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