The secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership is causing great concern within the Australian community.

‘The what Partnership?’ you ask.

Exactly.

Representatives from the Australian government have been in negotiations with emerging Asia-Pacific nations since 2005. Countries like Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United states are seeking economic and trading efficiencies through uniformity of labour, investment, and intellectual property laws – and an agreement on ways to reduce tariffs between member nations.

Sounds good, right?

Well the problem is that negotiations are taking place without consultation or consent of the Australian people.

Trade Minister, Andrew Robb, told ABC’s Radio National, “It’s quite complicated.” He was referring not only to the negotiations, but also the consequences.

The secrecy, say negotiators, is in Australia’s best interest. It allows the representatives to bluff and push for the best terms in the Partnership.

“Why would I set out to make Australians materially worse off?” asked Mr Robb rhetorically.

But not everyone is convinced.

There is great concern that changes to patent laws would see cheaper Asian products flooding our market. Lawyers have expressed worry that the watering down of intellectual property laws would decimate some markets. Unions are edgy about the thought of cheaper labour being imported and thereby drive down wages and working conditions. And consumer groups, such as Choice, are outraged at the implications for Australian shoppers.

But perhaps the biggest worry comes in the form of the Investor State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) body.

This will be a settlement body with the power to oversee disputes between the trans-national companies and governments.

In effect, it will diminish the sovereignty of the member nations, making their policies and practices accountable to those of the Partnership agreement.

“We consider it inappropriate to elevate an individual investor or company to equal status with a nation state to privately enforce a public treaty between two sovereign countries.” said Lori Wallach, the director of the U.S. Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, to New Republic magazine.

“[ISDS] gives extraordinary new privileges and powers and right to just one interest.”

But minister Robb believes the ISDS is in Australia’s best interest:

“We have got ISDS agreements with 28 countries that have extended back over 30 years.

“Now the sun I notice still comes up every morning despite this being the case. And yet, if you read a lot of what some of these people are saying today, you’d think the world’s gong to stop if we have an ISDS cause.”

Unfortunately, Australian’s won’t know the details of the new Partnership until the ink on the contract is dry.

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