Labor moves to block trade-related PBS changes

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Labor has introduced a bill to parliament it says is designed to provide safeguards against a government negotiating changes to a range of programs and policies, including the PBS, as part of a future trade agreement.

Shadow trade minister Jason Clare introduced the bill as the parliament considers the enabling legislation for the 11-country Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Labor's bill appears to be in response to criticism from within its own ranks and the union movement for its decision to back the TPP.

Its bill, which is unlikely to navigate the parliamentary approval process, would prohibit a government from including certain Labor market provisions in a future trade agreement.

It would also prohibit investor-state dispute settlement provisions, which are a standard feature of virtually every existing Australian bilateral and multilateral trade agreement, and any provisions that "undermine the scheme for the supply of pharmaceutical benefits established under Part VII of the National Health Act 1953."

This does not define what would constitute undermining the PBS.

The existing US-Australia Free Trade Agreement includes a number of provisions relating to the PBS, specifically in relation to process and the transparency and accountability of decision-making, but nothing in relation to pricing.

It is unclear whether these provisions, or anything in relation to intellectual property, such as an extension to data protection for biologics, would constitute undermining the PBS.

According to Mr Clare, "If the current government were to sign a trade agreement between now and the next election that includes clauses that are prohibited in this legislation we wouldn't support it in the parliament before the election and if we win the next election we will go back and renegotiate that agreement to take out those clauses before bringing any enabling legislation before the parliament."