Abbott wants foreign corporations to control our laws

Stop-the-TPP

Do you think a foreign food corporation should be allowed to sue Australia if we label unhealthy food with its actual ingredients? Or if we ban an imported food because it contains a dangerous pesticide?

Tony Abbott does.

He also thinks it’s OK for foreign pharmaceutical companies to sue us if we don’t let them patent life-saving medicines. For foreign gas companies to sue us if we investigate the impact of fracking. And for foreign tobacco companies to sue us for enforcing plain cigarette packaging.

He’s going to sneakily sign the TPP

As I write this, he’s quietly negotiating away Australia’s sovereign powers. He is committed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a multi-national trade agreement with an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause that will give foreign companies that do business in Australia the power to sue us if we slow their anticipated profits. (The other nations involved are the US, Japan, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico and Brunei Darussalam.)

If he does, this is what will happen to Australia…

This isn’t some loony conspiracy theory, either. These lawsuits are already happening to other countries that signed trade agreements with ISDS clauses. Ecuador had to pay $1.77 billion to a foreign oil company that sued it for terminating a contract the government thought wasn’t in the country’s interests. Similarly, Canada was sued for $500 million because it invalidated the patents of two drugs, Strattera and Zyprexa. And Canada was also sued for $250 million for investigating the impact of fracking (the gas company thought they were delaying anticipated profits).

In fact, it’s happening right here in Australia, too. Multi-national tobacco company, Philip Morris, is currently suing Australia because it enforced plain cigarette packaging. It tried a High Court case first, and that failed, so now it’s pursuing the matter via a bilateral trade agreement signed between Australia and Hong Kong in the early 1990s. One of the few trade agreements we have with ISDS clauses. If Philip Morris wins, who picks up the bill? We do. The people who actually pay tax!

So why would we want more of these ISDS provisions?

And no, these aren’t the exceptions to the rule. 70% of cases are decided in favour of the suing corporation!

Then foreign corporations will control our laws

The lawsuits, themselves, are scary enough. But, in practice, they’re just a secondary concern…

The real problem is that Australia will avoid doing things that will lead to the lawsuits. So it will stop accurately labelling food with its actual ingredients. It will allow dangerous pesticides and fracking. And it will allow pharmaceutical companies to set their own prices on life-saving medicines. It simply wouldn’t make good economic sense to risk the lawsuits if they do otherwise. In other words, it will hand control of our law-making over to foreign corporations.

The UN think it’s wrong

And again, this isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is actually what the United Nations thinks:

In many cases foreign investors have used ISDS claims to challenge measures adopted by States in the public interest (for example, policies to promote social equity, foster environmental protection or protect public health). Questions have been raised whether three individuals [the business ‘judges’ in these lawsuits], appointed on an ad hoc basis, can be seen by the public at large as having sufficient legitimacy to assess the validity of States’ acts, particularly if the dispute involves sensitive public policy issues. Host countries have faced ISDS claims of up to $114 billion and awards of up to $1.77 billion. Although in most cases the amounts claimed and awarded are lower than that, they can still exert significant pressures on public finances and create potential disincentives for public-interest regulation, posing obstacles to countries’ sustainable economic development.”

Is this what you want? I certainly don’t.

Australia’s 2010 inquiry by the Productivity Commission thought it was wrong too

The 2010 inquiry by the Productivity Commission, which found few benefits and…

… considerable policy and financial risks arising from ISDS provisions”

That’s why the TPP negotiations have been kept hush-hush

Abbott knows Australians won’t want him to sign the TPP. That’s why only 1 in in 10 Australians has even heard about the negotiations. Why he won’t reveal the actual text of the negotiations to the public. Why he’s excluded journalists from the consultation process. Why even public interest groups, like CHOICE, aren’t allowed to review the drafts, while corporate stakeholders are! And why the text won’t be released until AFTER the government has signed the agreement!

Yet he’s still pushing ahead. Despite the fact that 65% of public submissions explicitly oppose the TPP or have significant concerns with the content of the negotiations and/or the manner in which they are being conducted. Like this from the Regulatory Institutions Network at the Australian National University, which recommended that the government should:

strongly oppose the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement; and not sign any agreements that contain an investor-state dispute settlement clause”

And he’s pushing ahead despite the fact that all but one of the in-favour submissions were from commercial interests, or bodies that represent commercial interests.

Don’t you want to know why? I do…

My letter to Australia’s Trade Minister

I definitely want to know why we have no say in these matters. So I wrote this letter to Andrew Robb, our Minister for Trade and Investment. I’ll update this post with any reply I get. Feel free to copy/adapt my letter if you want to send a letter to him or your local MP. But make sure you change the bit at the end that mentions “my” refugee post. I’m also happy to detail any responses you get here too.

