International trade can be a force for good. Open and transparent trade relations help breed trust between nations, which can help bring about a more peaceful and prosperous world. Multilateral trade deals can also be used to promote environmental sustainability, improve human rights and provide a decent standard of living for all.
Unfortunately, recent trade deals have not supported these aims and are instead giving corporate interests priority. The Turnbull Government is trumpeting the fact that they have managed to finalise a batch of trade deals. But ceding power to multinationals is not something to be proud of.
Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses are the most troubling aspect of recent trade agreements. ISDS allows foreign corporations to sue governments for the impact that public policy has on their profits.
The number of ISDS cases worldwide has increased four-fold since the start of the century. Corporates bringing these cases are winning or settling in more than half of these disputes. The threat of ISDS creates a 'regulatory chill' that puts a freeze on government's ability to regulate in the public interest.
The Greens do not support the inclusion of ISDS in trade deals. The Greens would not sign any trade deals that include ISDS. And the Greens would seek to have ISDS removed from existing trade deals.
Stops the TPP
The TPP is a low point in Australia's trade relations. A twelve-nation trade agreement, led by the United States, negotiated in secret, which threatens to undermine domestic laws. The TPP contains a number of problematic elements, including:
- Loosening Australia's current five year limit on monopoly rights for expensive biologic medicines.
- Preventing federal and state governments from giving preference to local suppliers under procurement contracts.
- A weak environment chapter that does not mention climate change.
And the TPP includes ISDS. John Howard did not include ISDS in the US-Australia Free Trade Agreement. But the US has got their way through the TPP. Corporations based in the Unites States are twice as likely to use ISDS as those from any other countries.
The Greens will vote against the implementing legislation of the TPP. We will vote against it because it contains the undemocratic ISDS. And we will vote against it because it undermines the functioning of our democracy.
The Labor Party have a policy not to support ISDS. However, they voted to support for the Korea and China free trade agreements, both of which contained ISDS. If their policy is to mean anything they must vote against the TPP.
Reform the treaty making process
Australia's treaty-making process is broken. Trade deals are negotiated in secret without the parliament or the public having a clear understanding of what governments are trying to achieve or whose interests are being represented. The reach of trade deals has now expanded into matters of domestic policy and public interest such that they now function as a de facto level of government.
The Greens would require parliamentary oversight of trade agreements during negotiations and parliamentary approval of trade agreements before they are signed. Negotiations should not be undertaken in secret. Texts of trade agreements must be tabled in parliament before they are signed.
Uphold Australia's labor rights
Modern trade deals are creating a 'parallel industrial system' that threatens to undermine the wages and conditions of Australian workers. The Greens would legislate to ensure that trade deals do not diminish Australia's requirements for labour market testing, or as a means of circumventing safety requirements or taxation laws.
Independent economic assessment
The Productivity Commission has outlined a detailed process for it to properly evaluate the costs and benefits of trade agreements. The Greens would mandate this process in legislation to ensure that the parliament is properly informed of the impact of trade deals before signing off on them.
Not everything trickles down
The Greens support government compensation for those stranded as a result of trade liberalisation. The Greens will initiate a senate committee inquiry into this issue. This would examine how to determine when a community has been permanently impacted, and how to structure an assistance package so that it targets the right recipients and so that it does not create perverse incentives.