from the yet-another-ratchet-clause dept
Techdirt has been writing about investor-state-dispute settlement (ISDS), aka corporate sovereignty, for more than three years now. During that time, we've published well over a hundred articles on the topic. Increasing numbers of people have become aware of the threat that ISDS represents to democracy because of the privileged access it grants companies to a parallel legal system. Now, it seems, it's beginning to enter the political mainstream around the world.
A couple of weeks ago, the leader of the UK's Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, promised to reject TAFTA/TTIP if he were in power, and to vote against it if he were in opposition. One reason for that, he said, was his concerns over:
the facility for corporations to sue national governments if regulations impinged on their profits.
The Labor Party in Australia has also started to make pronouncements about corporate sovereignty:
The opposition's trade spokeswoman, Penny Wong, said Labor would try to remove so-called investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) clauses from every trade agreement, and every bilateral investment treaty, that Australia has signed.
That comes at a time when the current Australian government is thinking about doing exactly the opposite:
It means Labor plans to review three major trade agreements concluded by the Abbott-Turnbull governments -- with China, Korea, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership -- that have ISDS provisions.
The Turnbull government is considering adding a controversial provision to the Japan-Australia free-trade agreement that would allow foreign corporations to sue the Australian government.
Here's why it's taking that odd course of action:
The negotiations have been triggered by a relatively unknown clause in the Japan-Australia agreement, which was signed by the Abbott government in 2014.
In other words, this is yet another "ratchet" clause that ensures changes only ever move in one direction -- to the benefit of companies, and against the interests of the public. It's yet another reason never to include corporate sovereignty chapters in these so-called trade deals.
The clause states that if Australia's government signs any future trade deal with another country that includes an ISDS provision then the Japan-Australia deal would be subject to an automatic review "with a view to establishing" an ISDS provision in it.
The trigger for such a review was the China-Australia free-trade agreement, which came into force on 20 December 2015, because it included an ISDS provision.