The reality of what the TPPA means to NZ


Professor Jane Kelsey

I was determined to start my blogging career not talking about the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. But today is the first day of the 16th round of talks in Singapore and the situation is getting serious.

The eleven participating countries – or more accurately, their current and temporary governments – are aiming to draft a new rulebook for the 21st century that locks in and extends the failed neoliberal model. In secret. For the indefinite future. Enforceable by each other and by their corporations in secretive offshore tribunals.

This is no ‘trade’ treaty. When they say it will go further behind the border than any agreement has gone before, they mean its binding and enforceable rules will dictate the processes, participants, ideology and substantive rules for governments to follow when we make our domestic policies and laws. Not just for the term of the governments who are negotiating it, but for the indefinite future.

Last year the political leaders set a self-imposed deadline of October 2013 to get this deal done.

Deadlines usually come and go. But Obama needs this agreement. The corporate lobbies and the Republicans have ridiculed him for not producing any deals during his first term, and he needs a trophy.

Obama is putting the hard word on the other ten countries’ leaders, who are in turn pushing their chief negotiators and their teams to clear the dross out of the way so they can talk about trade-offs.

Some chapters are near that stage. Others have been at stalemate almost since the negotiations began as other countries rejected the basic tenets of US demands. Several of those areas are must-haves for Obama – notably, intellectual property, which impacts on pharmaceuticals, the internet and innovation and disciplines on state-enterprises that could extend to ACC, Kiwibank and the universities.

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The way that John Key and Tim Groser talk, all the parties including New Zealand are equals at this negotiating table. But this has always been the US plus the rest.

Which leads us to the planned October meeting. Picture an ego-filled room of prime ministers and presidents while Obama schmoozes, flatters and threatens them to cave in to US demands. Some, like Key, consider themselves consummate dealmakers. But he and the National Party are desperate to have their own trophy, the long-sought-after free trade agreement with the USA, even if claims of economic benefits prove to be a sham. Ultimately, they all know there will be no deal unless Obama gets his way.

This could pan out in several ways. Political leaders could agree to trade-offs irrespective of the practical consequences and order the negotiators to convert that into text. The result will be a legal shambles. Alternatively, it could all prove too hard and too costly and they could fail to agree. The talks would limp on indefinitely, like the Doha round at the World Trade Organization and the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Both outcomes involve political leaders calculating the political risks. A key factor will be the degree of awareness and resistance at the national level.

As I said at the beginning, this is serious. My guess is that Cabinet will start discussing the trade-offs it is prepared to consider no later than May, if it has not done some already.

A new phase of the TPPA campaign, Countdown to May, is about to be launched through the itsourfuture website with activities that anyone do: adopt an MP; recruit local councillors to move resolutions that are critical of the TPPA, or better still make them TPPA-free zones; deluge the talkbacks and blogs; host the cartoon exhibition. Sign up to the bulletin on the website and you can be part of making this our 21st century, not theirs!


  1. Excellent post Professor but how to get your message to the masses ? And then how does one engage them so as they don’t just nod off part way through reading anything longer than a clothing label ? Perhaps New Zealand needs a Pirate TV station ! A Go Gorilla TV station ? Great post Prof Jane . And well done you for your bravery . I must say , I’m bit of a fan of yours .

  2. I’ve been following this awful ghastly deal since it was first announced. Like you say, Key is DESPERATE to make this thing happen, and I’m certain he won’t want to be in any way shape or form associated with being labelled a hard negotiator or worse yet, a deal breaker (Sky City conference centre anyone?). He would sell his own children to make this thing happen. The TPPA is an absolute atrocity. It is selling out NZ for corporate interests (and not even OUR NZ corporate interests!): but this is, of course, completely compatible with the ideals of cronyism our Dear Leader lives, loves, and breathes.

  3. Good point made by Countryboy. With the forces of “economic exploitation at any social and environmental cost” having so much money and power, those going against them are having to fight fights on any number of fronts with only limited time and money available. I think the coalition that formed to collect Keep Our Assets signatures is the best model for campaigns like this. (except, I think Labour actually supports the TPP)

  4. Thanks for this summary. I’ve been looking for something to send to friends that is easy to understand what is going on. You have done well! I look forward to reading your future work.

