Last week, leaders from around the world announced their commitment to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals which outlined the solutions to address global climate change, environmental degradation, poor health, and poverty. In juxtaposition to this historic announcement, trade ministers from 12 countries reached an agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Monday which sets the economic rules for 40 percent of the world economy in Atlanta, Georgia.
The historic pact was signed by Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam.
Australian Minister for Trade and Investment Andrew Robb said in a statement that the TPP will drive Australia’s integration in a region that underpins Australia’s prosperity. The deal cemented Australia’s successes in concluding trade agreements with China, Japan and Korea, and other partners in the region.
The TPP will eliminate over 98 percent of tariffs among signatories and removes import taxes at around AUS$9 billion of Australian trade. Robb said one third of Australia’s total goods and services exports – worth $109 billion – were sent to TPP countries last year.
However, fierce opposition against the deal is expected. Australia’s Opposition Leader Bill Shorten, for one, opposes the provisions of the pact, including TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) systems which allows a foreign tribunal to intervene with domestic policies.
Friends of the Earth (FoE) International blasted the agreement, saying several of the UN sustainability goals are irreconcilable with the TPP. There are 17 goals and 169 specific targets.
Sam Cossar-Gilbert, FoE international economic justice coordinator, said: “This is a sad day for our planet, as the TPP favours safeguards for corporate investments over safeguards for nature. The TPP chapters on technical barriers to trade will threaten regulators’ capacities to effectively regulate the roughly 85,000 chemicals in commerce needed to protect human health and our environment.”
Renowned scholars and economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Adam S. Hersh warned the TPP is a charade. It is not about “free trade” but rather “an agreement to manage its members’ trade and investment relations – and to do so on behalf of each country’s most powerful business lobbies.”
Make no mistake: It is evident from the main outstanding issues, over which negotiators are still haggling, that the TPP is not about “free” trade.
The TPP is claimed to be shrouded in secrecy. They said it is protected under the ISDS systems which allow foreign investors gain new rights to sue national governments in binding private arbitration for regulations they see as diminishing the expected profitability of their investments.
Stiglitz and Hersh said that such provisions make it hard for governments to conduct their basic functions including protecting their citizens’ health and safety, ensuring economic stability, and safeguarding the environment.
FoE said, “Even very simple consumer sustainability measures like efficiency rating and food labelling on imported goods could be impossible under TPP, because labelling regulation can be deemed a barrier to trade. ”
The TPP faces a number of challenges prior to its ratification as protests and rallies are expected to be held worldwide. In the U.S., it faces a hostile Congress while it is an election issue in Canada. There is also a court action in Japan and a widespread opposition in Australia .
FoE warned the TPP will threaten people and the planet, if ratified.