The TPP negotiations are still being conducted with a total lack of transparency -- especially compared to TAFTA/TTIP, where public pressure has led to the release of a large number of documents from the EU, though not from the US. Despite that secrecy, the TPP negotiators seem to have no qualms about proclaiming the talks as nearly "done." Since they have been saying something similar for years, skepticism is required, but it is possible that negotiations might be getting closer to the end game where all the really difficult issues need to be addressed.
That makes the absence of any official release of the draft text pretty appalling. Assuming that the final text will be released if and when an agreement is reached, this will leave very little time for the complex provisions to be analyzed properly before the national votes take place in some TPP countries. Given what's at stake -- TPP is likely to have a big impact not just on trade, but also on many aspects of daily life -- one group has decided to pre-empt that eventual release, and to analyze what information we have, notably from leaks. HIA Connect, based in Australia, describes itself as follows:
A resource for health impact assessment (HIA) as a method and a process to ensure that public policies, projects, plans, and programs contribute to the health of the population and health equity.
HIA's new report "Negotiating Healthy Trade in Australia: A Health Impact Assessment of the Proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement" (pdf) focuses on TPP's likely impact on health in Australia, but many of its conclusions apply to other countries participating in the TPP negotations. Here's a summary of its findings:
A report released today by a large team of academics and non-government health organisations reveals that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) poses risks to the health of Australians in areas such as provision of affordable medicines, tobacco and alcohol policies and nutrition labelling. Many public health organisations have been tracking the progress of the TPP negotiations over the past several years and have expressed concerns about the potential impacts and lack of transparency.
As that makes clear, the academics and other experts who put together the report are concerned about a number of adverse effects that TPP is likely to have. Some are familiar, for example the impact on affordable medicines, or on the ability to regulate and restrict tobacco advertising -- an area where Australia is already suffering thanks to corporate sovereignty provisions in other treaties. Others are new, but similar: some TPP provisions could limit the regulation of alcohol availability and alcohol marketing, and restrict alcohol control measures such as pregnancy warning labels. Food is another area where labeling restrictions in TPP could prevent governments from warning about the consumption of unhealthy ingredients.
Of course, supporters of TPP will doubtless say that all this is premature, and that nothing certain can be said until the final text is released -- a point echoed by the authors of the report:
"In the absence of publicly available current drafts of the trade agreement, it is difficult to predict what the impacts of the TPP will be," said Dr Deborah Gleeson, one of the report's authors. "In the study, we traced the potential impacts based on proposals that have been -- or are being -- discussed in the negotiations.
But as Gleeson goes on to point out, there's a very easy way to remedy this problem:
"The only way to properly assess the risks is to allow a comprehensive health impact assessment to be conducted on the final agreement before it gets signed by Cabinet."
Given that people's health and even lives may be at stake here, it is irresponsible for participating governments to withhold the draft texts -- especially since they are allegedly so close to completion -- and thus to prevent a proper health impact assessment of them being conducted well in advance of any final votes.
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