Trade Minister Andrew Robb: Leading the Australian delegation portrayed by the memo as resisting US attempts to increase the influence of drug companies. Photo: Angela Wylie
Australia is in the box seat to crack the US sugar market, leaked trade documents show. But in return it may have to allow US companies to sue Australian governments, a concession until now it has not been willing to make.
The leaked documents, published by The Huffington Post and WikiLeaks, are a memo and spreadsheet prepared by negotiators from one of the 12 nations attempting to reach agreement on a so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership encompassing Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam.
The memo portrays the Australian delegation, led by Trade Minister Andrew Robb, as resisting attempts by the US to increase the influence of drug manufacturers over Australia's Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Australia is not prepared ''to go beyond'' the conditions it has already agreed to in its free trade agreement with the United States, it says.
But Australia has begun working behind the scenes with the US and Japan to reintroduce rejected clauses that would give US drug companies greater influence over the decisions of other nations.
''The Australian position is unclear and begins to show some weakness,'' the memo says.
The leaked document, prepared after the first day of the five-day ministerial talks in Singapore, says the US is exerting ''great pressure, which will increase with each passing day''.
One of the US techniques is to set up smaller groups of nations that formulate agreed positions known as ''landing zones'' that tend to show ''a solution coming from the US position''.
A draft intellectual property chapter published by WikiLeaks and Fairfax Media last month detailed US proposals to make the citizens of other nations pay more for movies and software and be placed under surveillance as part of a crackdown on internet piracy. On many of those questions Australia had sided with the United States, and was sometimes the only nation to have done so.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has refused a request from the Australian Senate to see the text of the agreement before it is signed.
Each of the negotiating nations is obliged to keep the text secret. The leaked memo has been edited to disguise its origin.
Under Labor, the Australian government flatly refused to sign any agreement that bound it with Investor State Dispute Settlement procedures under which aggrieved foreign companies could bypass Australian courts to sue Australian governments internationally.
But Australia's minister Andrew Robb has indicated he is prepared to consider such procedures in return for ''substantial market access''. The memo says the US is withholding its final offers on market access in order to “address certain sensitivities''
''That would be the way to grant access to Australian sugar,'' it says.