Coalition: still looking to sell us out to the yanks

ScreenHunter_802 Jan. 14 10.57

By Leith van Onselen

Late last year, I warned that the Federal Government seems intent to sign-up to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) – the proposed regional trade deal between Pacific Rim countries, including Australia, which if it goes ahead could establish a US-style regional regulatory framework that meets the demands of its major export industries, including pharmaceutical and digital.

The draft chapter on intellectual property rights, revealed by WikiLeaks, included a “Christmas wishlist” for pharmaceutical companies, including the proposal to extend patent protection and strengthen monopolies on clinical data. As part of the deal, the US is reportedly seeking patents for “new forms” of known substances, as well as on new uses on old medicines – a proposal which would lead to “evergreening”, whereby patents can be renewed continuously.

It’s a huge risk to Australia’s world class public health system, which risks cost blowouts via reduced access to cheaper generic drugs and reduced rights for the government to regulate medicine prices. It also risks stifling innovation in the event that patent terms are extended too far.

The US is also seeking to insert an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clause into the agreement, 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 would be allowed to sue the Australian Government under international law – a move that is being pursued by Philip Morris against Australia on plain packaging and graphic warnings for cigarettes.

The draft agreement also sought to place more restrictions on internet users by forcing ISPs to cooperate with copyright holders and terminating the accounts of repeat infringers. This is despite the High Court of Australia ruling that an ISPs inaction could not be taken as authorisation of a copyright infringement.

Finally, the US is opposing a proposal that would allow the circumvention of technology that restricts products to certain regions, even though this was recommended by the Australian parliament’s Inquiry into IT Pricing, as well as opposing the parallel importation of goods made under authorisation in other countries, which acts to maintain higher prices.

US negotiators created an artificial deadline for the TPP to be concluded at the Singapore Ministerial conference between December 7 and 10 last year. However, when this failed, they moved the deadline to the sidelines of the World Economic Forum at Davos later this month.

Federal Minister for Trade, Andrew Robb, before Christmas signalled that the Government may cede to the Americans in a bid to gain better access for Australian agriculture (areas omitted in the Australia-US FTA), citing the TPP as a “platform for 21st-century trade rules”, and noting that “substantial progress” had been made on gaining better access to US agricultural markets.

As reported in the AFR yesterday, Robb has once again re-iterated his support for the TPP, provided Australia gains significant agricultural access:

“There are winners and losers from any trade agreement, so for us to sell an agreement back into the community and for it to be embraced, Australia needs to see significant market access opportunity,” Mr Robb said…

Mr Robb has indicated Australia may be willing to make other concessions such as recognition of investor-state dispute settlement process, whereby disaffected foreign companies could resort to international arbitration to sue the Australian government…

“If the market access offering in February is significant, then I think we will see rapid movement towards closing this deal,” Mr Robb said.

As noted previously, the text of the TPP (and other trade agreements) must be released for public and parliamentary scrutiny before they are signed by the Government. Otherwise, Australia risks being sold-out for short-term politically gain rather than sound long-term decisions, in the process placing at risk its world class health system and its ability to craft health policy, as well as raising the cost of digital imports.

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Comments

  1. General Disarray

    It’s ridiculous that an agreement with such potentially far reaching consequences can receive so little coverage. Sheesh, if it’s people arriving in boats it gets daily coverage and turns into a major election issue, but this, we don’t get a look in.

    It will be the lobby groups that decide the outcome here.

  2. This really is treasonous behaviour. But never mind that…the boat people are coming to take our jeeeerbs!

  3. There must be some point where a government says “such and such was a promise made by a previous government. The promise was unreasonable. We feel no need to honour the promise and won’t be honouring it”
    This could apply to debt, pensions or some moronic trade agreement.

  4. What a crap deal…..

    We are meant to be the food bowl of Asia yet we need access to the US agriculture market in exchange for our liberty.

    I’d say the US needs to give us much more such as access to their nuclear and science technology.

  5. Strange Economics

    Lets fprget talk about “building the clever country”. This type of agreement benefits the US clever country products of IT, pharma, movies, etc. The Govt is then aiming at the low tech agriculture and mining country. Apart from a few accountants, a high tech education won’t be needed. More courses on construction for apartments to sell to overseas investors and the rest low tech. So we’ll be able to save on education – a few elite private education for the finance managers, and the rest should leave school.

    • It will probably also trigger a massive wave of job off shoring to the low cost economies across Asia while at the same time more 457’s will arrive here to depress income levels.

  6. Poor Tony. Always in the shadow of Howard. So what does he decide to do? He’s going to try and beat Howard by signing an FTA that is worse for Australia than the Howard era USA FTA.

    If there’s no requirement for the Govt to release the full text of the TPP before signing, then we need to take to the streets and force them to release it.

    Sure they can see what will happen by the posturing of big tobacco around plain packaging. That’s going to be a side show to what’s coming via the TPP.

  7. It should be remembered that the bulk of negotiations for the TPP occurred under the guidance of the previous government. With barely a whisper of protest.

