One of the key ring leaders for the ‘loony right’, The Australian’s Judith Sloan, has written an extraordinary attack on those of us who oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement – the US-led trade deal between 12 Pacific Rim nations, including Australia. In her typical vitriolic tone, Sloan labels opponents of the TPP as “ratbags” and “misinformed”, while completely glossing over the dangers:
One topic that attracts more ratbags making hysteric and misinformed comments than most is the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
…just mention the TPP and all the usual suspects release their pent-up hatred of the US, multinational companies, trade and capitalism…
The agreement simply has become shorthand for the many developments that the overexcited members of the Left despise, such as more jobs and higher incomes…
[The] real beneficiaries of trade agreements are consumers who can gain access to cheaper and better products and services…
Has Sloan been living under a rock? Going by the chapters that have been leaked via WikiLeaks, the TPP would establish a US-style regulatory structure that would hand considerable power to US pharmaceutical and digital firms, limiting choice and raising prices for consumers in Australia.
The leaked draft of the intellectual property chapter included a “Christmas wishlist” for pharmaceutical companies, including the proposal to extend patent protection and strengthen monopolies on clinical data. Most worryingly, the US is seeking patents for “new forms” of known substances, as well as on new uses for old medicines – a proposal which could lead to “evergreening”, whereby patents can be renewed continuously, forcing-up Australian consumers’ (and taxpayers’) pharmaceutical costs via reduced access to cheaper generic drugs and reduced rights for the Government to regulate medicine prices. Such a move also risks stifling innovation in the event that patent terms are extended too far.
The US has also sought to prevent circumvention of technology that restricts products to certain regions – a move that would hand greater power to US content creators and push-up prices for consumers.
So rather than freeing-up trade and raising consumers’ welfare, as argued by Sloan, the TPP would instead grant greater power to international multinational corporations, increasing their rents at the expense of consumers and taxpayers.
But don’t just take my word for it. The US Center for Economic and Policy Research raised similar concerns over the weekend:
As far as the impact of the TPP on drug prices, the leaked intellectual property chapter indicates several extension of patent and related monopoly protections that would be expected to raise prices. Of course it is not “certain” that the effect will be to raise drug prices, just as it is not certain that shooting someone at close range will lead to their death…
How is that most of us will benefit from Pfizer, Disney, and Microsoft getting more money from Asian and Latin American countries for their patents and copyrights? Those who own lots of stock in these companies obviously benefit, but for the rest of us there is no obvious case….
The TPP is about increasing protection in the form of stronger and longer patent and copyright protection. If we were talking about reducing the barriers to trade in the services of physicians and other highly paid professionals and reducing patent and copyright protection, then we could be singing the merits of free trade with the TPP. But the TPP is about corporate profits, not free trade.
Then there is the leaked draft of the investment chapter, which revealed that the US is seeking an an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause in the TPP, which could give authority to major corporations to challenge laws made by governments in the national interest in international courts of arbitration. So effectively, US companies (or others) would be permitted to sue the Australian Government under international law.
Writing in The Nation last month, Mike Konczal explained in no uncertain terms what the TPP’s ISDS clause could mean for Australia:
Let’s dig into an example. In 2011, Australia passed the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2011, designed “to discourage the use of tobacco products” by, among other things, requiring cigarette packages to have larger warnings, ugly colors, and no logos or advertisements. This act is clearly a “predatory intervention” against tobacco companies, designed explicitly to reduce their business in Australia by lowering smoking rates. As a result, Philip Morris Asia, a part of the American company Philip Morris International, is using an investor-state dispute settlement to stop enforcement and demand compensation, claiming this is a discriminatory “expropriation.” Instead of just the bureaucrats at the Australian government creating and administering rules for the selling of cigarettes, there’s an additional layer of international bureaucrats—positions created by trade agreements—who can overrule them…
Prior to the trade agreements that gave corporate investors these powers, the Australian democratic state had the final say in setting the terms for its economic markets, and those arguments had to be created by elected public officials held to some standard of transparency and public service…
Now the rules of the market are settled by a private tribunal, in this case run by the United Nations’ Permanent Court of Arbitration, with virtually no formal transparency. Philip Morris and Australia each hire a battery of lawyers to make their cases, in secret, before an organization accountable to no electorate.
The ISDS case that Konczal is referring came about via an obscure investment agreement that Australia signed with Hong Kong in the early-1990s, which Philip Morris is now cleverly using to sue the Australian Government (read taxpayers) for enacting laws to limit the damage caused by cigarettes.
Just imagine the proliferation of these types of frivolous law suits once the TPP comes into force! Again, how is this agreement in anyway in Australia’s national interest, Judith?
Let’s also not forget that several notable experts have voiced strong opposition to the TPP fearing that it represents grave risks for the global trading system and citizens of countries operating within it.
Former World Trade Organisation (WTO) director-general, Supachai Panitchpakdi, claims the TPP represents a step backwards to the days before the WTO when the US and Europe controlled the global trading system to the detriment of other economies.
Nobel Prize winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, raised similar fears in an open letter posted in late 2013, whereby he questioned negotiators’ secrecy and warned about “grave risks on all sorts of topics” posed by the TPP, as well as claiming that it contains “many of the worst features of the worst laws in the TPP countries, making needed reforms extremely difficult if not impossible”.
Similarly, Paul Krugman, another nobel prize winning economist and trade expert, has slammed the TPP, noting that it would “increase the ability of certain corporations to assert control over intellectual property [including] drug patents and movie rights”. Krugman also claimed that “there isn’t a compelling case for this deal, from either a global or a national point of view”, and that the “economic case is weak, at best”, with “the push for T.P.P… weirdly out of touch with both economic and political reality”.
Is this the opposition of “ratbags” and the “misinformed”?