Global Economy

Pacific trade deal puts profit over people

Labour activists worry that a US-led free-trade deal under negotiation will prioritise corporate profits over workers' rights and pressure governments to bow to the will of investors.

Trade ministers from the 12 nations negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) - which would stretch from Japan to Chile and cover 40 percent of the world's economy - failed to finalise a deal at talks last month on the Hawaiian island of Maui, but were confident an agreement was within reach. Talks are expected to resume in the autumn.

Campaigners for workers' rights complain that they have been denied a voice in the trade talks, and have raised concerns about part of the deal that would allow corporations to sue governments for the potential loss of future profits.

"The investor-state dispute settlement provisions in this massive trade deal ... if it's passed, binds them to a convoluted logic that allows multinational corporations to sue ... if a government passes a law or regulation that protects its people to the possible detriment of sales," said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Centre.

"Corporate rights are treated as portable, binding and protected by enforceable laws in global trade agreements, but not so human rights," Bader-Blau said at the opening of a migrant labour conference on Monday hosted by Solidarity Centre in Bogor, Jakarta.

Speaking before more than 200 labour and migration experts from 45 countries, Bader-Blau said that while investor rights are protected, human rights are "relegated to unenforceable side agreements, aspirational multilateral protocols, spotty national laws and no accountability".

"Sitting here in Asia, you cannot help but think of slavery on ships, mass graves, the US government's disastrous upgrade of Malaysia in its trafficking in persons report - enormous desperation fuelling enormous wealth," she said.


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