As the Green parliamentary political parties of three nations whose governments are currently in the process of negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), we are issuing this joint statement to express our serious concern at the fundamentally undemocratic and non-transparent nature of this agreement. Following the leaking of the draft investment chapter of the TPPA the Greens are extremely concerned that the agreement has the potential to undermine the ability of our governments to perform effectively. More than just another trade agreement, the TPPA provisions could hinder access to safe, affordable medicines, weaken local content rules for media, stifle high-tech innovation, and even restrict the ability of future governments to legislate for the good of public health and the environment.
We believe that the process should be transparent. This agreement has been negotiated behind closed doors with a level of secrecy that is completely unacceptable in a democratic society.
The Right to Set Our Own Laws
The governments of Australia, Canada and New Zealand traditionally have the right to set down their own laws for the good of public health, consumers, workers and the environment.
Leaked details of the TPPA reveal that, foreign investors and firms could sue Canada or New Zealand in a private international tribunal if their parliaments or local councils pass laws that reduce their profits or adversely affect their businesses. This could include laws such as:
- a requirement for large graphic warnings or plain packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products (such as in Canada and Australia, and forthcoming in NZ);
- laws requiring labelling of genetically-modified food and drink (NZ); and
- retention of agricultural regulations such as Canada’s supply management system for dairy, which aims to preserve farmers’ livelihoods.
The Australian government has indicated it will not agree to these clauses intended to protect multinational businesses from the impact of policy decisions, but New Zealand and Canada’s leaders refuse to do the same (even after Canada was on the receiving end of costly lawsuits under NAFTA).
The End of a Free Internet
We believe the TPPA is being used to sneak in measures to bind its member countries to extensive and harsh laws on Internet use that wouldn’t be acceptable at the domestic level – including harsher criminal penalties for minor, non-commercial copyright infringements, a ‘take-down and ask questions later’ approach to pages and content alleged to breach copyright, and the possibility of Internet providers having to disclose personal information to authorities without safeguards for privacy. The European Parliament voted 478-39 against the international ACTA treaty, which was trying to create similar standards. Now, the same type of regulation is being attempted under the TPPA.
More IP Rights for the Big Players
The Intellectual Property Rights chapter of the TPPA was leaked in draft form in February 2011. We anticipate that unless a more moderate and balanced version is adopted, NZ, Canada and Australia’s shoppers, schools and libraries would end up paying more for their books and DVD’s because it would let copyright holders veto parallel importing. Small and medium-sized software and IT businesses would have their innovative visions stifled by constraining patent laws. Finally, large pharmaceutical companies could use the legislation to deny state drug-buying agencies like those in Australia and NZ access to reliable, low cost medicines.
Behind Closed Doors
Almost everything we have learnt about the TPPA’s contents comes from leaked documents that the negotiators didn’t want the public to see. No agreement this important should be finalised without the informed input of the ordinary people it will affect.
Yet while representatives of AT&T, Verizon, Cisco, major pharmaceutical companies and the Motion Picture Association of America have access to the text, democratically elected members of parliament, advocacy organisations for healthcare and the environment and ordinary citizens are being left out in the cold.
Governments, including the US, have opened up to the public in the past by releasing the draft text of agreements. In 2001, all nine chapters of the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement were released. At the time, this was called an ‘important step’ that would make the trade negotiation process ‘more transparent and accessible’. If this was the standard for public accountability in 2001, it is disconcerting that similar standards are not in play in 2012.
Together, we Green Parties are declaring that we will only support a fair, genuinely progressive trade agreement that promotes sustainable development and the creation of new jobs alongside the protection of the environment and human rights (including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining). We call on our current governments to remove the veil of secrecy surrounding this agreement and to open these negotiations to public input and comment.