  5. Thanks for your time and effort Jane . I attended your talk in Wellington and was impressed by your presentation .
    Like others have mentioned “how do we get people to realise what is being done in secret and in our name ?”
    We have a Minister of Trade who on the one hand is sitting for job interviews with the World Trade Organisation and on the other hand meant to be impartially evaluating the impact of TPPA on the country now and forever! How can Tim Grosers actions not be a conflict of interest ?
    I won’t say what I think of his comment ,here …”In case this all sounds a little ‘pointy-headed’, let me assure you it is anything but. It lies at the centre of the often ideological debate about TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership. When anti-trade groups or people say that TPP will ‘encroach on our sovereignty’ I have quite deliberately said that this is technically correct, but in itself a trivial point. It is like listening to one hand clapping – and about as useful.” (full speak here … )

  6. Given the reticence with which many seem willing to step out of comfort zones and speak up vocally, we need to both interest and motivate them by example.
    Most think instant change will occur so perhaps we must use examples to individualise and aim to educate urgently with catchy messages that resonate with young and old alike.
    Trading or taking people’s power away will seriously compromise almost everyone in Aotearoa NZ other than the very wealthy.
    Global Corporates & Trade Lawyers will be the only winners, besides politicans who consciously or unconsciously sell NZ out for better jobs,salaries etc.
    Since the pharmaceutical, food, copyright, investment etc sectors market have all experienced ‘irregularities’ and a massive lack of ‘transparency accountablility etc already in the last 5 years,
    What on earth do people think any agreement with most of the details negotiated in secret, and for favours or exchanges the populace of each country are not privy to, will do?
    Governments are meant to serve their people not multinational corporations.

    Already jobs in many industries are scarce.
    This will make it much times worse. Neoliberalism at its heartless worst..
    Sharing Jane and sharing some more. Talking it up in person and being effective collectively is imperative as we did in Auckland recently..
    If people need to be scared into action they should be reminded how ‘regulated the so called non Nanny State government is..
    National Act * United Future more like the evil Stepmother & two ugly sisters State.
    Apathy and ignorance exchanged for knowledge and action.Simple messages.
    T>P>P>A vs T^P^P^A
    Taking personal postive actions.vs Trans PacificTrans Pacific Partnership Agreement..unless you want..
    Middle class the new working poor.. New working poor the latest Welfare beneficiary.The latest Welfare beneficiary the new expendably discriminated against & usa all tenants in our own homeland..

    • Mike, I agree. The MSM have continually sidelined TPPA debate. However, thanks very much to Jane for continually giving visibility to the information that the mainstream journalists are reluctant to present.

  7. It is the Multi-lateral Agreement on Investmenst and the General Agreement on Tariiffs and Trade all over again. And it’s a crock. The United States has never been interested in free trade for anyone else but the United States.

    Ever since World war Two New Zealand has been pushing the free Trade line, hoping to get untrammelled access to the U.S. for its primary produce. But it is precisely this area that Washington, pressured by the powerful farming lobby, has sealed off from any such agreement.

    In effect, with a weak manufacturing sector, Kiwiland was expected to accept a ‘free’ trade with the strong U.S. sector; but New Zealand’s strong primary sector was to be debarred from competing in the U.S. Of course no deal was struck. In recent times, things have changed, but I still don’t see New Zealand getting much more traction in U.S. Markets than it has already. The Chinese market, on the other hand, seems to be a whole different ball game.

    Back when the Labour Governmet was pushing the MAI line, even a lawyer employed by pro-MAI interests felt that as a Kiwi he should warn the Government that drop the thing, and run – not walk – away. That the thing eventually … went dormant … was, however not due to this guy’s act of true patriotism (I’m using the word here as a term of approbation).

    There is no such thing as a ‘free’ market, or ‘free’ trade anyway. And before this – or any government – even remote considers entering any such agreement, it has to enact – and be seen to enact – laws that seal behind powerful walls the nation’s sovereignty. Apart from anything else, no government should ever be bound by the decisions of the previous (except insofar as they are Constitutional matters agreed to by the [majority of the] electorate at large). I believe such a law already exists. If that is correct, it will be interesting to see how that plays out.

    But one thing is for certain. No oversea Court or Tribunal should have the slightest right to overreach the sovereignty of any nation, unless that court – under the Authority of the united nations – has jurisdiction over all nations.

    If U.S. corporations want that kind of power, why doesn’t Key the Statesman apply for New Zealand to become the 51st United State – with all the attendant privileges extended to New Zealanders at large? It would be entirely consistent with his Administration’s Cargo Cult mentality.

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