Mad Hatters and Insane Trade Deals




Painful as it may be, even Tea Party clouds have a silver lining. The trade ministers and political leaders of the other eleven countries in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement negotiations put a brave face on the absence of US President Obama from the APEC jamboree in Bali this week.

This was meant to be the meeting where the political horse-trading on the TPPA began. Even though the negotiations are a mess, somehow there was always the chance – or from my viewpoint the risk – that other political leaders might cave with Obama in the chair. The bottom lines that their negotiators have stuck to for several years would give way and a deal could be pulled out of the ashes by the end of 2013  (apologies for the very mixed metaphors).

Once Obama cancelled, all bets were off. Even before the meeting the cautious Malaysians were insisting that the deal couldn’t be finished by the end of the year and they weren’t going be rushed. John Key also tried to dampen expectations, while maintaining the sales pitch that this will be the deal of the century. The first story from Audrey Young in the NZ Herald on 8 October was headlined ‘Let’s not be hasty on TPP’. In the next story, Key was urging business in Asia to go out and sell the deal, but in a more tempered tone – presumably because he was about to chair a meeting that would reaffirm the goal of completing by the end of the year! According to the Americans, Kerry actually ‘helped lead’ the discussion with Key, who was asked to step in because New Zealand administers the TPPA.

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The TPPA Ministers statement was full of recycled rhetoric from previous years. Discussions were productive. They continued to explore mutually acceptable solutions. They would continue their commitment to a transparent process (sic!). There was a new timeline to accelerate the face of work on access to markets. Ministers would remain actively engaged in advancing negotiations to a successful conclusion. But the final stage of the talks would require an intensification of effort at all levels.

The Leaders’ three paragraphs were even more anodyne. They were ‘on track’ to complete the negotiations and had agreed to ‘an objective’ of completing the deal by the end of the year. Japan’s Kyodo News had sighted a draft of the leaders’ statement, which showed the US wanted to say the negotiations were ‘substantially finished’, but some countries objected that did not reflect the reality. The final text was still hyperbolic, but relatively more accurate, claiming that they have made ‘significant progress’ in various fields. In a further display of discord within the APEC family, the Indonesian hosts of APEC told the TPP leaders they had to meet outside the formal venue so it did not overshadow their event.

The stated objective is still to finish by the end of the year. The negotiators have been told they must conclude the ‘less contentious’ areas  – but if it were a straight-forward task, they would have done so already! To break through on the big issues of medical patents, copyright and the Internet, the environment and state-owned enterprises, as well as market access for agriculture, motor vehicles and garments, would require some serious political leverage.

The US background briefing after the meeting was uncharacteristically low-key about the outcome. There may be several reasons. The first is that the US Trade Representatives and the rest of the massive team the TPPA negotiations currently have no budget.

The second is a timing and process issue. Any real political movement on these super-sensitive issues will require the kind of schmoozing that only Obama can do. There is no scheduled time when the TPPA leaders will next meet will meet against this year. It could happen biletarally, but that’s far from optimal. US Trade Representative Froman confirmed that TPPA trade ministers will meet again on the margins of the WTO ministerial meeting in Bali in early December. But that can only be a stocktake. Period APEC meetings are when they normally next get together. But China chairs APEC in the 2014 and China made it very clear in Bali that it is not a big fan of the TPPA.

The third, political obstacle is Obama’s fractious relationship with the Congress. The US Congress has constitutional authority over trade. Obama does not have the ‘fast track’ authority that constrains that authority to voting yes or no to a final deal. So, even if the twelve countries reached agreement on a text, Congress could pick it apart. Obama was expected to ask Congress for fast track, formally Trade Promotion Authority this month. But he will not move on it unless he is sure he can get it through. The budget standoff shows the Tea Party is not about to do anything that makes Obama’s life easier – and they hate these agreements. The rest of the Republicans are hostage to challenges from the fringe. The US corporate lobby would enlist their supports in Congress to oppose a compromise deal that is less than a ‘gold standard’, as would the unions and environmentalists if those chapters are weak from their perspective.

