Australian politicians slam TPP for ‘excessive secrecy’

Trade representatives from 12 nations gather for a group photo during the Trans Pacific Partnership meeting in Sydney (Reuters / Jason Reed)
Australian lawmakers have slammed the country’s deal-making process as one lacking transparency and oversight. They’ve particularly criticized the currently negotiated Trans-Pacific Partnership for its “excessive secrecy.”

Thereport, entitled the “Blind Agreement,” was a joint party report from the Labor, Liberal and Green parties. They were scathing of the lengths of secrecy that those supporting deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) are prepared to go to, in order to get the bill passed.

“It is no longer satisfactory for parliamentarians and other stakeholders to be kept in the dark during negotiations when Australia's trading partners, including their industry stakeholders, have access under long-established and sensible arrangements,” said Labor Party Senator Alex Gallacher, who chaired the committee.

The report mentioned that confidence in negotiating free trade agreements is “at its lowest ebb in Australia,” due to the “excessive secrecy around TPP negotiations,” while those who had concerns were often frowned upon and were effectively “blindfolded” due to a lack of information.

“Parliament should play a constructive role during negotiations and not merely rubber-stamp agreements that have been negotiated behind closed doors,” Gallacher said.

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Scott Ludlam, a Senator for the Green Party, who was also part of the committee that drew up the report, talked about a chapter on intellectual property rights, which only became available through WikiLeaks. He mentions that this chapter alone has the power to “attack internet freedoms and criminalize downloading.”

"We know from other leaks the TPP covers everything from giving America the right to put Australian Internet users under surveillance, to giving multinational companies the rights to sue governments for the laws they make," Ludlam said.

Writing on his website, Ludlam cited the provisions that outline the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), which is part of TPP and would allow a corporation to sue a foreign national government over legislation that has been democratically introduced. These for example would include labor, environmental or health protections, such as a ban on cigarette labeling.

"The tobacco company Philip Morris is currently using ISDS clauses in an obscure Hong Kong-Australia investment agreement to sue the Australian government for millions of dollars in 'damages' cause by our plain packaging legislation," Ludlam said. "Our government has spent who knows how many millions of tax dollars fighting the company in an international court for the last four years."

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The TPP, a key part of President Barack Obama's pivot to Asia, aims to counter China's rising economic and diplomatic power by developing a partnership in the Asia-Pacific region.

Along with the United States, 11 other countries have taken part in TPP negotiations: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The deal would exclude China and serve to counter its influence in the region.

While supporters of the TPP say it will open up new markets for American products, opponents have raised concerns over a number of issues, including currency manipulation, environmental protections, internet privacy, and transparency. Additionally, they say it will harm American workers, while any benefits it may produce will go to large corporations.

The deal has also been criticized for lack of transparency, as the contents of the TPP has been kept in strict secrecy. Rumors that corporate lobbyists have been drafting the substance of the deal have been given a boost by recent leaked revelations that corporations would be allowed to sue governments in private courts over profits lost due to regulation.

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WikiLeaks has already distributed some of the chapters regarding the free trade agreement, however and has even set up a crowd funding page to try and raise money as a reward for anyone who was willing to release the rest of the documents.

However, one former Obama campaign adviser who had clearance to access TPP drafts, wrote that disclosing anything from the documents would be a criminal offense.

“The government has created a perfect Catch 22: The law prohibits us from talking about the specifics of what we’ve seen, allowing the president to criticize us for not being specific,” Michael Wessel wrote in Politico.

“Instead of simply admitting that he disagrees with me— and with many other cleared advisors— about the merits of the TPP, the president instead pretends that our specific, pointed criticisms don’t exist.”