#TalkAboutIt: Five ways the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could affect you
23rd July 2015
Consumer group Choice has warned that Australians could be worse off under the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, as trade ministers meet next week in Hawaii to try to finalise the agreement.
The controversial deal covers 40 per cent of the global economy and involves 12 countries around the Pacific rim, including Australia and the United States.
Advocates say the pact, which has been negotiated in secret since 2010, will boost investment opportunities and lower trade barriers.
But critics have concerns.
“This is going across every sector you could imagine of the economy, from the way we use the internet to the price of medicines,” Matt Levey, spokesman for consumer group Choice, told the ABC.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott has stated the TPP could mean “everyone is better off”.
So, here are five ways the TPP could affect you.
Tighter copyright laws
Under the TPP, Australia and other countries may impose criminal penalties for those found guilty of copyright infringement.
Mr Levey said the deal would likely see the criminalisation of copyright provisions that up until now have been civil penalties.
“So it might be taking a selfie inside a movie theatre and having some of the film visible in the background,” he said.
“You’re talking about taking that into an offence which wouldn’t previously existed. Once you bring in a harsher copyright regime, it’s very hard to reform.”
Mr Levey said there was a possibility the TPP could also harm Australian innovation in a digital world.
“Our big concern is that by signing up to the provisions in the TPP, we’re potentially going to lock Australia into the last century, when we actually need a copyright system that’s reformed for the future.”
Supporters argue that copyright protections in the TPP promote the creation of new works.
“Companies won’t do this work unless the original is protected by copyright,” Annissa Brennan, from the the Motion Picture Association of America, was quoted as saying by news service Intellectual Property Watch.
Food safety and labelling
The TPP would not require countries to provide information on where a food product comes from, which means it may restrict the ability of governments to identify how food was produced or whether it was genetically modified.
“There is a real risk that the TPP will make it even harder for us to get the simple, meaningful food labelling that Australian shoppers want in the supermarket,” Mr Levey said.
The Australian government is not intending to sign up to international agreements that would restrict Australia’s capacity to govern in our own interest.Trade Minister Andrew Robb
“It might be that an Australian government comes along and says, ‘OK, we want to make it much clearer when you’re in a supermarket whether that product contains palm oil’. We could end up with restrictions under the TPP that would make that practice seem discriminatory.”
However, the Government said there was nothing in the TPP negotiations that would weaken Australia’s policies or regulations on food labelling.
“All parties negotiating the TPP will retain their current rights under the World Trade Organisation to make policy related to human health and safety,” a spokesman for Trade Minister Andrew Robb told the Guardian.
“The Australian Government is not intending to sign up to international agreements that would restrict Australia’s capacity to govern in our own interest.”
Cost of medicines
Mr Levey said Choice was “deeply concerned” about the potential impacts from the TPP on the price of medicines.
According to a leaked chapter, several TPP member nations are pushing to make pharmaceutical patents last longer.
“The TPP is very complex when it comes to medicines, and one of our particular concerns is it might delay the period until cheaper generic drugs can come onto the market,” Mr Levey said.
“At the moment it’s generic drugs that are often affordable for Australians, it’s what our Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme uses to subsidise medicine and ensure we are actually giving Australians access to medicines they need.
“Academics have … estimated that actually keeping those generic drugs off the market for longer is … going to increase the price of medicines for Australians.”
Earlier this year, Medicines Australia wrote an open letter to Parliament urging policymakers to ignore the “alarmist and misguided” claims contained in media reports relating to the TPP.
“Nearly 10 years ago, when Australia and the United States signed a free trade agreement, critics similarly predicted the demise of the PBS,” it said.
“They argued that prices for medicines in Australia would skyrocket and that Australian patients would be denied access to new and essential medicines. They were wrong.”
Within the TPP is a clause on investor state dispute settlement (ISDS), which allows foreign companies to sue the signatory governments for loss of future profits.
Tobacco company Philip Morris is currently suing Australia under an ISDS provision in a Hong Kong-Australia investment agreement.
Mr Levey believes having an ISDS clause in the TPP is unnecessary and “dangerous”.
“We’re particularly concerned when the Productivity Commission — and they’re not known for being anti-trade — comes out and says ISDS is a risk too far, that the benefits don’t outweigh the costs,” he said.
“That’s a big warning sign that this is not a necessary thing to have in the agreement, we can actually use the established legal system.”
However, Mr Robb has said a lot of the statements about ISDS “amounts to deliberate scare-mongering”.
He went onto say that Australia had “progressively engaged with now 28 countries with investment agreements which include an ISDS … and the sun is still coming up every morning”.
According to the Government and others, the TPP negotiations need to remain secret in order to reach an outcome.
But for many, it is the main criticism of the process.
“For those who say we have to keep the TPP secret, our answer is very simple: Look at Europe,” Mr Levey said.
What we’ll end up with is a take it or leave it deal.Choice spokesman Matt Levey
“They’re negotiating what is the mirror agreement of the TPP, it’s called the TTIP [Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership].
“The Europeans have managed to do an almost identical process but make it much more transparent.
“We think it’s no good way to make policy to be locked inside closed-door rooms in secret, not having the experts in there that we might have in our universities, in our industry, in our community sector, informing those discussions.
“And what we’ll end up with is a take-it-or-leave-it deal.”
If the TPP is agreed, the Trade Minister said the public would be able to look at the detail of the deal.
“Once everything is concluded, it will be out there for months and months before the Parliament finally ratifies it,” Mr Robb said.