Negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) are expected by some participants to conclude this month, although the Malaysian Prime Minister has indicated that this goal is optimistic. The TPP is one of the largest trade agreements in history and is being negotiated, in secret, by twelve countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
In the past two years there have been only a handful of leaked draft texts for the intellectual property and investment chapters, but little in the way of official information on the actual content or negotiating positions. Signatory nations to the TPP will be required to modify their laws to conform with the requirements of the TPP where necessary.
Pirate Party Australia is critical of the lack of transparency in the negotiations and the content of the TPP. It is known from leaked texts that the TPP will include an intellectual property chapter which may further extend the reach of legislation such as the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA). The text indicates that the chapter will impose provisions at least as severe as the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) which was last year rejected by the European Parliament following enormous protests across Europe. ACTA’s ratification has been delayed following recommendations from Australia’s Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
“The only time that the Australian public will be able to comment on the text is when it is finished and signed,” said Simon Frew, President of Pirate Party Australia. “There is no opportunity to critique and to provide input, or to even see what is being planned. We are talking about potentially major changes to Australian laws and the public is being shut out. Pirate Party Australia has attended and presented at numerous ‘consultations’ and negotiating rounds, where representatives from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade have given half-answers and limited indications of what changes will actually be required by the Agreement.”
In addition to an intellectual property chapter, the TPP will include investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions. ISDS provisions have appeared in other trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, and allow companies to sue a country if it changes its laws in a way that negatively impacts that company. US company Lone Pine is preparing to sue Quebec over the Canadian province’s moratorium on coal seam gas extraction.
“Pirate Party Australia is opposed to ISDS provisions being included in trade agreements. It is entirely unreasonable that companies could sue a country for changing its own laws or introducing moratoriums,” Mr Frew continued. “Our Government and our Parliament are there to represent us, and to make decisions in our interests, and a company should take into account the possibility of laws changing when making investments. Coal seam gas extraction has become a particularly contentious issue lately, with widespread environmental and health concerns surrounding the practice, and to penalise a government for taking appropriate steps is utterly absurd.”
Although the current Coalition Government shows enthusiasm for ISDS provisions being included in future trade agreements, it has indicated some reluctance for the inclusion of ISDS in the TPP. Pirate Party Australia is encouraged by Trade Minister Andrew Robb’s comments, but they are typical of the secretive and non-committal statements that have surrounded this trade agreement. Minister Robb has not been explicit on the issue, merely stating that it should not be assumed that the negotiating position has changed.
While the Trans-Pacific Partnership is being drafted without public scrutiny, Pirate Party Australia continues to practice what it preaches. In compliance with its commitment to public transparency, last week Party Officials began drafting constitutions for the Party’s state and territory branches, using online tools that allow members and the public to view the process in real time.