TPP deal is not a trophy

12 February 2014

TRADE is critical to our current and future prosperity. As the nations of our region continue to grow and transform, creating the worlds largest consumption zone, Australias 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 Australias 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 Abbotts pre-election commitment to restore accountability and improve transparency measures.
The wholesale ditching of this commitment isnt just undemocratic - it has real and negative economic consequences.
The misinformation the Trade Minister rails against is gaining momentum because of this governments 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 governments trade principles, including transparency, from his departments 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 world-leading 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 its not possible to make judgments about the value of the agreement when objectives are hidden, negotiations are conducted in 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 dont serve our national interest or reflect Australias 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.