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Giving control away: why the new Pacific trade deal threatens our rights and laws

Published date
Just before the Easter break, the government quietly announced the UK would be joining the CPTPP Pacific trade agreement.

CPTPP stands for the Comprehensive and Progressive Transpacific Partnership: a trade deal that was agreed between Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam in 2018.

Many commentators have noted CPTPP will have minimal economic benefits, even by the government’s own analysis.   

Worse than this, though is that the agreement also poses a real threat to decent jobs, workers’ rights and sovereignty.  

A threat to sovereignty

CPTPP includes a type of corporate court system: the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). 

This notorious system allows foreign companies to sue the governments for any actions that they argue could affect their profits. 

In the past, this court system has been used to challenge increases in the minimum wage and countries’ attempts to bring public services back into public ownership. 

What is astonishing is that the government did not have to subject itself to such legal shackles.  When New Zealand joined CPTPP it opted out of the ISDS system with the countries that invested most in New Zealand. 

But the UK government asked for no such exemption.   

As a result, rather than ‘taking back control’, with CPTPP the government is handing multinational corporations huge powers to challenge and potentially overturn UK laws.   

A threat to rights

CPTPP includes countries where workers’ rights are not respected, like Vietnam where independent unions are banned, and Malaysia where migrant workers are subject to forced labour. 

CPTPP will mean a race to the bottom for workers and drive unfair competition by making it easier for goods that are made with exploited labour to be dumped on the UK market and make it easier for unethical companies and investors to do business with countries where it’s easier to exploit workers. 

Meanwhile, the ISDS court system means protections to workers’ rights, such as those around safe working hours, in the UK could be challenged by multinational corporations who can argue that the protections threaten their profits. 

A threat to jobs

Jobs in manufacturing in the UK are already being threatened by cheap imports of goods such as steel and aluminium from Vietnam.   

Some of these goods are actually produced in China but routed through Vietnam to avoid the anti-dumping tariffs that the UK has on Chinese goods.   

One of the reasons these goods are so cheap is that they are made by workers who are paid too little and pushed to work in exploitative conditions – independent trade unions are banned in both China and Vietnam, so workers have no collective voice and less power.   

CPTPP is likely to increase the dumping of goods from Vietnam by providing it with more access to the UK market. 

This puts good, unionised jobs in steel, aluminium and other UK manufacturing industries at risk. 

Time to take action

It’s clear CPTPP is a disaster for workers’ rights, good jobs and democratic decision making in the UK.  

The good news is, there is still time to stop the agreement.     

Laws need to be passed by parliament before the agreement comes into force.   

If enough MPs oppose the agreement, we can stop it. 

The CPTPP bill is expected to come before parliament in the autumn so now is the time to get in touch with your MP telling them why this is a bad deal for workers and why they should vote against it.

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