Trans-Pacific Trade Negotiations Heading in the Wrong Direction

Unions are increasingly concerned that the round of negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), which completed after nine days today in Melbourne, Australia, are heading in dangerous directions. Governments are planning to cede democratic authority to multinational enterprises under the nine-country TPPA currently under negotiation, with major implications for access to affordable medicines, regulation of finance markets and environmental protection according to the ITUC.

A trade union lobby team at the nine-day negotiation session just concluded in Melbourne have also warned of negative impacts on jobs, incomes and working conditions. The unions have drafted a Labour Chapter to be included in the Agreement.

The union participants reported strong pressure on government negotiators to agree to new provisions which would allow investors to sue governments for loss of profit due to government decisions in areas such as public health, the environment and recovery from financial crises.

“It is incredible that some governments are even thinking of giving the finance sector more power when financial deregulation has driven the world to the edge of economic chaos, and difficult to believe that they are also prepared to allow pharmaceutical companies to push up prices of medicines at the expense of public health,” said ITUC General Secretary Sharan Burrow.

The TPPA negotiations currently involve nine Pacific Rim countries - Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the USA and Vietnam. The eleventh round, concluded today in Melbourne, covered investment, financial services, domestic regulation, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, intellectual property rights protection, goods tariffs, and a US-proposed Labour Chapter among other areas.

The TPPA seeks to include provisions on trade, investment and services that go far beyond tariff reductions. The Agreement is expected to have implications on labour rights, quality of employment and regional displacement of jobs. However, there is yet no full understanding of all potential implications on labour because the parties have not yet performed an analysis of the impacts of their proposals. In addition, the inclusion of new cross-cutting issues complicates matters — as there is no model for how these new provisions will affect workers and communities.

However, it was clear from discussions held with negotiators that a strong outcome on labour issues is a low priority for negotiating countries despite evidence that agreements such as the TPPA increase income inequality and undermine working conditions unless strong labour rights are enforced. The opposition to enforcement provisions stands in stark contrast to the sometimes draconian provisions likely in other parts of the agreement that which will almost certainly be at the expense of workers in the TPPA countries.

The model Labour Chapter proposed by the union movement establishes provisions that base minimum employment conditions on the eight ILO Core Labour Standards Conventions and a broad definition of acceptable conditions at work. It contains procedures for enforcement of its provisions, which most governments appear to oppose, as well as a mechanism for cooperation and capacity-building to assist parties to improve their performance in implementing labour standards. A Labour Secretariat and Transnational Works Councils are part of the model Chapter, and although governments are considering some form of cooperation on labour matters, they appear unwilling to go any deeper into ongoing research and monitoring. A crucial aspect of the proposal is that it provides a means to stop weakened labour rights being used for trade or investment advantage.

There is heavy pressure on negotiators to complete the negotiations by June’s APEC Meeting of Ministers Responsible for Trade in Kazan, Russia, but there is a widely shared view that this is impossible given the increasingly complex and controversial nature of the proposed agreement.

Read the trade union proposals for a labour chapter