———————————————————————————–

Dear Mr Robb,

I’m very concerned about the secrecy and impact of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations and the associated Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions. I have a few questions I would like you to answer for me:

  1. Can you please release to the public all full TPP texts prior to signing?
  2. The Dept of Foreign Affairs and Trade website (https://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/tpp/) says, “Australia’s decision to participate in the TPP in 2008 followed an extensive public consultation process.” Can you please provide a list of the parties that have been consulted throughout this process, and their feedback?
  3. In 2008, the then Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, said (http://trademinister.gov.au/speeches/2008/tpp_priorities.html): “Overall, there is widespread interest in and support for Australia’s participation in the TPP. Most participants in the consultation process believe there to be strategic benefits and potential for longer term commercial gains.” Can you please provide verifiable evidence which backs this claim?
  4. Based on the public submissions received and published by the Government (https://www.dfat.gov.au/fta/tpp/), it is definitely not accurate to suggest that there is widespread interest in and support for Australia’s participation in the TPP. Having examined each of the submissions, I found that only 35% of them were explicitly in favour of Australia’s involvement in the TPP. The rest were either explicitly opposed or expressed significant concerns with the content of the negotiations and/or the manner in which they are being conducted. Furthermore, all but one of the in-favour submissions were from commercial interests, or bodies that represent commercial interests. Please explain how these submissions can be interpreted as support for the TPP or our involvement in it.
  5. This Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement: State of Play document (https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/18/response/348/attach/html/5/img%20415171934.pdf.html) states that “Once the text is agreed between parties, it will be made public and subject to public and parliamentary scrutiny through a review by the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.” Will the government be willing and able to change the texts, after signing, based on feedback from the public and bodies which represent the public?
  6. The State of Play document also says that the public consultation process will last “twenty joint sitting days”. This is definitely not long enough for the public to become aware of, read, understand, reflect on, and provide official feedback on the full texts of the TPP. I request that you extend this period to a full six (6) months.
  7. Please provide details of how the Government will seek public feedback on the released texts.
  8. Please explain why journalists and the Pirate Party have been excluded from the so-called ‘public consultation’.
  9. Please explain why CHOICE and other public interest groups are not permitted to review drafts of the agreement, but industry lobbyists are.
  10. The 2010 inquiry by the Productivity Commission (http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/104203/trade-agreements-report.pdf) found few benefits and “considerable policy and financial risks arising from ISDS provisions”. Please explain why the Australian Government feels it is appropriate to ignore this finding and to persist with negotiations that include ISDS provisions.
  11. In 2011, the Australian government declared it would not agree to ISDS provisions under any circumstances. The wording of a statement from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was unequivocal. It said, in part: “… the Government does not support provisions that would confer greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses. Nor will the Government support provisions that would constrain the ability of Australian governments to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters in circumstances where those laws do not discriminate between domestic and foreign businesses… The Government has not and will not accept provisions that limit its capacity to put health warnings or plain packaging requirements on tobacco products or its ability to continue the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme …” Please explain why you believe this position to be inaccurate, making sure to address each point in detail.
  12. In 2013, former Trade Minister, Craig Emerson, said of the above position that, “No one in the business community thought that [it was] an odious position”. Can you please explain why your Government believes it should pursue ISDS clauses, regardless?
  13. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has raised many serious concerns about ISDS provisions (http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/webdiaepcb2013d4_en.pdf). “In many cases foreign investors have used ISDS claims to challenge measures adopted by States in the public interest (for example, policies to promote social equity, foster environmental protection or protect public health). Questions have been raised whether three individuals, appointed on an ad hoc basis, can be seen by the public at large as having sufficient legitimacy to assess the validity of States’ acts, particularly if the dispute involves sensitive public policy issues. Host countries have faced ISDS claims of up to $114 billion and awards of up to $1.77 billion. Although in most cases the amounts claimed and awarded are lower than that, they can still exert significant pressures on public finances and create potential disincentives for public-interest regulation, posing obstacles to countries’ sustainable economic development.” By way of example, Ecuador was required to pay $1.77 billion to a foreign oil company that sued it for terminating a contract the government thought wasn’t in the country’s interests. Similarly, Canada was sued. Twice. Once for investigating the impact of fracking (the gas company thought they were delaying anticipated profits, so it sued them for $250m) and once for a Canadian-court-ordered invalidation of the patents of two drugs, Strattera and Zyprexa (the drug company sued for $500m). Please explain why you think it’s in Australia’s best interests to be exposed to these problems.
  14. Australia is already being sued under just such an ISDS clause. Tobacco giant, Philip Morris, is currently suing Australia because it enforced plain cigarette packaging. It tried a High Court case first, and that failed, so now it’s pursuing the matter via a bilateral trade agreement signed between Australia and Hong Kong in the early 1990s. Please explain how you believe this is in Australia’s best interests.
  15. Please explain why you think it’s in Australia’s best interests to agree to these lawsuits being heard in opaque international forums with arbitrators who judge cases in a business framework, not with regard to the public good.
  16. Please explain why you think it’s in Australia’s best interests to allow foreign corporations to side-step our High Court.
  17. Please explain why you think it’s in Australia’s best interests to commit us to a system in which lawsuits are brought but in some cases, the applicable arbitration rules/venues are unknown, and some are so confidential that often even the existence of a claim is kept secret from the people of the country being sued.
  18. Currently 70% of these sorts of cases are decided in favour of the suing corporation (http://unctad.org/en/PublicationsLibrary/webdiaepcb2013d3_en.pdf). Please explain why you think it’s in Australia’s best interests to commit us to a system that so clearly favours foreign corporations over the state.

