(Alternative sensational title:  GE2015: Who is going to speak up for you before your Medical Costs go UP!!?)      🙂

I was watching a pretty decent debate on the Inconvenient Questions website involving a panel composed of the Law Minister Mr Shanmugam, Singapore Progressive Party Candidate for GE2015 Mr Benjamin Pwee, Singapore Democratic Party Candidate Dr Paul Tambyah and A/P Eugene Tan of SMU.  The discussion/debate can be viewed here:

http://www.inconvenientquestions.sg/Event/Cfh/ge2015-exclusive-the-big-issues

One of the issues brought up was about the lack of transparency in the current negotiations in relation to the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement.  This is a Treaty that several nations have been secretly negotiating.  Singapore is one of the countries involved.  When the question was posed to the Law Minister, he defended the need to keep the negotiations secret and text of the Treaty secret.

The discussion did not go further into what could be the damaging effects of that treaty for Singapore.  Although the negotiations have been secretive, the contents of the draft have been leaked on several occasions by Wikileaks. Here’s a link to the Wikileaks page containing the draft at the time when the member countries were negotiating the terms in the Singapore round of talks in December 2013.  https://wikileaks.org/Second-release-of-secret-Trans.html

An interesting new leak from June this year (2015) is found here https://wikileaks.org/tpp/healthcare/WikiLeaks-TPP-Transparency-Healthcare-Annex.pdf

Most Singaporeans are likely to be unaware of the problems associated with the TPPA.  I am not going to run into the technicalities here.  In outline, the following concerns exist globally about some of the proposed contents of this comprehensive trade treaty:

  • The Investment Chapter of the TPPA would authorise foreign investors to bypass the local national courts and bring claims before special tribunals.  The fear is that these tribunals would have an inherent bias towards MNCs.  Where a signatory state may have pursued a valid regulatory policy protecting labour interests or environmental interests, the country can be sued for damages.  In simple terms, our government can get sued if it tries to protect the interest of citizens.
  • Excessive protection given to Multi-National Pharmaceutical companies in the commercial exploitation of drugs and equipment which would adversely affect the cost of healthcare services. In simple terms, medical expenses would go up and there is nothing we can do to stop it.
  • There is an intellectual property chapter that could rewrite the existing laws in member countries resulting in the recognition of patents on plant and animal life and granting to corporations ownership and sole right in the building blocks of those lifeforms. Whilst IP rights started with the idea of protecting the theft of property, these provisions will allow corporations to steal from nature and exploit the global population.
  • There is a regulatory coherence chapter which could restrict the government’s ability to pass laws to protect the environment. While we may think this is not of a great deal of relevance to Singapore, the contrary is true.  Singapore has some precious natural treasures which, to the credit of our government, have been carefully preserved despite our rapid industrialization and development.

With a severe lack of transparency and with leaked documents coming out in piecemeal fashion, it is a little difficult to fully appreciate the extent of damage that the treaty would do to our workers’ rights, our healthcare costs and our environment.

We need to call on our government to be clear and transparent on its negotiating position in relation to the TPPA.  While we understand the overriding objective of not losing out on a trade deal, we deserve to know where our government stands on some of the leaked provisions referred to above.

For the average Singaporean, the questions would be:

  • Will my healthcare cost go up?  Will my medicines become more expensive?  Will I be able to afford the increased costs with the current insurance coverage or medisave thatI have?
  • Will wage growth be affected? Will I be forced to accept a downward spiral of wage depression resulting on foreign corporations’ insistence on cheap labour?

The investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) arrangement in TPPA is similar to those found in some treaties such as the NAFTA and other bi-lateral Free Trade Agreements.  These
are the stuff of nightmares for governments and their citizens.  Arising out of these ISDS clauses, Canada, Germany, Australia and other countries have been subjected to claims for damages.

So as not to get too technical and confusing, on the right here is an infographic prepared by the environmentalISDS
group Friends of the Earth.  It gives a concise overview of some of the cases where corporations have sued governments that were acting in the collective national interest. This is clearly a case of profit over people.

Where does Singapore stand on these ISDS clauses? What is our position on protecting our citizens from unfair labour policies or increased healthcare costs?

Who is asking the questions?  Nobody.

Who should be asking the questions?  Our MPs.  One of the things I hope for this Friday the 11th of September is that we will have bold and principled candidates elected into parliament from alternative Parties so that the serious and hard questions are tabled and pursued fearlessly.

In response to the ISDS clauses in the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between US and EU, several European legislatures, the European Union itself and the US House of Representatives have adopted resolutions restricting the use of current versions of the ISDS.

The EU Parliament: ISDS in TTIP “must be replaced by a new public and transparent system of investment protection, in which private interests cannot undermine public policy and which is subject to public law”

South Africa is planning to withdraw from treaties with ISDS.  Indonesia will let such clauses in current treaties lapse.  Brazil has refused to sign treaties with ISDS.

What will Singapore do?

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