Calls for Trans Pacific Partnership to be independently assesed

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After years of negotiations details surrounding the highly-anticipated Trans Pacific Partnership have been released to the public.

The government says they prove just how beneficial the deal will be for Australia, but critics are still concerned about provisions on health, intellectual property and the environment.

Thousands of pages have been published online showing plans to remove nearly all tariffs on everything from energy and resources to food and manufactured goods.

"It's been obvious to us all along where were the sensitive areas," Trade Minister Andrew Robb told ABC radio. "I'm very confident that we've addressed those and protected issues that were of great concern to various groups within the Australian community."

But analysts beg to differ; the chapter on environmental regulation, for example, doesn't mention climate change.

Sections on intellectual property lock in current regulations, which at least one analyst said could stand in the way of "good legal reform" as technologies and economies continue to change.

"In the long term that can cost us," said Sydney Law School Associate Professor Kimberlee Weatherall. "It can cost us innovation and it can make products covered by intellectual property more expensive. That can be everything from movies to essential medicines."

Tania Voon, an Economic Law Professor at Melbourne University, said the agreement is more flexible in terms of public health compared to other treaties. But the public's ability to formally air any of their concerns remains an issue.

"The negotiations can't now in practice be re-opened," she said. "It's difficult for Australian submissions and concerns about the agreement to have a real impact on the text."

Erin Turner from consumer group Choice is calling for the TPP to be independently assessed. A key concern is a clause making it possible for foreign investors to sue governments if they think domestic laws are directly affecting them.

"These introduce risk, they can prevent positive reform, and they introduce a lot of unknowns," she said. "We need to know if this is worth it. What are we getting out of this agreement that's worth giving up some of our sovereign rights?"

However, under the deal, tobacco companies won't have extra powers to challenge the plain packaging of cigarettes.

Opposition Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman Tanya Plibersek said Labor was carefully analysing the text, to see if specific expectations like protection for workers and the environment have been met.

The deal still needs to be ratified by all 12 countries. US President Barack Obama says he intends to do so, triggering a 90 day congressional review.

His commitment comes despite growing opposition, and in the midst of a Presidential campaign.

Source: SBS

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