TPP DEAL IS NOT A TROPHY
Transparency is critical to negotiations
TRADE is critical to our current and future prosperity. As the nations of our region continue to grow and transform, creating the world’s largest consumption zone, Australia’s prospects are strong.
Trade is the key to realising those prospects.
But we must shape this opportunity by making informed choices with an understanding of the implications for Australia’s businesses, our workers and our community.
Trade Minister Andrew Robb has been complaining about what he describes as ‘‘the deliberate peddling of misinformation’’ on the Trans-Pacific Partnership ( The Australian, Feb 10). He should recall Tony Abbott’s preelection commitment to ‘‘restore accountability and improve transparency measures’’.
The wholesale ditching of this commitment isn’t just undemocratic — it has real and negative economic consequences.
The ‘‘misinformation’’ the Trade Minister rails against is gaining momentum because of this government’s refusal to be upfront with Australians about its negotiating parameters.
Questions about the potential impact on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, implications for our copyright regime and the consequences of allowing foreign companies to sue governments for health and environmental reforms are not being answered. Instead, anyone daring to question is attacked and labelled.
In one of his first acts as minister, Robb banished the former government’s trade principles, including transparency, from his department’s website.
The government is prepared to negotiate a TPP with an investor-state dispute provision that gives foreign corporations the right to take action against governments when they make public interest decisions that may adversely affect the commercial stake of the company.
Australian taxpayers are already footing the bill for such a challenge launched by Philip Morris Asia against our worldleading plain packaging laws.
The government says any investor-state dispute clause will include so-called safeguards, but without enabling any public discussion or scrutiny.
Labor initiated the TPP talks because it has the potential to deliver greater market access for our exporters, create jobs here and act as a staging post on the path to a more open global trading system.
But it’s not possible to make judgments about the value of the agreement when objectives are hidden, negotiations are conducted i n secret and signed agreements are proposed to be presented as a fait accompli.
Judgments about the costs and benefits of trade deals should not be made by unelected officials or ministers in complete isolation from the parliament and the broader community.
There is a real risk the government is negotiating trade deals that don’t serve our national interest or reflect Australia’s long-term multilateral trade ambitions.
The government is treating trade agreements as political trophies, struck in secret and accompanied by demands they be accepted without question.