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TPP - light on environment & labour, sweet on multinationals

6th November 2015

"Climate Change is like Voldemort - it is an evil that must be named. Instead, the Trans-Pacific Partnership virtually ignores the most global pressing issue of our time with some weak language on transition to a low-emission economy," says QUT Professor of Intellectual Property Matthew Rimmer.

The TPP is a massive trade agreement, covering 30 chapters, spanning a dozen countries across the Pacific Rim. The final texts of the agreement have finally been released by the participating nations. There has been much debate over the impact of the trade agreement, particularly in respect of the environment, public health, labor rights, and internet freedom.

Dr Rimmer has scrutinised the chapters of the agreement and commented on its provisions including the environment, health including pharmaceuticals, labour rights, copyright and intellectual property.


"The TPP has only limited coverage of biodiversity, conservation, marine capture fisheries and trade in environmental services and the final text has no mention of 'climate change'.
"But this is only one piece of the devil that's in the detail," says Dr Rimmer.


"The labour chapter is quite cursory and minimalist, too, in many respects. There will continue to be concerns about labour rights, freedom of association and human trafficking and disquiet about Vietnam, Brunei and Malaysia's inclusion in the agreement.

"The final text of the labour chapter will not allay the fears and concerns of the union movement in Australia and abroad.

"There will be much discussion as to whether the enforcement regime will be effective and workable."

Intellectual property

"The private interests of global brands have been given greater attention than that given to consumers or to competition policy," he said.

"The IP chapter pushes for stronger, longer intellectual property rights across a number of regimes, including copyright law, trade mark law, patent law, data protection, biologics and trade secrets.

"The regime provides for an arsenal of civil remedies, criminal offences and border measures.

"Journalists, whistleblowers and civil society could feel the impact of one of the most controversial aspects of the intellectual property chapter in which criminal procedures and penalties for computer crimes, disclosure of trade secrets and espionage are laid out."

IP and Multinationals

"The pharmaceutical industry and the biotechnology industry obtained a much more prescriptive patent regime across the Pacific Rim.

"WHO's Dr Margaret Chan has acknowledged this regime will have a significant impact upon drug pricing and healthcare.

"It is good that PM Malcolm Turnbull and trade minister Andrew Robb resisted demand for longer protection of biologics in Australia."

Hollywood has won a Mickey Mouse Copyright term extension across the Pacific Rim. The US has exported elements of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

"There is stronger protection for well-known trademarks - like those of Nike - against counterfeiting.

"The electronic commerce chapter is a sweetheart deal for Big IT companies from Silicon Valley such as Google, IBM, Facebook, Intel, and Xerox. The chapter reduces trade barriers in respect of electronic commerce.

"However, the chapter does little to enhance consumer rights or privacy of personal information. Moreover, the electronic commerce chapter challenges data sovereignty, network neutrality, and the use of open-source software."

"It seems strange for the TPP to be regulating the governance of the Internet".

Investor state dispute settlements

"Ultimately global law firms will be the winners out of this regime because their skills and talents will be needed to navigate the risks and opportunities of investor-state dispute settlement as the text of the investment chapter is labyrinthine.

"The investment chapter is one of the most controversial parts of the TPP. The regime will apply to national, regional, and local governments.

"Investment is defined broadly to include intellectual property rights - but there are some limitations as to when intellectual property rights can be invoked.

"Nonetheless, it is disturbing that intellectual property holders can invoke investor super-powers in respect of domestic law reform.

"There are exceptions in relation to competition, the environment, and health - but those exceptions are not absolute. There are exclusions for foreign investment authorities."


One piece of good news is that the general exceptions chapter provides for countries to elect to protect tobacco control from the investment regime for tobacco control measures.
"This is significant given Australia's pioneering plain packaging of tobacco products.

However, this is not a complete carve-out for tobacco control measures because the agreement does not necessarily provide protection for tobacco control measures from attack under other regimes.

"The competition chapter provides only weak recognition of competition policy and consumer rights."

Media contact: Niki Widdowson, 07 3138 2999 or
After hours: Rose Trapnell, 0407 585 901.

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