It’s a well worn tactic. When you want to get something through without public protest, make it complicated and boring. Most people have better things to do with their life than sift through international trade agreements.
But just the fact that such a huge and far reaching deal is being cloaked in the invisibility cloak of boring and complicated should be enough to set some alarm bells off. Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade says “Australia’s decision to participate in the TPP in 2008 followed an extensive public consultation process.” But I didn’t even know it existed until recently. Did you?
TPP is a huge free trade deal, covering up to 40% of the world’s GDP.
Free trade is a good thing, right? Leads to cheaper stuff in Harvey Norman’s and K Mart. But part of the reason it’s cheaper is that they don’t have to comply with the human rights, labour, and environment laws that we do. And that’s the thing. Multinational corporations don’t like having to comply with that stuff.
There are several bits of the TPP that will completely stuff up our way of life if it goes through, in profound ways. One the Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause. This clause would allow corporations to sue governments if their investments are ‘harmed’ by a law or policy. So, if we elect a government because they promise to make food producers label their products if they have GM ingredients, or not use green ticks on food that is not green and not healthy, or use the label “organic” only on things that are organic, or not market junk food to kids….well, Nestle could sue us for whatever amount of billions they think that decision cost them.
If we elected a government that restricted sale of GM seeds, or pesticides, or agricultural chemicals because our independent science said they were an unacceptable risk, Monsanto could sue us for whatever they think that decision cost them.
If we elected a government willing to require chemical manufacturers to put in place environmental protections, then Dow Chemicals could…you get the picture. It puts corporate rights ahead of our democratic rights. It’s a bit like the problem with civil law, that it is often the party with the deepest pockets that wins, not because they are right, just because they can make it so expensive to fight that they can bully you out of the debate.
Another part of the TPP that rings alarm bells is the copyright and patent protections, especially as they apply to medicines, and as they apply to things like genes or plant varieties that, in Australia, aren’t patented. The whole “Big Pharma” thing is based on US pharmaceutical companies that make huge profits from privately researched and patented drugs. We have a Pharmeceutical Benefits scheme, generic drugs, and independent research. We have a system in Australia, unlike USA, where the bulk of our science is done in universities and public organisations like CSIRO, that are independent and have no vested interests. It is precious. It means we can trust our science.
TPP will have to go before parliament to be ratified, but parliament will only have a matter of days before it goes to a vote. It will be too late at that stage to start trying to get people aware and contacting their local members. Most parliamentarians probably have only the vaguest idea what it is about themselves.
I don’t know what can be done about it. I know there are a million calls to write to your local member, and there’s probably not much point in adding another to the list. We haven’t even managed to get back benchers to oppose the trashing of the Barrier Reef or the defunding of the Climate Council.
But at least you can make sure that you, and everyone you know, is watching for how their local member votes and knows who to blame.
You can find out more at http://aftinet.org.au/cms/.