The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) could force state enterprises such as public utilities to put profits before public welfare and lead to mass privatizations, according to documents published by Wikileaks Wednesday.
Under the TPP, state-owned enterprises (SOEs) would be forced to act “on the basis of commercial considerations,” according to the leak.
The document also suggests multinational corporations could be empowered to sue SOEs for supposedly uncompetitive actions like favoring local businesses.
The bombshell leak centers around a classified letter from the TPP's December 2013 ministerial meeting. SOEs themselves are common in most TPP countries, and advocates say they perform crucial services aimed at supporting public needs rather than turn a profit. Some examples include Canada's main postal operator, Canada Post, and Australia's public broadcaster ABC. The latter is consistently rated by viewers as one of Australia's most trusted sources of news.
“SOEs are almost always state owned because they have functions other than those that are merely commercial, such as guaranteed access to important services, or because social, cultural, development and commercial functions are inextricably intertwined,” said Professor Jane Kelsey, from New Zealand's University of Auckland.
In an analysis of Wednesday's leak commissioned by Wikileaks, Kelsey concluded the TPP could carve out a “backdoor to privatization” of state enterprises.
She argued seemingly proposed regulations outlined in the leaked document ignore “the reality that SOEs and private firms are driven by different imperatives and obligations.”
Kelsey's main complaint was with the document's demand that SOEs prioritize “commercial considerations,” pointing out many state enterprises intentionally run at losses for the public good.
“Even where SOEs are profit-oriented, a government may elect not to extract full commercial profits, and choose to reinvest in the enterprise to strengthen the asset base or the quality of the services in ways that private investors would rarely do,” she explained.
For example, Australia Post is restricted to using its profits to reinvest in improving services, or handing dividends back to Australia's federal government.
Australian Greens trade spokesperson Peter Whish-Wilson told The Saturday Paper that the TPP's chapter on SOEs “directly challenges a government's right to own and operate any enterprise such as Australia Post, the ABC or power utilities that compete with corporate entities, but ultimately also the provision of public good services including healthcare, education.
“(It's) a direct assault by corporations trying to limit the role of government,” he said.
In a statement, Wikileaks said the leaked document proved the TPP will force member states to swallow “a wide-ranging privatization and globalization strategy.”
“In this leak we see the radical effects the TPP will have, not only on developing countries, but on states very close to the center of the Western system,” said Wikileaks founder Julian Assange.
Under negotiation for more than seven years, supporters say the TPP will streamline global trade and promote economic growth.
Once the TPP is completed, its provisions will override national laws of its 12 member states, including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and the United States. The deal is already being hailed as the largest trade agreement in world history, and will encompass over 40 percent of global GDP.
However, the deal's provisions have been almost entirely withheld from the public, prompting critics to argue the agreement is subject to undue secrecy. The few glimpses the public has had into the closed door talks have been leaked drafts of the TPP published by Wikileaks. Independent analysts say the trade deal is a “bonanza” for big business, and a raw deal for consumers. U.S. trade officials have responded by urging the public not to read the leaks, arguing the draft documents may not accurately represent the final document. The controversial deal has already sparked international protests, with activists demanding negotiators open talks to public scrutiny.
Warning that the TPP will erect a “'one size fits all' economic system,” Assange said public debate on the trade deal is urgently needed.
“If we are to restructure our societies into an ultra-neoliberal legal and economic bloc that will last for the next 50 years then this should be said openly and debated,” he said.