Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Questions without Notice
Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Trade, Senator Conroy. It relates to reports that the government has agreed to set aside the question of investor state dispute settlement in current negotiations of the Transpacific Partnership Free Trade Agreement. Especially given Australia's leadership on plain packaging for cigarettes, will the minister now give the Senate an unequivocal assurance that Australia not only will set aside but will not sign any partnership agreement that allows foreign companies to sue an Australian government because Australian law reduces their profits or adversely affects their business?
I thank the senator for her question. In the Gillard government's trade policy we have made it clear that we will no longer be seeking investor-state dispute settlement provisions in trade agreements. The government does not support provisions that would confer greater legal rights on foreign businesses than those available to domestic businesses. That is about as clear as I can make it for you, Senator Milne.
Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister. So I ask: given that this investor-state dispute settlement is central to the negotiations from both the United States's and Australia's point of view, and given—from what the minister has just said—that there can be no compromise from the Australian position, is the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement now dead in the water unless American big tobacco, big pharmaceuticals and big oil compromise?
I am not in a position to opine as to whether or not the agreement will now fall over. At this stage there are still discussions taking place. But, if there is any further information that the minister would like to share, I will happily take the rest of that question on notice.
Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the minister's answer that there is no apparent way forward on this and it is central to the agreement—and you have said it is not negotiable—on what basis should anyone think the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement has any life left?
As I indicated, if there is anything further that the minister would like to add to the fairly clear and unequivocal answer we have given so far, I am happy to take it on notice and get you any further information the minister would like to provide.