A Report on the First JSCOT Public Meeting on the TPP
Des Pensable copyright 2016
The TransPacific Partnership Agreement (TPP or TPPA) was signed in NZ to much protest by people in the 12 countries involved on 4th February, 2016 but does not come into effect unless ratified by the parliaments of countries that represent 85% of their sum total GDPs.
The USA MUST ratify it for it to come into effect. However, the leading Democrat contender (Bernie Sanders) in the current US Presidential race has stated openly that he will NOT ratify the TPP.
Both the LNP and Labor are in favour of ratifying it ASAP but the Greens and some Independents are against ratifying it unless it had been thoroughly examined by the Australian Productivity Commission and found beneficial to the Australian people.
The Joint Standing Committee on Treaties (JSCOT) has the task of examining the TPP treaty and advising the Australian government whether it should be accepted and ratified. The JSCOT are open for submissions from the public until 11th March, 2016. This is your chance to have a say.
The Public Meeting
Yesterday Lance Priestly and I who are members of Stop TPP Australia attended the Public Forum on the TPP in Parliament House Canberra at 11-10am, 22nd January 2016. I took extensive minutes of the meeting. There were about 50 people present.
The public meeting opened with a lengthy 25 minute statement by a DFAT spokesperson who gave a prepared statement of how wonderful it would be for the future of Australia to be a part of the TPP.
She did point out that two modelling studies by the World bank and the Petersen Institute in the USA stated that we get almost zero discernible economic benefit from the TPP but pointed out that models were not always accurate and DFAT believed (without any evidence) we would do better than the models suggested.
Curiously, later when asked why DFAT doesn’t get the Australian Productivity Commission to look at the biggest and most significant Trade Agreement in Australia’s history she stated that it would be a waste of time and resources.
Interestingly she stated that the DFAT had wide consultations with the unions and public groups about the TPP. Later this was queried by Melissa Parke (Labor) as no one seemed to know who DFAT consulted and she wasn’t about to give names of groups or unions.
The questions section opened with a pre-prepared question by the chair to give DFAT a further chance to tell the meeting how Australia was going to benefit from the trade side of the Agreement.
We were going to sell another 65,000 tons more sugar to the highly protected US market. Nothing much for the beef industry but reduced tariffs on cheese for the dairy industry which NZ is likely to take advantage of in a big way.
We had negotiated to sell more car parts to Japan and Malaysia. This was ironic since the government has killed off the Australian auto industry.
Interestingly she pointed out that we already had strong trade agreements with half the TPP countries and that meant the TPP wouldn’t change much at all in those countries.
She seemed very proud that they had negotiated to sell more mining equipment to some of the countries that actually don’t do much mining. In fact our mining exports were $27 million a couple of years ago and were expected to increase.
In short the new trade agreement basically delivers VERY little to the Australian agriculture industry and DFAT struggled to convince anybody present of anything otherwise.
The DFAT spokesperson was asked who had to ratify the TPP to make the deal work. It turns out that unless the USA and Japan ratify it – it will automatically FAIL. This strongly suggests that Australia and all the other 9 members should wait until the USA and Japan ratify it before we bother to ratify it.
Melissa Parke asked the DFAT spokesperson to expand on why the big US pharmaceutical companies wanted an 8 year period before generics companies could have access to the original data on the efficacy of the patented drugs.
An assistant reeled off a pre-prepared statement which sounded very much like it came directly from the US pharmaceutical industry and completely ignored that fact that the TPP gives big pharma a defacto 8 year extension of their drug patents.
Not only Australia but the whole of the third world poor LOSE BIG on this exclusive right to extend their patents. This is NOT FREE TRADE – but a serious impediment to Free trade and world health.
The discussion moved to the effects of the TPP on the Australian labour market tests. Here it seemed that the spokespeople for the DFAT were at odds with each other. One thought it would affect whether unskilled foreign workers such as those on 457 visas could do skilled jobs in Australia another thought not. It was all in how the TPP clauses were interpreted. The question was left unresolved.
The discussion moved onto the ISDS clause. The DFAT stated that they had gone to considerable trouble to make sure that the ISDS clause could be used by Australia against others but was unlikely to be used against us.
Melissa Parkes of Labor pointed out that Canada had been attacked with many ISDS cases through their NAFTA agreement and since they were mineral exporters very much like us, why wouldn’t the ISDS be used against us. The DFAT stated that somehow magically (with no evidence) they didn’t think we would have the same problems as Canada.
They stated that they had studied all the ISDS cases thoroughly but when asked about a specific Canadian well publicized ISDS case involving environmental matters they didn’t know anything about it.
In the middle of the public hearing there was a division in Parliament which meant that the members of the JSCOT committee had to leave for about 30 minutes to resolve the issue however the public meeting wasn’t extended.
Considering that no members of the audience were able to ask questions; more than half an hour was public relations statements; a half an hour was lost by the parliamentary division and only very rudimentary questions were asked which were poorly answered by the DFAT spokespeople my personal opinion is that the meeting was just a public relations exercise rather than a genuine effort to involve the public.
I commend Labor for trying to get the DFAT to give some real answers to TPP problems. The Liberal members on the Committee were dead wood. The Greens spokesman on the committee was strangely silent. No one discussed whether the TPP would benefit the PEOPLE of Australia.
I would suggest that it is really in the nation’s ABSOLUTE interest to have the Productivity Commission thoroughly examine the benefits of the TPP for the PEOPLE of Australia NOT just the transnational corporations before we ratify it.
In fact, the TPP will usher in such a momentous changes within Australia, our culture and our way of life, that it should be put to a referendum.