Trans Pacific Partnership agreement (TPP): time to mobilize public opinion and legislators to stop the race to the bottom
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement was signed by 12 countries on the 5th of October 2015 after a final 5 day long marathon of negotiations in Atlanta (US) (see UNI Global Union reactive statement on that day). The deal is between 12 countries: Australia, Canada, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, the US, Vietnam, Chile, Brunei, Singapore and New Zealand. If ratified, it would cover 40% of the world’s economy and set the foundation for trade in e-commerce, financial services, property rights, medicine and much more, impacting the lives of millions of workers.
Most of the text remained secret for many years with only a handful of negotiators and corporate advisors having access to it. The deal was negotiated behind closed doors far away from any democratic processes which gave the opportunity to powerful corporate lobbies to advance their agenda without being challenged by the counter-power of Parliaments, citizens and workers.
For Gerard Dwyer (SDA, Australia), “communities and workers have been locked outside the room. The TPP will only deliver benefits for large corporations, not for workers. If we want the TPP to benefit people, we need to be inside the room.”
On Thursday the 5th of November, the full TPP text was released by the government of New Zealand and the White House in the United States. The text will now go through the ratification process at the US Congress and in the other 11 countries. It is therefore urgent to act.
For James Sauber (Chief of Staff of AFL-CIO in the US), "we are doing everything we can to stop the ratification process at the US Congress. The public opinion is very much opposed to the TPP but there is no democratic debate as such because the Congress can only vote yes or no. But I think we will win, because this agreement doesn't represent the interest of people and the Democrats are very much opposed to it."
Jenny Ahn who represents UNIFOR in Canada is greatly concerned about this agreement: “we will be asking our newly elected government to look at this a lot more carefully. The TPP could potentially impact millions of lives. We need more time for a democratic debate to ensure that workers,- including migrant workers, are well protected through rules that can be enforced, which is not the case in the current agreement.”
For Philip Jennings, the General Secretary of UNI Global Union, “the text is worse than expected and would be a major threat to democracy, financial regulation, labour rights, public health, and environmental protection”. Our concerns are as follows:
ISDS: the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS) are at the heart of TPP. These are secret tribunals in which private courts can sue governments for loss of profits caused by changes in legislation. The TPP expands the scope of domestic policies that can be challenged in ISDS, including policies related to human rights.
Labour Chapter: the TPP includes a Labour Chapter which is a step in the right direction. The article 19.10, paragraph 6.s), intends to promote “information sharing and dialogue related to conditions of employment by enterprises operating in two or more Parties with representative worker organisations in each Party” with respect to labour relations in multi-national enterprises. However we are concerned about the enforceability of this Chapter and its ability to change the behaviour of parties. The labour dispute settlement can only take place at a state-to-state level and there is insufficient guarantee to avoid a race to the bottom in terms of working conditions.
Job consequences: the potential negative impact on employment has not been taken into account. The TPP would put pressure on the global labour market through increased competition. It would lead to further restructuring, outsourcing and subcontracting hence raising concerns on job security, terms and conditions of employment and living wage.
Financial regulation: TPP would undermine the on-going efforts made by governments to ensure adequate financial regulation for protecting consumers and avoiding future financial crisis. Companies could challenge government-led regulation on the ground of the TPP. Moreover, large financial institutions (also known as “too big to fail”) would be able to expand their financial markets putting the financial system at risk.
Public services: we are concerned that the TPP would have negative impacts on the provision by governments of essential public services such as education and health, and would lead to further privatization of public goods.
On line data protection: unregulated personal data cross-border transfers would be allowed, and be processed in potentially abusive ways. Many data protection rules maintained by countries could be challenged.
Environmental protection: the environment chapter is weak and not enforceable. The TPP doesn’t mention climate change and would not allow governments to regulate on the basis of climate protection. The TPP would actually undermine the implementation of the SDGs and COP21 decisions and jeopardize the implementation of the existing Multilateral Agreements on the Environment.
Impact on other trade negotiations: The TPP has far-reaching implications for other parts of the world as well. The EU is already saying that Europe should not be left behind and speed up the on-going talks on TTIP. In other words, the signing of TPP will most certainly put the TTIP, CETA, RCEP and TiSA negotiations into fast track mode.
Health: the TPP would limit patients’ access to cheaper generic drugs and increase the financial burden on health services. The TPP extends medicines patents, test data protection and market protection for patented products therefore increasing their price, blocking the ability to make generics and reducing their affordability for people.
“In Chile, there are 4 million people who don’t have access to a good system of health care with limited access to medicine. There are three large pharmaceutical companies: Saleobrand, Ahumada and Cruz Verde. With the TPP, we can expect these monopolies to be reinforced and the price of drugs to stay up. Millions of people with chronical diseases won’t be able to care for themselves”, added Cecilia Grau (SCA, Chile).
In its current form, the TPP is flawed deal which doesn’t present the guarantees we need to safeguard social and environmental standards.
Therefore the UNI World Executive Board adopted a statement urging union affiliates to use their influence and power to mobilize the public opinion and their members and ask for a public and democratic debate in the Parliaments of the 12 countries concerned.