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National Sovereignty Already Undermined By Trade Agreements

Ned K.

The new trade agreements with the USA, major Asian countries and the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership as well as similar agreements proposed for European countries are being 'greeted' with growing resistance across the globe. The more the governments and corporations try to hide the dark underbelly of these deals, the more is revealed about how anti-people these deals will turn out to be in practice.

A recently published book "Takeover - Foreign Investment and the Australian Psyche" by David Uren reveals that one of the most concerning aspects of the trade deals, the "Investor - State Dispute Settlement Procedures" has a long history. Uren, a supporter of free trade and foreign investment in Australia, explains that the essence of these dispute procedure clauses in trade agreements provide for a third country or body to override decisions of national governments regarding trade and investments with respect to foreign owned corporations. The first Investor- State Dispute Settlement Procedure was in 1959 between Germany and Pakistan with the intention being to prevent German corporations investing in Pakistan (in Uren's words) "against expropriation".

At the time of writing his book earlier this year, Uren said that there are "over 3,000 bilateral and multilateral investment treaties and free trade agreements with these clauses. Australia is party to about 25 clauses"!

This is before the TPP is ratified by the politicians in Canberra and the other participating countries. Examples cited by Uren of corporations using these dispute procedures to extinguish decisions of national governments are action by a nuclear power industry corporation against a decision by Germany to phase out nuclear power and a US corporation taking action against a Canadian province for banning fracking of coal seam gas! You don't have to be a Rhodes Scholar to guess what a foreign owned corporation will do with local councils in regional Australia (or the Victorian government for that matter) who have already come out in support of banning fracking.

Philip Morris and Australia's Investment Treaty with Hong Kong

How determined multinational corporations can be to manipulate trade and investment agreements can be seen from the actions of USA owned Philip Morris. Philip Morris was unhappy with the previous Labor Government's legislation on plain packaging of cigarettes and took the matter to the High Court in Australia, Philip Morris did not get the outcome it wanted there. However nine months before the new laws in Australia became operational, Philip Morris sold its Australian subsidiary to its Hong Kong subsidiary! Philip Morris then utilised the dispute clause in Australia's Investment Treaty with Hong Kong to put their case before a so called 'independent' tribunal in Singapore!

Philip Morris's devious behaviour even led High Court Chief Justice French to go public and call for investor- state agreements to include clauses that preclude their use to challenge decisions of a nation's courts. That a High Court Chief Justice comes out in public about this issue indicates how widely deeply felt is the issue of national sovereignty in Australia.

Another arguably more serious outcome of foreign owned corporation's 'freedom' to invest in Australia (or other countries) and their use of Investor- State Dispute Settlement Procedures to get their way is in the area of agriculture and food production. In Uren's book, he refers to the Hassad Foods company of Qatar who have a strategy of buying agricultural food production and water resources in other countries such as Australia. Uren quotes Christine Milne of The Greens as saying that Hassad Foods "see food as the major scarce commodity of the 21st Century because of climate change". Hassad Foods has already bought a dozen large farm properties in Australia for sheep and wheat production. Hassad Foods supplies 60% of Qatar food imports. Where this is all heading is aptly summed up by Christine Milne who says, "It makes no sense for us to allow another country to use us to outsource their food production...We are losing our national sovereignty as a government that governs for Australia."

Perhaps a more accurate account would be that Australia has never had full national sovereignty and that Australian people's history has had at center stage that very struggle - for national sovereignty and independence. The current 'free trade' push by the multinational corporations and their compliant governments is intensifying that struggle to new heights.


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