CHOICE petition: Don’t let Australia trade consumer rights away

CHOICE is today launching a campaign calling on the Federal Government to release the contents of the highly secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal.

The TPP is a free trade treaty involving 12 countries: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, United States of America and Vietnam. The next stage of the negotiations will take place at the meeting on the World Trade Organization in Bali this December.

19 rounds of negotiations have taken place since 2010, and they have all been conducted in complete secrecy, with the contents hidden from consumers and the general public.

“CHOICE supports the benefits that free trade can bring to consumers, with access to a greater range of products and more competitive prices,” says CHOICE CEO Alan Kirkland.

“We also welcome recent comments from the Government saying there must be net benefits to Australia from any deal, and we recognise some level of confidentiality is part and parcel of negotiations.

“However, CHOICE is increasingly concerned at the absolute secrecy surrounding the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“It means there is no way of knowing whether some of the leaked texts and reports from the deal pose real risks to Australian consumers,” Mr Kirkland says.

Based on drafts leaked to date, CHOICE is concerned that the TPP could hurt consumers by:

  • Forcing Australia to adopt draconian copyright laws, including an outright ban on parallel imports.
  • Preventing the government from introducing copyright reform, undermining a review currently underway by the Australian Law Reform Commission.
  • Allowing foreign-owned electricity companies to challenge moves by our governments to reduce over investment in poles and wires infrastructure, the main factor driving up electricity prices.
  • Limiting our government’s ability to make decisions on food labelling and public health, undermining current process, such as the potential for improved palm oil labelling.

Consumer organisations from other countries involved in the negotiations have raised similar concerns. This includes ConsumerNZ, the Consumers Union of Japan and the international consumer organisation, Consumers International, of which CHOICE and CFA are members.

“CHOICE is calling on the Australian Government to bring consumers to the negotiating table by releasing the text before anything else is agreed to in December,” Mr Kirkland says.

“There’s a lot at stake in this process for Australian consumers – and Australian businesses – but under the current process the Australian public won’t get to see the agreement until it is already signed. This isn’t good enough.”

“For example, United States-based businesses and industry groups have been given access to the text through the US ‘cleared advisor’ scheme. Meanwhile consumers and other civil society groups have been locked out.

“We don’t want to see Australia trade away crucial consumer rights and interests.”

Consumers can join CHOICE’s campaign by signing their petition.