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US TPP trade demands for corporate rights threaten women

March 4, 2013

US Trans-Pacific trade demands for more corporate rights threaten women

As the 16th round of Trans-Pacific trade talks between Australia, the US and nine Asia Pacific countries begin in Singapore this week, academics and health groups will discuss the potential impact on women's lives of US demands for more corporate rights, and the lack of enforceable labour rights.

A seminar on the TPPA and women's rights will be held at 12:15 PM on Tuesday March 5 at the Waratah Room, New South Wales Parliament House, Sydney.

"A recent Federal Court decision confirmed that a private company can patent a gene which is linked to breast cancer. This could mean that testing for breast cancer will be unaffordable for most women for the 20 year life of the patent. This bad news could be even worse if the US government succeeds in its demands for even stronger patent rights, including for diagnostic testing, in the TTPA. This would lock stronger patent laws into an international agreement which Australian governments could not change," said Dr Patricia Ranald, convener of the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network and a speaker at the seminar

"The US also wants stronger patent rights for pharmaceutical companies to charge high monopoly prices for medicines, and to delay cheaper generic drugs becoming available. As well, the US wants to prevent governments from regulating medicine prices, as happens through the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This would hit women hardest because their childbearing and caring roles mean they are high users of medicines," said Dr Ranald.

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"The US also wants special rights for foreign investors to sue governments for damages if a law or policy 'harms' their investment. Governments have been sued over laws which protect women and children's health, like regulation of toxic waste dumps, regulation of dangerous chemicals and regulation of tobacco. We support the Australian government's opposition to these special rights for investors at the expense of women and other vulnerable groups", explained Dr Ranald.

"In contrast with US demands for greater corporate rights, TPPA governments have not yet agreed to implement enforceable basic rights for workers, like the right to organize and collective bargaining, no forced or child labour and no discrimination in the workplace. Women with children have less access to paid work, women do more unpaid work in the family, and women are mostly in lower-paid jobs with less bargaining power. Expansion of trade and competition without enforceable workers' rights will lead to a race to the bottom on these rights. Women's more vulnerable position in paid work means they will suffer the most severe impacts," added Dr Ranald.

"We urge the Australian government to continue resisting US demands which would reduce its ability to regulate in areas of social policy important to women, and to support enforceable labour rights as part of the agreement," concluded Dr Ranald.


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