Nov 14, 2011

Beware of what lurks beneath free trade agreements

The hyping of the Trans-Pacific Partnership has begun. But on some issues it's cover for a predatorial United States.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

In lieu of any substantive outcomes from the APEC Leaders' Summit, the government has opted to s-x up the Trans-Pacific Partnership as a key development in free trade for Australia. The Prime Minister and Trade Minister Craig Emerson opted not to bandy figures around about the potential benefits of an agreement, avoiding the remorseless hyping of benefits that accompanied previous FTAs, which the Productivity Commission later cast fairly serious doubt on. Instead, they settled for repeatedly noting that the TPP countries covered a quarter of global GDP. If Japan joined, they noted, it would be a third of global GDP. Sounds impressive until you actually note the countries involved -- Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. We already have an FTA with Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore and Vietnam via ASEAN and one with the Americans. No wonder Gillard and Emerson were at pains to talk up the possible accession of Japan. The welcome mat wasn't out for China, though. The Chinese lament about not being invited prompted one of the choicer quotes of modern trade diplomacy from Mike Froman, US deputy National Security Adviser, who described the TPP as "not something that one gets invited to. It's something that one aspires to." In other words, China, it's not us, it's you. The Chinese regard the TPP as a vehicle for pushing US influence in the region. The Chinese analysis, while self-serving, is in this case correct. Many chapters of the TPP have been under negotiation for months. The chapter on intellectual property was leaked earlier in the year and revealed a US "aspiration" to revive many of the draconian IP-related provisions it had failed to have included in the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement in 2010. Since then, IP expert Kimberlee Weatherall has shown just how much impact a number of the draft TPP proposals would have on Australians, including the imposition of statutory damages for filesharing, and the extension of powers to extract private customer information from ISPs. Health academic Deborah Gleeson has also shown how damaging the pharmaceutical-related draft provisions could be to Australia's PBS. When it comes to intellectual property, the United States is a predator, determined to exploit every possible mechanism to impose its own draconian approach to IP -- crafted at the behest of corporate giants in the copyright, agriculture and pharmaceutical industries -- on other countries. The WikiLeaks cables repeatedly demonstrated the importance attached to intellectual property interests by US diplomats. Having failed to achieve its goals with ACTA, the US is clearly using the TPP as a means of establishing a new IP benchmark with a smaller, more pliable grouping of countries. There was a further sequel to the WikiLeaks cables last week. A US court upheld the Department of Justice's subpoena to Twitter to force it to reveal information about the Twitter accounts of Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir, Tor developer Jacob Appelbaum (the only one of the trio who resides in the US) and Rop Gonggrijp of the Netherlands, all linked to WikiLeaks. It's assumed Facebook and Google received similar subpoenas, but Twitter was the only company to inform its customers and contest the subpoena and the demand for secrecy that accompanied it. The order also covered the WikiLeaks twitter account, meaning details of all one million-plus followers of that account will be provided to the Department of Justice, as part of its ongoing attempt to conjure a prosecution against Julian Assange. For the United States, extraterritorial application of its domestic laws is a key objective. The TPP will be a powerful vehicle for doing just that.

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22 thoughts on “Beware of what lurks beneath free trade agreements

  1. Jim Reiher

    When Australia got into a “free trade” agreement with the US during the Howard years (and Labor supported), I am pretty sure we could not – and still can not – sell our beef or sugar to America …. right? They still block that because we could undercut their local market. So tell me again…. how doesw “free trade” work? It seems to be a mechanism for the most powerful nations to further their own markets and still avoid allowing real competition to “hurt” their home industries of choice.

    Maybe I am missing something. But I am very suspicious of “free trade”. I dont believe there is an even playing field and it has to advantage the rich and powerful.

  2. Liz45

    @JIM – I’m with you, Jim. Latin America have the right idea, they told the US to get stuffed? Which of course only brought about more strident ‘comments’ from the US? No wonder they demonise Hugo Chavez and others? All that lovely oil? All those resources etc and Chavez won’t allow corporate america to pay workers a pittance and not pay their taxes? tut tut!

    Sadly, Chile is in the pocket of the US – thanks? to Pinochet and the right now in power? (they’re even intend to privatise the education system – which Uni students and others are protesting over – among other things?)