I’m currently writing an article on this issue, which I expect to receive similar traffic to my recent asylum seeker article (http://www.glennmurray.com.au/australia-boat-people-illegal-policy/), which has received more than 27,000 visitors in the last month. I’ll detail this request and your response there.

I look forward to your prompt response.

Yours sincerely

Glenn Murray

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Sign this petition

If you want to stop Abbott from signing the TPP, and you don’t have time to send a letter, please sign this petition.

Please comment

What do you think about the TPP negotiations? In particular, what do you think about the ISDS provisions?

Comments

  1. Luis says

    Hi Glen,

    Firstly, Thank you & the highest of kudos to you for all your fine work, it is extremely commendable, & acutely necessary.

    In regard to the TPPA, from what I have read here & elsewhere the implications of TPPA are far more wide reaching than just food like the title of this thread suggests. I wonder if a more accurate, all encompassing title might be more attention grabbing than one that only suggests food is at stake. My concern is that people will dismiss it as part of the ongoing supermarket product labeling wars. Sure it is that, but it is so much more as well. People will be far more likely to act if they see it as an attack on the entirety of the laws of the country.

    Just a thought.

    Hope may be found yet too, here… http://www.thesundaily.my/news/963509

    I will be sharing!
    Thanks again

    • says

      Thanks for your comment. Yeah, you’re right, it’s a massive issue. And that’s one reason it’s so tricky to get people engaged on it. (That and the vagueness that comes from all the secrecy.) The product labelling issue struck a chord with me (and my wife), so I paid particular attention to it. But, given the focus on “control our laws” in the headline, and the broader discussion within the post itself, I’m hopeful readers will see past the food labelling. :-)

      • Luis says

        As the link I posted suggests hopefully the public will get a look in prior to signing. I only came across that article just now, before which I was under the impression it was to be totally secret, but hopefully not. We just have to make sure we get the message to enough people to make a difference either way. The scary thing is that I fear the current government would sign even if 100% of the population were opposed. Hate to be a pessimist but its difficult to maintain a positive outlook under the circumstances.

        • says

          Seems a bit unclear to me (http://www.thesundaily.my/news/963509). I get the feeling they’re confusing “signed” with “ratified”. It says the text will be released “…before any final agreement is signed” and “When everything is agreed…”, but my understanding is that it must be signed to be agreed. It will be completely formalised on ratification. Certainly from everything I’ve read, it’s my understanding is that nothing will be released to the public until it’s been signed. Then there’ll be a 20 ‘joint sitting days’ period for public consultation, after which it will be ratified. https://www.righttoknow.org.au/request/18/response/348/attach/html/5/img%20415171934.pdf.html This link doesn’t mention signing, but I read the distinction elsewhere. Can’t remember where, right now.

  2. says

    Labor should be ashamed. I have written to Robb and his reply was b*llshit and nothing I couldn’t find out on DFAT website. I have written to Penny Wong (old school snail mail) and have not received a reply. I really don’t understand why Labor, if it has any essence at all, can support the TPP, especially the ISDS clause. Even Howard didn’t support ISDS in AUSFTA back in 2004.

    I say bombard Wong and Shorten. Robb wont listen as it all ties in together; TPP, destruction of labour laws, asset sell offs, subsidising big business; you get the drift.

    Labor has a big problem backing anything the Greens suggest. This has to stop. People are under the illusion that Labor is “left”. It is not. It is on the “right”; just (perhaps) not as far right as the Liberal part.

    We even had Joe Hockey admit the signing of JAEPA and KAFTA was dependent on the destruction of Holden and Toyota. Ford probably threw in the towel when Rudd/Gillard/Rudd began negotiations on the TPP, knowing full well that industry protection would be abandoned.

    Wake up Australia.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Is actively pursuing the TPP, which would allow, for example, foreign foreign food corporation to sue Australia if we label unhealthy food with its actual ingredients or ban an imported food because it contains a dangerous pesticide. Or for  foreign pharmaceutical companies to sue us if we don’t let them patent life-saving medicines. For foreign gas companies to sue us if we investigate the impact of fracking. And for foreign tobacco companies to sue us for enforcing plain cigarette packaging. […]

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