Today, Wikileaks has published the leaked “Investment Chapter” of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The TPP is a 'free trade' agreement that has been being negotiated in secret by governments for the past 5 years. With the agreement in it’s final stages, the document was to remain classified for the next 4 years, but it's release will spur on the controversy that surrounds it.
The treaty is set to include up to 40% of the world’s GDP and already includes countries such as the US, Japan, Mexico, Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
The major element of note within the leaked document is the increased power it would lend global corporations by creating a new court or tribunal where companies could “sue” governments if that state’s law or policies could be deemed to interfere with "claimed future profits". These are known as ISDS tribunals, held in secret and above national court systems.
These tribunals have no obligation to acknowledge human right law or public interest and operate without the representations of all parties who may be affected by their outcome. In short, global corporations will be able to sue governments and obtain compensation from the taxpayer.
Wikileaks Editor, Julian Assange, commented upon the release of the document: “The TPP has developed in secret an unaccountable supranational court for multinationals to sue states. This system is a challenge to parliamentary and judicial sovereignty. Similar tribunals have already been shown to chill the adoption of sane environmental protection, public health and public transport policies.”
These ISDS tribunals are already ongoing. For example Phillip Morris, a US tobacco firm, used one such tribunal to sue Australia - yes, a nation state - for bringing into law the plain-style packaging often talked about here in the UK. The grounds behind Australia’s law had been public health but on grounds of "loss of profit" the government could be punished in court. The lawsuit is ongoing since January 2011. In a concluded case, oil company Occidental won a compensation of $2.3 billion from Ecuador, after the government had revoked the company’s Amazon drilling project which had violated national law.
The European Equivalent
The TPP is a precursor to the TTIP, another version of this same agreement also nearing conclusion. While the TPP includes Pacific nations, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership or TTIP is exclusively US and EU. Journalists and commentators like George Monbiot have been drawing public attention to this agreement for over a year. In particular his work on dragging these treaties into the light sparked massive campaigning and enormous petitions.
The TTIP is being pushed forward more forcefully by the Obama administration and by David Cameron, who both have taken to the podium in an effort to quench “myths” surrounding the TTIP agreements.
The fears of campaigners, however, look firmly grounded with the secret nature of such an agreement and in the apparent unaccountability it affords corporate interest. The treaties are viewed as a serious attack on the sovereignty of often democratic nations and their ability to act in the interest of their people. The publications by Wikileaks are not helping to improve public faith in the Prime Minister’s silent mythbusting. These are perhaps questions worth addressing, as the upcoming election nears.