fact that the federal government is refusing to table the agreement in parliament before it is signed should be a huge red flag for all Australians.

‘The secretive nature of these negotiations is extremely concerning; especially when so much is at stake.’

The TPP also presents a threat to Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) with America’s pharmaceutical industry association flagging modifying programs for subsidising medicines as one of its key objectives.

‘The fact that nearly 70 per cent of Australians don’t trust the government’s promise not to let free trade agreements impact on pharmaceutical prices shows just how worried people would be if they were given full access to proposals and draft texts and understood the potential ramifications of this agreement,’ said Dr Denniss.

Full survey results are available at www.tai.org.au or on request.

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  1. I am only vaguely aware of this agreement because I have read a similar article elsewhere.
    I think that many of us would find it hard to explain how we benefit from such agreements, but to see such negative comments about the impact on this country (and the others included in the TPP) Australia would be very foolish to agree to many of the provisions proposed.

  2. I have posted articles on the TPP agreement on facebook and brought it up in conversations with friends but it seems most people don’t see the threat. This will be virtually non reversible once it is signed off. Thanks echo for adding your voice to the discussion we all must have.

  3. I, also have heard vague mentions of this agreement, so am in a position where I can only comment on what I feel this present Government is capable of. It only took three weeks to piss off half the nations we deal with, in what can only be described as school-yard stand-over tactics. In typical LNP criteria, the wealthy won’t be adversely affected by their actions. Only the lowly pensioners and battlers will cop the flack.(Snafu). Hope all those who voted these clowns in can peek behind the curtain and see the real monster they created.


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