Trans-Pacific Trade Agreement Criticised by Trade Union Centres

photo: Caelie Frampton / Flickr

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement (TPP11), signed by Pacific Rim governments in March has been strongly criticised by several trade union centres, including those from Australia, Canada and New Zealand, both for its content and the way it was negotiated. Eleven Pacific Rim countries continued negotiating the pact, in most cases without any serious public consultation, after the US withdrew from the talks.

One of the main concerns about the agreement is the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement procedures, through which investors can sue governments, essentially setting up a system parallel to national justice systems. While there are some limitations on the ISDS procedures – for example they do not apply to investments between Australian and New Zealand - the unions are deeply concerned that this and other aspects of the agreement impose limitations on government’s ability to regulate. Criticisms of ISDS procedures from unions and other civil society groups are increasingly being echoed by judges and legal scholars, and the European Court of Justice has ruled against the use of ISDS within the European Union.

Sharan Burrow, ITUC General Secretary, said “Globally, over many years one trade agreement after another has increased corporate power at the expense of working people, and the TPP11 continues that pattern. It’s time that governments rein in corporate power and get to work on trade arrangements that are negotiated openly, that work for people and that don’t undermine living standards and economic security.”

The liberalisation of data flows under the TPP11 e-commerce provisions would entrench the power of big technology companies over personal and other data, giving rise to concerns over privacy and market dominance by a small number of large tech firms.

Other concerns about the TPP11 include the duration of patents on medicines, making it harder for people in some countries to access life-saving treatments, and provisions liberalising government procurement as well as disciplines on regulation, including the finance sector. Provisions in the agreement on labour standards and the environment are also considered to be too weak.