Trans-Pacific Trade Pact Reveals U.S.’s Unbridled Corporate Agenda

By Neena Bhandari

SYDNEY, Mar 9 2012 (IPS) – The 11th round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) talks concluded in Melbourne Friday, with member states suggesting the negotiations had made significant progress but civil society groups reiterating concerns that the United States’ corporate demands could undermine social, economic and environmental policies.

“We do know that global corporations are pushing hard for the inclusion of provisions that benefit companies, but not necessarily workers and communities,” Gerardine Kearney, President of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), told IPS.

“This can be seen, for example, in the negotiations on intellectual property and the risk that it (poses) to pharmaceutical companies’ rights to charge higher prices for medicines. We are seeing it in the investment negotiations, where (corporate success) will undermine the right of governments to regulate in the public interest and will provide companies the right to sue governments for damages,” Kearney said.

The TPPA is currently being negotiated between the U.S., Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile and Peru with the goal of developing a comprehensive “21st century” regional trade agreement by the year-end.

Australia’s lead negotiator Hamish McCormick told reporters in Melbourne, “We have made further strong headway. We are looking to conclude this year but we want to have a high quality agreement.”

Businesses say that diversifying trade flows across the Pacific would be beneficial, but civil society groups, calling for strong labour rights and environmental protections in the trade deal, have raised concerns over investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions, amongst others.

ISDS provisions allow foreign corporations to sue a government for regulatory actions. The Australian Labor Government has made it clear that it does not support the inclusion of ISDS clauses despite immense pressure from corporations and the U.S. government.

“ISDS provisions can constrain the ability of governments to introduce legislation on social, environmental and economic matters; confer greater legal rights for foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses by providing an avenue to take legal action for alleged breaches of the investment chapter of the trade agreement; and ISDS arbitration is lengthy and costly,” Kearney said.