    • Secrecy has been the main weapon used here. We only have the information we do because of leaks.

      EFA and other groups suspected the TPP would be more of the same badness and have been fighting it for years but the media didn’t talk about it at all until the leaks happened.

      But you are correct that Labor appears just as happy to sell us out as the Coalition. The did challenge some aspects of it but we won’t ever know if they would sign the unamended document, my guess is yes.

    • With the massive difference that Labor was refusing to sign a deal that included an ISDS.

      http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/labor-standing-firm-on-pacific-trade-deal-20120305-1ue2b.html

      The federal government is standing firm against Australian and US business demands that it allow controversial dispute settlement clauses into an ambitious new Pacific free trade deal.

      Australia is one of nine nations seeking to reach final agreement on a deal known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) by the end of 2012.

      The 11th round of negotiations – which also includes the US, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Peru, Chile and Brunei – are now underway in Melbourne.

      But talks have entered troubled waters over what are known as investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses.
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      These typically give businesses from one country power to take international legal action against the government of another, over agreement breaches.

      The clauses are included in many multilateral and bilateral free trade agreements.

      But the federal government last year issued a new trade policy, in which it ruled out supporting such clauses, arguing they ran the risk of giving foreign business greater legal rights than domestic businesses.

      The government believes such clauses could also constrain its ability to make laws on social, environmental and economic matters.

      • Mining BoganMEMBER

        There must be a directive out from Menzies House for all astroturfers to say that the previous mob were going to agree to this garbage and only Tony can fix it. That meme is popping up everywhere.

        Private polling might be showing that this is an issue out there.

    • 3d1k Yeah continue to spin your BS. None of Howard, Rudd or Gillard would go anywhere near this absolute sell out.

      As for those awaiting violent uprising; won’t happen Aust. are too stupid and lazy. They won’t work out there is a problem until they are on the ramp up to the knocking box.

      • interested party

        Ian,
        I realize that, as much as I call for my revolution. Sad really, that one gets to the point of wishing for something like that.
        We live in a sorry world, run by lunatics….and joe public is fast asleep.
        I want a better world for my kids……….can’t see one.

      • Good grief dudes. We live in one of the best nations on the planet. We neither want nor need violent insurrection. Grow up.

  8. What’s in this for Australia and Australians?

    Near as I can figure ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.

    Politicians talk about Aussie agriculture produce gaining access to the US markets….like that’s really gunna happen.

    Do our politicians have any idea what a hot button issue this in within the US. There are all sorts of US state and federal laws, regulations, business practices that are specifically designed to protect US agricultural producers. Real unfettered access to this market is nothing but a wet dream and a dream for which most Urban dwelling Aussies will pay dearly.

    This agreement has far reaching consequences for the development of any “smart / clever” Aussie industries because it extends the reach of the US’s morally bankrupt patent system and imposes copyright regulations that should rightfully be regulated by Australians politicians for the benefit of Australians.

    • I agree there appears zero benefit to Australia (and other participating nations) to the extension of protection in regard to the entire gamut of US intellectual property and have mentioned this previously.

      These negotiations have been underway for a number of years and we are looking at the final chapter courtesy our previous government – does the new Abbott government have the balls to step up.

      • This isn’t about partisan politics Minebot. Trade deals rarely are.

        Andrew Robb has said that he is prepared to consider ISDS provisions – in other words, handing our testicles to the USA on a silver platter.

      • Whilst trade deals may not be about partisan politics the only reason this issue is getting an airing is because of partisan politics – if Labor were still in power any concerns would be limited to the confines of leftish academia and similar media and there would be no mainstream discussion. Stifled.

      • “Whilst trade deals may not be about partisan politics the only reason this issue is getting an airing is because of partisan politics – if Labor were still in power any concerns would be limited to the confines of leftish academia and similar media and there would be no mainstream discussion.”

        What a load of unmitigated crap.

      • Some commentary in the US is also unhappy at how corporate interests have used gvt to do their bidding.

        http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2013-12-19/pacific-trade-deal-needs-more-wikileaking.html

        Obama emerges from this as nothing but a windbag.

        How Robb can justify the unintended consequences of something for sugar is inexplicable logic and implies a similar stupid passivity from this gvt to all neo-liberal dogma: free trade = good.

        But this gvt has made it clear enough that is all about crony capitalism. No need to think that or justify policy; keep it secret for long enough and hope Australia still wins at cricket so no one notices.

      • “hope Australia still wins at cricket so no one notices.”

        🙂 Astute observation. There is no doubt we have our own modern versions of the’ Roman Circus’

      • Fair cop 3d, even Labour baulked at the shitty parts of the deal that John H wouldn’t support yet we have a government pursuing an array of ideological based agendas that leaves Labour for dead. No wonder they suck in the poles.

      • ven Labour baulked at the shitty parts of the deal

        Got evidence for that wing? Also evidence that this lot are merely dismissing all objections previously raised?

