Trade Minister Andrew Robb was keen to rip up some tin foil hats in an interview with the ABC yesterday, covering the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Among the claims while speaking to reporter Kirsten Drysdale was that the Australian public would have "months and months" to debate the TPP, with ample opportunity to change it before it became law.
"The total package is not finished yet," said Robb. "It will be out there for months and months before the parliament finally ratifies it. It will go to two public hearings."
It should be noted that at that last "public" hearing, journalists weren't allowed inside.
The TPP has thus far been negotiated in secret between several countries, though parts of it have been leaked through WikiLeaks. What we've seen of the deal has caused alarm, with worries that it benefits corporations and the United States more than the Australian public. Specifically, it could raise technology prices, pharmaceutical prices, and give more power to copyright holders.
"I'm concerned about that, too," Robb responded to the medical industry's concern over costs. "I've conceded nothing. That issue is ongoing at this stage."
Also worrying is the ability for corporations to sue the government if they believe they're being discriminated against.
"If you invest in another country, and that country takes discriminatory action against your company but not the local companies, that's when it can be applied," said Robb. In such a case, it wouldn't be an Australian court settling the dispute, it would be an international panel "made up of people nominated by both parties, and the UN."
Critics of the TPP have called this a threat to Australia's sovereignty, and Drysdale put forward several examples in which this could be abused by corporations, such as banning a pesticide for health reasons. Yet Robb adamantly said that wouldn't be the case.
He also claimed that industry figures had been brought in for consultation on the relevant sections of the TPP, and their advice would continue to be taken on board: "Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed."
One interesting point put forward by Robb was that out of the goods being transported from country to country, the amount of goods intended for use in the production in other goods was 20% in 1990. Now, it's 70%. These goods are taxed and verified every time they pass borders, which adds up costs for corporations, and Robb claims the TPP would help with this problem by streamlining our quality standards on goods, so they don't have to be verified at each point in the chain.
Yet many of the criticisms of the TPP, the Trade Minister simply waived away as being "anti-trade" or "anti-growth". That's not very encouraging, but hopefully the agreement will go through the open process Robb describes above, so we can make sure we're protected. From pesticides, and everything else.