Concerns Over Trans-Pacific Partnership Environ Protection

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Intellectual property rights provisions also at issue

By Francis Keany

MELBOURNE, Australia (Radio Australia, November 6, 2015) – The long-awaited text of the landmark Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is released, with critics highlighting concerns about environmental protections and intellectual property rights in the agreement.

Critics of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) warn the full text of the agreement highlights serious concerns about environmental protections and intellectual property rights.

For the first time the fine print of the agreement — which would eliminate 98 per cent of all tariffs between the 12 nations including Australia — has been released.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb welcomed the release of the figures, claiming it is proof the deal will provide benefits for Australians.

"[The release] provides the Australian public with an opportunity to examine the text and more fully understand any areas of the negotiation that are of interest to them," Mr Robb said in a statement.

"The TPP forms a transformational series of agreements that will contribute substantially to the diversification of our economy.

"This will reduce our reliance on any one sector or any one market, regardless of how strong they are."

Agreement on the pact between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam was more than five years in the making.

Analysts and activists in each country, however, are sure to pore over the voluminous document, eager to sift through its 30 chapters.

Intellectual property law professor at Queensland University of Technology, Matthew Rimmer, has expressed concern about provisions affecting IT, health, environmental law and labour rights.

"It will be very challenging I think for policy makers around the Pacific Rim to digest this epic leviathan of an agreement which is very technical and prescriptive and also complex in terms of its details," Dr Rimmer said.

Some safeguards have been put in place to protect the plain packaging of cigarettes against legal challenges.

Concerns had been raised that the TPP could have allowed cigarette manufacturers to directly sue Australia over the impact of plain packaging laws introduced in 2013.

Dr Rimmer said the chapter on environmental regulations is also lacking detail.

"It seems to me remarkable that the environmental chapter in the Trans-Pacific Partnership doesn't even mention the phrase climate change," he said.

"It's kind of like Voldemort in the Harry Potter series, it's a taboo phrase in the Trans-Pacific Partnership."

He described the section on foreign investors as "labyrinthine", while warning that there were likely to be difficulties for labour rights.

Concerns have also been raised about the penalties for disclosing trade secrets.

"There are real concerns that the final text that they have with criminal procedures and penalties don't have very clear defences, particularly in relation to journalists and whistleblowers," Dr Rimmer said.

"So I'd be very concerned about how those measures might impact on freedom of speech and freedom of the press."

Its ratification would also be a legacy-defining achievement for US president Barack Obama and his administration's pivot to Asia, aimed at countering China's rising economic and political influence.

Newly appointed US house speaker Paul Ryan however said he continues to reserve judgment on the deal.

"Enactment of TPP is going to require the administration to fully explain the benefits of this agreement and what it will mean for American families. I continue to reserve judgment on the path ahead," he said, adding that he remains hopeful about the pact.

Labor to look at TPP 'very carefully'

The Federal Government said the full text will be tabled in Parliament for 20 sitting days, with the joint standing committee on treaties to conduct an inquiry into the TPP.

Deputy opposition leader Tanya Plibersek says they will closely examine the deal when it is tabled in Parliament.

"We're very keen to make sure that measures like plain packaging — where the Australian Government has legislated for the health and benefit of the Australian people — are protected," she said.

"We'll be looking at the Trans-Pacific Partnership very carefully."

A number of side-letters, outlining negotiations between individual countries on the TPP, are yet to be made public.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had previously described the TPP as a "gigantic foundation stone" for the economy, after the negotiations wrapped up in Atlanta in October.

Collectively, the deal will represent over 40 per cent of world GDP.

 

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