Negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) began in March 2010. There are now 12 negotiating countries: the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Australia and New Zealand.
The negotiations are secret, but leaked documents reveal that the US as the largest economy is driving the agenda on behalf of its most powerful export industries.
Pharmaceutical companies want stronger patents on medicines which would delay the availability of cheaper generic medicines. Media companies want longer copyright payments, restrictions on Internet use and less data privacy. Food, alcohol and tobacco companies want to limit government regulation of food, tobacco and alcohol labelling.
And all of these corporations want special rights for foreign investors to sue governments for damages in an international tribunal if they can argue that a change in law or policy harms their investment, known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
The Philip Morris tobacco company is currently using ISDS in an obscure Hong Kong-Australia investment agreement to sue our government for billions of dollars in compensation for plain packaging legislation, despite the fact that it was passed with bipartisan support through Parliament and the Australian High Court found they were not entitled to compensation under Australian law.
WATCH: Workers speak out about the TPP
Despite promises, there is still no agreement about the inclusion of enforceable labour rights and environmental standards in the TPP. Unions support comprehensive commitments to core labour standards based on ILO conventions and acceptable conditions of work with monitoring and enforcement of labour rights commitments.
Unions from Australia and other TPP countries have campaigned with community organisations for strong and enforceable labour rights and environmental standards, the rejection of special rights for foreign investors to sue governments, and rejection of stronger monopoly rights on medicines that would undermine access to affordable medicines.
We oppose any provisions that would negatively affect Australia’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and similar schemes in other countries. These campaigns, including a strong US campaign, have delayed the negotiations, with many TPP deadlines being missed since 2012.
Australian parliamentarians have responded to the community and union campaign by forming a cross-party working group critical of the TPP.
The 2015 ACTU Congress called for the release of the text of the TPP for public and parliamentary scrutiny before the decision to sign it is made by Cabinet, and failing this, for Australia to withdraw from the negotiations.
UPDATE, 15 June: US fast track Bill defeated
Moves to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership in the United States were defeated in the House of Representatives on 12 June.
This was a victory for the US community campaign in which unions played a big role against the secrecy of the TPP process and provisions of the TPP.
Fast Track legislation is required for the US Congress to give up its constitutional right to fully debate and amend trade agreements, allowing only a yes or no vote. The Bill was defeated despite a massive corporate campaign and support from both Democrat and Republican leaders, including an unusual visit to Congress by the President.
Since other TPP governments have refused to finalise the negotiations without Fast Track, this means TPP negotiations between Australia the US, Japan and nine other countries are again on hold, and the TPP Trade Ministers’ Meeting may not take place by the end of June.