Does this mean we can take the pressure off the government to release the text and justify what it has been doing in our name? Hell no! Almost every report on the APEC meetings has referred to what the critics are saying. TV and newspapers have been running the snapshot of the celebrity ‘Its not democracy’ video. In just a week almost 7500 people have gone to and signed the petition to release the text.

I would never be reckless enough to say the Tea Party’s budget boycott has plunged the troubled negotiation into a death spiral – although a number of journos tried to get me to say so this week! This deal is so highly political that anything could still happen. But the odds are mounting against them. Any government that signed up to a TPPA knowing that diverse captive interests in Congress could cherry pick the bits they like and throw back what they don’t would have to be mad. Wouldn’t they, Mr Key?

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  1. Close our borders to money lenders , kick out the banks , return our resources to us by reneging on neoliberal deals , commission a Crown based inquiry into past deals between politicians , big business ( read industrial psychopaths ) and off-shore banks , send our at risk youth to state funded resorts in Italy or the South West of France for two years , lower the retirement age to 55 , broadcast a free to air , commercial free TV station devoted to documentaries , the Arts , music and comedy , create temporary , tax free bubbles around dying rural towns , rebuild our rail system and heavily subsidize and encourage public use by having first class restaurants , bars and cinemas on board , ( I bet Jamie Oliver would help set that up ) employ art students to design public amenities like bridges , lamp posts , crash barriers , power stations etc , supply The Police with Toyota Prius’ , build larger , more comfortable , well appointed prisons then release those prisoners who seem to most be enjoying themselves because that’s what most people want to do , to keep enjoying themselves . Decriminalize all recreational drugs . Prohibit garish advertising in public spaces , including sports fields but subsidize those sports persons to take up American residency if that is an issue for them , ban all advertising between the hours of 3.30 pm and 9.00 pm to allow parents to keep their children safe from ‘marketing professionals’ , ban all rich , mad arse , bible bashing Americans off state funded TV , create an Arts Olympics , where those with the most creative minds who can co-operate most effectively wins ten chickens each because there’s nothing as sublime as watching chickens groom themselves on a warm spring evening through Chardonnay eyes .
    And invite the Queen down here to be our bloody head of state again . She can help protect us from the Israeli drone making factories and snooping NSA wankers because they just want to own our fucking country .

    The TPPA will achieve only two things .
    One : Make billions for a few .
    Two : We’ll have less for us and work harder for nothing . After all , isn’t that what we do now ?

    • >> Close our borders to money lenders , kick out the banks , return our resources to us by reneging on neoliberal deals <<

      One of the critical things we learned during the anti-summit protest movement in the late 90s is that this is a global problem, affecting communities everywhere. Even if it was desirable to close our borders and cut ourselves off from the outside world, it's not possible. We have things other people want, like fossil fuels and arable land. People organised into powerful state-corporate institutions, people with police and security guards, and armies, and mercenaries at their disposal. The situation we're in is oddly similar to that of the planet Naboo in that awful Star Wars prequel, with armed trade delegations hovering like flies on shit. We can't have *no* relationship with the rest of the world, but I still believe we can build the democratic capacity to negotiate much better deals than the magic beans Key is holding up as worth billiions.

      Besides, there are things we want from outside Aotearoa too. I'm quite fond of coffee and computers, neither of which we currently produce here (although in the case of computers it’s possible we could). This also makes it worth some negotiation.

  2. …oh, you forgot – instead of all that yellow and blue HiViz stuff the Police wear whilst they waddle around, their belts so laden with batons, tasers, handcuffs, cable ties, radios and boy scout apparatus – the next HiViz issue should be pink and blue. Apparently it stands out better anyway in all lights

  3. Thanks for taking the time to bring us up to date on this contentious issue Prof.
    Seems the key point is we all have to keep fighting Key.

