Friday, 27 March 2015 10:25

TPPA: Govt willing to cede sovereignty on some disputes Featured

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COMMENT The current Australian government is prepared to bend over a little more than Labor was over the question of investor-state dispute settlements (ISDS) in the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, according to a leaked draft of this chapter of the proposed treaty.

The chapter was made public by WikiLeaks on Thursday.

The TPPA, a so-called free trade deal being negotiated among 12 countries including Australia, proposes to give international courts the power to resolve disputes between companies and governments. This can sometimes undermine the sovereignty of a government.

As an example, the tobacco giant Philip Morris has used a similar ISDS clause in a trade deal between Australia and Hong Kong to sue the Australian government over the plain packaging laws which came into effect in Australia a few years ago.

Philip Morris sued the government in Australian courts, claiming that the laws had affected its business, but lost the case. It then relocated its Australian operations to Hong Kong and used the clause in the free trade deal between Australia and the former British colony to file a case there. The case is ongoing.

Numerous governments among the 12 negotiating the TPPA — Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States, and Vietnam — have objected to one provision or another in the treaty as discussions have gone on over the last five years. The previous Labor government had ruled out Australia's assent to ISDS and this had been noted in drafts of the chapter.

But the Abbott government has indicated that it will not oppose ISDS except when it comes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, the Medicare Benefits Scheme, and the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator.

The Gene Technology Regulator is the organisation which looks after the regulation of genetically modified crops and food.

The leak of the ISDS chapter comes as the Australian government is clearing other obstacles which could get in the way of signing the TPPA. Indeed, Australian Trade Minister Andrew Robb (pictured above) was quoted last month as saying that agreement was just weeks away.

On Thursday night, the Australian Senate gave its assent to data retention bills, which, it is claimed, will help in fighting terrorism and crime. In reality, these laws have been rushed through to in the main please mainly American film and music studios so that they can obtain the details of those who are downloading alleged pirated copies of the films and songs.

Additionally, Australia is rushing through a law that will make it possible for these rights holders to force internet service providers to block websites that host what is deemed to be pirated content.

Rights holders will be able to apply for a court order to force an ISP to block a site containing an unauthorised copy of any digital content they own.

ISPs are also being asked to reach an agreement with film and music companies by April to tackle the problem of people downloading copyrighted content.

Australians and citizens of any of the other 13 countries negotiating the TPPA would not be aware of any details were it not for leaks of different chapters over the last couple of years. Else, the details of the ISDS would have become public only four years after the deal took effect.

Photo: Courtesy Andrew Robb's personal website

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Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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