Those looking for reasons not to be cheerful could turn to the recent Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) gathering of representatives from the US and South Pacific countries, held last week in Bali.
A focal point was the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a free-trade agreement pushed by the US that suspiciously gets little to no mainstream media attention.
While small and medium-sized businesses are spruiked as potential winners if international trade were expanded, critics have pointed out a much different agenda. Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Lori Wallach, told www.democracynow.org, ‘The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establish new powers for corporations.’
And many agree; a swag of lawyers and academics have signed an open letter to negotiators of the TPP trade talks.
As reported on www.nzherald.co.nz in May, the letter claims that before 1999, only 69 dispute cases between countries and corporations had been launched. ‘Today,’ the letter reads, ‘there are 370-plus such cases underway, an increase of 436 per cent.’ They say most cases relate to ‘challenges to governments’ natural resource and environmental policies, not to traditional expropriations.’
And Lock the Gate president Drew Hutton concurred, saying last week it would potentially make it impossible for our government ‘to place environmental and public health restrictions on some of the highest-impact developments in Australia, including coal and coal seam gas mining.’
It’s easy to paint the newly Toned Abbs government as pursuing a ‘pants-down-to-corporations’ foreign policy, but given the secrecy of our government and the US, how are we to know? For what little our federal government is prepared to say on this, see www.dfat.gov.au/fta/tpp.
Hans Lovejoy, editor
Perhaps the biggest story not covered by the media is the sale of Australian property and farms to overseas corporations.
A recent report by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) claims there is no registration of a sale unless it exceeds $244m. This includes both property and business/farm sales. ABARES notes, ‘Some 44 million hectares, or 11.3 per cent of Australian agricultural land, was wholly or partly owned by foreigners, of which around half had majority Australian ownership.’ Another interesting claim from the report is that it’s the US, not China, that is buying up our land. Crikey’s Bernard Keane also wrote an article on this report, and pointed out that, ‘US investors get special treatment under Foreign Investment Review Board (FIRB) courtesy of the Howard government’s Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA), followed by Malaysia, then the British.
Chinese firms had no investment applications at all that year.’ Lynne Wilkinson of Ausbuy weighed into the debate with a recent comparison to New Zealand. ‘They give priority to their own wealth creators and long-term national interests,’ she writes. ‘New Zealand dairy farmers recently won a case in their supreme court to stop the sale of eight dairy farms to China. The case was won on the basis that the long-term economic value of these farms would be lost to the New Zealand economy if foreign interests bought them. In the meantime our governments give subsidies to foreign companies to set up business in competition with local manufacturers (OLAM Singapore almond processing), or sell our assets and intellectual property to foreign interests (Victorian Dairy Research Centre to China) leaving local bidders out.’
The issue of sovereignty can sometimes be confused with being patriotic. The ‘patriot’ concept, however, causes much misery, bigotry and stupidity. Author of How To Make Friends And Influence People, Dale Carnegie, even said of it: ‘Each nation feels superior to other nations. That breeds patriotism – and wars.’
No, what I am talking about is an understanding by a nation that the land it occupies should be in the stewardship and autonomy of its entire population. Just ask Venezuela, who nationalised their resource sector despite the best efforts of the US. Both our major parties continue to ignore this important issue; the Independents and Greens are the only who have courage to speak up.