  4. Prof Kelsey , I attended one of your talks in Wellington and was blown away by the fact as currently known (then) about the details of the TPP(A) , all known only due to leaked documents.
    Can you tell me if John Key has access to the entire “Agreement” at this moment ?
    Or is he in the dark like the rest of us ?

    What do you think is the best way to stop the signing of this appalling “Agreement” ?

    Secrecy and Democracy are mortal enemies .

    • Hi – there are simple things, like signing the petition to release the text at and send the video and link to all your mates. We are now over 8000 signatures. Basic visibility for the issue, like letters to the editor, talkback, raising it at meetings of groups you are involved with that may be affected – there are good resources on and info about latest events on If people want to know more there is a short ebook I wrote that is available on the Bridget Williams Books ( website for $5.

    • He actually talks a lot of sense for the first few paragraphs, but IMHO here’s where he parts ways with reality:

      >> our economy has been deeply damaged over the past 50 years by the sovereign right of our trading ‘partners’ to implement destructive policies (huge subsidisation, ever diminishing market access, for example) against our main internationally competitive agricultural exports. <<

      Tell him he's dreaming! What has damaged our economy is the wholesale privatization of huge chunks our key infrastructure (electricity, telecommunications, railways etc), punching massive holes in the hull of spaceship Aotearoa, through our economic atmosphere continues to pour out every year. Goser's and his government's solution to this is to sell more milk to buy back some of that breathable atmosphere, and privatize more infrastructure, thus punching even more holes.

      Yet if you accept the baseless premise Groser offers above, that the loss of air pressure inside our economy was all caused by lack of access to enough overseas "markets" (ie consumer dollars in other people's counties) to sell agricultural products to, everything else he says makes logical sense. As Bruce Jesson put it so sublimely, only their purpose is mad.

  5. But Jno Key is completely doolally. I’ve long known the loonies have taken over the asylum: we’ve been ruled by a kleptomaniac idiotocracy for nigh on 30 years, now – possibly nearer 40. The present PM is Dumbcluck VII – or is it VIII?

    I just can’t get over just how utterly nertz is the present bunch of twonks on the Hill. Can’t see any better way of beefing up NZ economy than by poking holes in the ground – or the ocean floor; consider having reports sitting on the desk unread as the acme of due diligence; recognize that Kiwiland has ‘insufficient product’ into which to invest Kiwisaver monies, but fail to grasp that perhaps that ‘product’ is not enough to absorb much of NZ unemployed neither; who seem to think, despite ample evidences to the contrary, that reducing government spending is helpful to the NZ economy; fail to see that there is a world of difference between 2000 holes and 8 – and 1500 metres and 3000; who think raising school class sizes and closing schools will improve education outcomes for kids; who think that exporting jobs overseas is a really good economic move for NZ; who imagine that by plundering Kiwis livelihoods and savings they are helping build a market for New Zealand manufactures; who think polluting land and lakes, rivers and seas will not impact upon their ‘CleenGreen’ promotions; who imagine that a New Zealand company that has shifted its operations offshore, or been sold off to foreign interests – often both – is still a New Zealand company, that privatizing state assets will no lead inevitably to foreign ownership and thence to a drain of billions out of the NZ economy (and that’s leaving aside the theft these privatizations imply)…

    In short, this is a government who is hell bent upon carrying out whatcredulous minds call policy, that has demonstrably failed this country before. If they are seriously expecting a different outcome, this government is crazy. If they imagine no one will notice, this government is crazy.

  6. Oh, yeah. I forgot. The TPPA gig is just the latest incarnation of GATT and the MAI, both of which were demonstrated to the satisfaction of everyone (with the possible exception of those who reckon to make money off it) that the costs to this country as a nation are far too high.

    It would not, I think, be stretching a point too far to argue that for this government to agree to the TPPA as presently constituted that shackles future government policy to the wishes and whims of foreign (or domestic) corporates, would be fiscally irresponsible, and government MPs and Parties to be liable under the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

    It might be interesting to see what sort of case can be brought.

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