        P.S. Again I think there is a misconception here about the way government works. I think CB is more on the money. Puiblic Servants are working on this stuff…no doubt many of them. A politician doesn’t just go off half cocked and sign everything in front of him. Anyone who thinks that needs to watch more ‘Yes Minister’ Not saying that a government may not disagree with advisors on ideological grounds at some point. However the idea that is often portrayed here of a government just going yahoo at something is clearly incorrect.

      • AB posted a SMH link earlier in this thread about Labours objections to the ISDS element. Not sure what you meant by the second question. I’m not convinced it’s the work of public servants. ACCI is quoted in the SMH article as wanting an agreement but not voicing concern about TPP elements. Now this could be editorial oversight’ not to publish their concerns over ISDS or overturning Australian laws. As for public servants controlling government Yes Minister style, nah, I’ve seen enough to know it work both ways.

      • Thanks Wing. Either way we should just not sign any damned thing. I go back to my original stance. I can’t help but feel the only reason we would sign it is if they are threatening us with some dire consequences if we don’t. There is NO benefit to Aus. If my feeling is correct somebody somewhere in government, and i don’t care whether politician or public servant, needs to grow some balls.

    • CB…absolutely! If we gain any access it will be in areas where we are totally non-competitive or have no viable industry at all.
      Access, or equalisation in terms of price subsidies to US farmers, for Ag products just ain’t going to happen!
      That’s the way it has always been.

      This stuff makes me feel sick.

      • Flawse,
        What I dont get is WHO in Australia is pushing for this agreement? WHO, and if you can identify the individual, Is he/she actually an Australian?

        It seems that our public servants have decided that this is the best deal we are going to get so we’ll just sign it and be done with it.

        There needs to be accountability for these decisions, I’d like a provision to sue the public servants negotiating this tripe for treason or at the very least find civil relief for their profound incompetence.

        There seems to be a belief that Australia does not have this of that industry so we gladly negotiate away the right of Aussies to develop new businesses in these areas. This is unforgivable and needs to be understood by a much wider publicum.

      • CB
        “There seems to be a belief that Australia does not have this of that industry so we gladly negotiate away the right of Aussies to develop new businesses in these areas”
        That’s a good point!

        Agree i don’t know who is in favour of this. Are we being threatened with consequences of some kind if we don’t sign? That’s the only explanation I can really see.
        Who the hell is accountable for anything anymore?

    • This agreement has far reaching consequences for the development of any “smart / clever” Aussie industries because it extends the reach of the US’s morally bankrupt patent system and imposes copyright regulations that should rightfully be regulated by Australians politicians for the benefit of Australians.

      I don’t support the TPP, but it’s worth noting that the US Copyright system is far less restrictive than Australia’s, which up until less than a decade ago made such mundane procedures as recording a TV show to watch later and ripping CDs you own to your iPod copyright infringement.

      • Should I understand this to mean that you wish to cede sovereignty to some foreign power because our own elected politicians are incapable of creating an equitable Intellectual Property system? That’s beyond bizarre, these are problems our politicians need to be addressing and addressing for the benefits of their fellow Australians.

        Politicians need to create an environment where opportunity abounds where their young can see a future that is so much brighter than that of their parents. It is the dream of a brighter, technology led future, that still burns with a passion in my very soul.

        Addressing this opportunity requires that Australians are free to develop technical solutions that benefit fellow Australians without first paying tax to a foreign master. The freedom to invent a new future is the most fundamental of human rights and it is this right which is being traded away by TPP

      • Should I understand this to mean that you wish to cede sovereignty to some foreign power because our own elected politicians are incapable of creating an equitable Intellectual Property system?

        Which part of “I don’t support the TPP” did you have trouble with ?

        I was making the point that worrying about how America’s oppressive intellectual property laws would stifle innovation seems a bit misguided when our intellectual property laws are plenty oppressive on their own.

  9. We keep talking about protesting things like this, but how, are there any action groups protesting this at all that we can support ?

  10. No worries…. anything Tony signs can be repealed by the next government…. That’s how the system works isn’t it???

    • Ah but therein lies the true beauty of the system, if we sign up and then reneg, any US or Euro multinational that would lose out by our actions can take us to court and sue for damages..

      • can take us to court and sue for damages

        I would suggest paying the fine in a special “Court Issue” currency. We could stamp a special platinum coin for the exact amount.
        The fine print on the coin would state that the coin is legal tender when presented anywhere in Pine Gap.

  11. What – wait – is their anyone not thrilled by the thought of a neoliberal corporatist free market utopian nirvana orb????

    skippy…. marginalist equilibrium or bust {!!!]… bloody socialists and commies.

  12. Why any politician thinks there is any political ground in a complex FTA is beyond me – as if the middle class give a damn and as if the bogans even know what one is? It has to be about Robb hoping for that sweet US Ambassador gig.. one day…

    Just release the text and do it properly FFS.

    As for selling out the country i am genuinely surprised – genuinely surprised there is anything left to sell.