Image for This trade agreement is big — and much too secret

A new international trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, is being negotiated this week in Singapore — with deals being cut behind closed doors with corporate lobbyists.

If approved, this agreement would have wide-ranging ramifications, including undermining health and safety protections and impacting food safety, farming and local economies. It’s a very big deal.

The US Congress is being pressured to “fast track” the TPP. This would allow the president to sign a trade deal before legislators have any chance to review it. Pushing through an agreement this big without knowing the details is a very, very bad idea. Help us get this message across before it’s too late!

If fast tracked, there would be no meaningful hearings on the TPP, limited debate and absolutely no amendments to the deal.

The TPP involves 12 countries around the Pacific Rim, from the U.S. and Canada to Peru and Australia. The agreement would cover about 40 percent of global output and about one-third of all world trade. If fast tracked, very few of us — not reporters, only a handful of legislators, and certainly not impacted citizens — will be privy to the deal before it’s signed into law.

But corporate interests do have a seat at the table. Among the 600 industry advisors involved in negotiations are those representing Monsanto, Syngenta, Dow and DuPont. And the Chief Agricultural Negotiator for the U.S. is none other than Islam Siddiqui, former lobbyist for CropLife, a trade association for pesticide and GE corporations.

Opposition to fast tracking the TPP is growing, and some members of Congress are stepping up. Voice your support for democratic process and transparency! Unless we make noise on this one, it will slip through without proper oversight.

While trade agreement specifics are being kept hush-hush, what we do know is troubling. Agricultural policy is woven throughout the agreement and the TPP could lower food safety standards to the lowest common denominator. It could also make efforts to label, restrict or ban any GE products nearly impossible, as these actions would infringe on the “rights” of corporations to profit.

Tell Congress to keep the TPP off the fast track! The stakes are far too high to allow this agreement through unchecked.

Thank you for putting this important issue front and center.

Join us in calling on Congress to stop the fast track, and open up the TPP for public scrutiny and debate.

• Peter Whish-Wilson: Free trade deals: Buyer Beware

THE Abbott Government has promised the Australian people that a series of so-called “free trade” deals, currently under negotiation, are critical for our economy and future.

They are right, but not in the way you might expect.   

A recent study by the Productivity Commission states the potential benefits of Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) under negotiation have been oversold and the negatives largely ignored.

This is a message you will not hear from many politicians, keen to lock in trade deals at all costs - literally. 

There is nothing free about the horse trading we call international trade negotiations, and have no doubt, there are always costs and losers hidden among the winners.

So who picks the winners and the consequent losers? 

Who decides what is fair when we make trade-offs with other nations in Australia’s interest?

Which sectors, growers, or industries will win in Tasmania and at what cost to others? 

If the current trade negotiations around the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) - the largest trade deal in our countries history - are anything to go by, you can be sure those with the most influence and lobbying power will likely determine who wins and who loses.   

Welcome to the world of special interests - mostly large corporations and industry lobby groups that have a strong influence on our democracy, our political decisions and our parliamentary legislative agendas; if you have enough resources you can get the ear of decision makers.

Trade negotiations - especially when they are conducted in secret - are the ultimate feast of friends for vested interests.   

But deals like the TPP are more than just traditional forums for industries or multinationals wanting to sell more goods and services to other countries. 

Trade negotiations now encroach on matters of much broader public interest and importance than just the traditional questions of market access. 

The TPPA has 29 chapters covering sensitive issues ranging from foreign investment policy and regulations, intellectual property laws, internet usage and freedoms, health regulations and the pricing of medicines, and both environmental and labour laws. 

One secret chapter of the TPP recently exposed by Wikileaks has revealed that negotiations risk undermining a key pillar of Australias public health system - the Pharmaceuticals Benefit Scheme and Australian’s access to low cost medicine.

Why? Because this arrangement doesnt necessarily suit foreign corporations.

Or to put it another way, it may not be good for their profits.   

Alarmingly a new set of trade laws and tribunals are also being negotiated under the TPP that allow corporations to sue sovereign governments if they don’t like political decisions or changes to legislation that might negatively impact their profits. These inclusions are called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) clauses. 

ISDS clauses are primarily designed to reduce a corporations sovereign (read political) risk when investing in another country.

In theory, by allowing these controversial clauses into new trade agreements, we are providing insurance for foreign corporations in case they lose money from future decisions by the governments we elect.

This is supposed to make them more likely to invest in Australia - but at what cost? 

Australian parliamentarians must be free to legislate in the public interest, not just for the special interests of the powerful.

We know from ISDS clauses in other so-called free trade deals this mechanism could be used to prevent moves to tighten rules on foreign investment in agricultural land and water,  prevent moratoriums on genetically modified organisms, or remove county or region of origin food labelling. 

Other secret documents recently leaked have revealed that parties of the TPP are pushing to dictate signature countries’ food safety and quarantine measures. This could be a direct threat to many Tasmanian industries as   biosecurity is at the core of Tasmanias clean and green brand and place of   origin labelling gives a competitive advantage for many Tasmanian products.   

The TPP is reported to be in the final stages of negotiations, likely to be finalised early next year.

In the past two weeks the Greens joined forces with Labor in the Senate to compel the government to release the secret text of the final draft - for public comment and input prior to the Abbott Government signing and sealing the deal. 

The Greens feel all future trade negotiations should be conducted openly and honestly, with nothing to hide, and our trade treaty process needs to reflect this.

Such safeguards would help ensure that our nations biggest ever trade deal is not just free but is fair for all Australians.   

Outrageously the Abbott Government is currently in contempt of the Australian Parliament, openly refusing to abide by the Senates order to release the TPP trade deal documents before they are signed.

The Coalition Government claims such a request for transparency is not in the national interest and that they would need permission from other involved nations such as the United States? 

How less secrecy and more openness can be a bad thing for Australia’s most complex and risky trade deal in history is hard to understand.

If we want honesty in politics we need transparency in parliament, but clearly the Abbott Government has something to hide. 

Don’t believe the spin that everyone is a winner from free trade, reality tells us otherwise.

Tasmanians need to be asking hard questions about who is getting to pick the winners and losers in the TPP trade negotiations.
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But until the Abbott Government abides by the will of the Senate to publicly release the secret text, for Tasmanians, some of their elected representatives will be keeping them in the dark.

Senator for Tasmania Peter Whish-Wilson is the Greens spokesperson for small business & consumer affairs; fisheries, marine (TAS) & whaling; tourism; trade and competition policy.

First printed in The Advocate, here