Trade ministers from12 Pacific Rim nations failed to finalize the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) on the weekend, as they had been expected to do.
Quite what went wrong – or right – is difficult to know because the negotiations have been held in secret and what little has come to light has been courtesy of Wikileaks.
One sticking point seems to have come from grassroots resistance over the Investor-state Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions within the agreement. These provisions would, it is believed, allow companies investing in a country to sue the government of that country if the company deemed the government had passed laws that would negatively affect the company’s business.
It seems, too, that under the provisions the disputes would be held before secret, extrajudicial tribunals whose deliberations would never be made public, despite the fact that the public, in the guise of taxpayers, would be liable to any costs awarded against governments.
Some have brushed aside the ISDS issue as being overblown because such provisions have formed part of many international trade agreements in the past and have led to relatively few disputes. But others counter that the rate of increase in respect of such disputes is becoming exponential.
The tobacco industry is a focus of attention at the moment because the bête noire of ISDS opponents is currently Philip Morris Asia, which is understood to be fighting the Australian government over standardized tobacco packaging in a secretive tribunal being held in Singapore. The dispute is said already to have cost Australian taxpayers A$50 million.
One thing that does not seem to be aired is why the ISDS tribunals have to be extrajudicial and held in secret.
It is believed that other disputes have arisen over patent rights and so-called intellectual property rights.
The trade ministers from the 12 countries involved said on Friday that they had made significant progress on the agreement and would continue to work on resolving a ‘limited number of remaining issues’, according to a TMA note citing the US Trade Representative.
The statement apparently said the negotiators would remain in ‘close contact’ and continue their intensive engagement to find common ground and also continue to work to formalize the agreements reached so far.
They added that they were more confident than ever that the TPPA was within reach and would support jobs and economic growth across the Asia Pacific region.
Two extensive backgrounds to what is known about the TPPA are at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-08-03/verrender-why-we-should-welcome-tpp-talks-stalling/6667056; and: http://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2015/08/03/isds-a03.html