Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP)

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continues to be shrouded in secrecy, which must lead us to ask the question, “if these negotiations and the Trans-Pacific Partnership are so beneficial, why shroud the details in secrecy rather than shout them from the roof tops?

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT) offers an overview of the TPP, alas the overview seems to offer only dot pointed key points with very little, if any, content. The majority of fine detail released has all be thanks to Wikileaks. As you venture into the TPP you are forced into a world of decoding acronyms and corporate power.

The gospel imperatives, for me, are that of justice, inclusion, care and compassion for both people, particularly the vulnerable, and planet, yet reading the very scant details of the TPP available I am plunged into what could only be described as a model of power and profit before people and planet, a world where corporate rights will be increased at the expense of peoples rights. Without full disclosure from the 12 countries in negotiation of this Partnership, I am left with no alternative but to base my opinion on what has been made available.

The complete “Intellectual Property Rights” chapter was leaked, it’s not particularly pleasant reading for the lay person, however, that said it becomes clear that the TPP is not good news. The extending of patent rights may sound a little dull and irrelevant, yet if we consider this in the context of the large pharmaceutical companies, perhaps our thoughts might change. The extension of patent rights, it appears, could ultimately delay the availability of cheaper generic medicines. This delay could have disastrous consequences for our neighbours in the developing world. The current PBS in place here in Australia could be impacted, potentially forcing an increase in medication costs. This is just one example, but a significant one and therefore we must ask, “is it ethical, ever, to elevate corporate rights above the rights of people and in particular the rights of peoples ability to access necessary medications – are we happy with corporations having the the power of life and death?

The Environmental Chapter that has more recently come to light clearly indicates that the protection of trade rights will over-ride the protection of the environment. The ability to sue governments for the suspension of the investors business becomes a real possibility, if they need to frack, then frack they will, the alternative will be a law-suit. For Australia the protection of the Great Barrier Reef is important and the increase in industry and transportation of coal the need for protection is ever increasingly important. Currently in the compulsory pilotage areas any vessels larger that 50m are required to “carry a licensed marine pilot or be under the command of a master who holds pilotage exemption.” This chapter of the TPP basically suggests that if an investor believes that this regulation is obstructing the trade or investment, the laws currently in place to protect the reef can be over-ridden, all in the name of trade and profit.

Of course, please correct me if I am wrong with any of this, alas the problem is that without the release of and specific TPP details it becomes difficult to refute my interpretation. Let us not sit back complacently and think it will not affect the average person, because form what I have read it will. There needs to be a voice that says people and planet must come before corporate power and profit.

The Rev. Susan Pickering is Minister at West End Uniting Church, Brisbane, and a member of the APCVA Committee.