    I think it should be called, ‘US free for all trade’?

  3. Jim Reiher

    ‘US free for all trade’ … lol… well said Liz
    The whole thing is tragic. Fair trade is a much better goal I reckon.

  4. Liz45

    @JIM – Why isn’t the PM asking or answering the obvious questions? Why does the US demand ‘free for all’ trade with other countries, but protect their own trade in eg agriculture? I’m sick of us putting up with ‘anything goes’ re the US while our people have to toe the line? What about PBS and other vital health areas?

    Isn’t it strange how the US is ‘concerned’ about China but relied on the country for ‘humungas’ loans – to get them out of the s**t for how many years now? I’m confused! Like many, I’m more frightened of the US than China? I don’t want the military presence in the NT – their reputation in other countries is enough! Lock up your daughters indeed!

  5. AR

    JimR & Liz – wot you said. We can’t sell them sugar and they’re pressuring us to take their filthy, hormone, antibiotic, sodden beef? Oz buy foreign beef FFS!
    And don’t forget BigPharma’s systemic antipathy to the PBS!

  6. Liz45

    @AR – I seem to recall that it was Mark Latham who insisted on changes to the free trade agreement re our PBS among other things? The US would love to operate in our country re drugs, prescriptions etc like they do in the US. I think we should be INSISTING on knowing exactly what the plans are – none of this ‘commercial in confidence’ bs? I have a healthy skepticism – I just wish the Gillard Govt did too! We seem to get all ‘gooey eyed’ or is it adopting the ‘brown nosing’ pose when it comes to the US? It’s pathetically embarrassing!

    If a person in Australia was denied access to cancer care for instance, there’d be riots in the streets – and I’d be out there too! We can’t let it happen, or the equivalent re prescription drugs! We don’t let people die here because they’re poor! The people of the US don’t seem to worry too much when elderly people are put in a taxi and taken to the paupers outpatients? Or a 30 yr old knocked back re some form of treatment? Let’s make sure we don’t have that crap here!

    Do you remember the genetic testing for breast cancer? Families with a history forced to pay obscene amounts due to some US patent bs? It was appalling! We don’t want it!

  7. Salamander

    Sounds like a disaster. Why does our Govt go weak at the knees over this?

  8. Owen Gary

    I bet the farmers are over the moon about this. Nationals leader & so called advocate of the farmers, Mark Vaile sold out the farmers to the U.S on that one. He wears many hats these days only some of which include:-

    1. Servcorp- Non Exec Director
    2. Ashton Resources- Chairman
    3. Rabo Bang- Director advisory board
    4. Virgin Blue- Non Exec Director
    5. CBD Energy- Chairman
    6. Stamford Land Corp Ltd
    7. Vaile & associates

    I could keep going but he’s got too many fingers & Iv’e run out of pies!!!

    I see lots more GM produce coming our way if the yanks tie up Asian agricultural markets with GM crops & lower labour costs. The Yanks have always been trying to destroy the Australian agricultural sector because about 90% of their market is GM. They want all Australian food crops controlled by Monsanto, because they are an equal opportunities “Poisoner” other business interests also want access to these evil coal seam gas ventures, but need to break the farmers 1st.
    I hope he burns in hell for leading Australian farmers into dark times.

  9. GlenTurner1

    The patent provisions are in practice all one way. Consider the difficulty that CSIRO has had in enforcing its wireless data patent upon U.S technology firms. Overseas patent holders aren’t given the same level of access to U.S patent enforcement laws as are U.S firms.

    You’ve also got to ask what is the benefit to Australian consumers in harmonised patent laws. Do we really benefit from Apple Computer preventing Samsung from selling a competing product?

    We run the risk of out negotiators making our copyright laws so strict that Australia is not competitive. For example, ending up with statutory penalties for infringement, but no fair use or public domain.

  10. lindsayb

    Ah! The Orwellian Free Trade Agreement is back!
    The American multinationals are free to screw us over, and there is bugger all we can do about it.
    Don’t you love it when a superpower uses its laws to allow its multinational corporations to rape and pillage all over the “Free” world?
    Hope we are all in favour of GM crops, expensive pharmaceuticals, and million dollar fines for file sharing.

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