TPPA hit by double whammy


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What a difference a day makes! Two king hits on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement yesterday. The late August version of the intellectual property chapter was posted on Wikileaks. And three quarters of Obama’s Democrats in the House of Representatives sent him a letter pledging they would vote against any attempt to get fast track authority for the TPPA.

Hardly a good omen for the crunch meeting of chief negotiators and hundreds of officials that starts in Salt Lake City next Tuesday! They are supposed to prepare the platform for Tim Groser and the other 11 trade ministers to begin horse-trading in Singapore from 7-9 December. No government in their right mind would do a deal with the US without fast track. But the leak makes it clear that the key chapters are in no shape for that to happen anyway.

How serious is the damage to the end game?

The intellectual property chapter is in trouble because it has nothing to do with trade. It is about the US colonising other countries by forcing them to change their laws to boost the profits of 20th century mega-corporations. The scope impacts on the whole gamut of every nation’s commercial and community life: patents for medicines, copyright, including digital locks and parallel imports, trade marks for tobacco labelling, criminal penalties for violations and rights over indigenous knowledge. The US still has place-savers for several highly controversial further demands, notably on biologic products, which involve genes and living cells. Nicky Hager has a great summary in the NZ Herald. For more detail see KEIonline, Public Citizen Access to Medicines, and Chile’s Digitales.

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The leak exposed three things. First, how little progress has been made since the last leak over a year ago. The chapter has 95 pages with 296 footnotes and 941 brackets that show lack of agreement. Despite all the attempts to talk up progress, this chapter is firmly stuck. The State-owned Enterprises chapter, which is the other one known to be at stalemate, is shorter but equally fraught. Technically, there should be no way they can finish either chapter with one or two more rounds of negotiations, even if they are given political instructions to do so.

Second, this chapter is largely the US against the rest. Japan is the most onside. The US is already planning to divide and rule by offering the poorer countries more time to meet the ‘gold standard’. That leaves the OECD countries, all of which except Japan and New Zealand are already partway there because they have US FTAs. A deal by the ministers in Singapore would mean massive capitulation or concessions from the US that Obama can get past the Congress. Hence the importance of domestic pressure on the governments not to cave. The leak makes that easier, because any final outcome could be compared against positions being taken now. Even countries with US FTAs are holding out. Notably, the frontrunner in Chile’s Presidential elections this coming weekend, Michele Bachelet, has said the TPPA must not be a backdoor way for the US to get what Chile resisted before, and has called for a review of the negotiations.

Third, the leak has forced the major political parties to take a clearer position on secrecy and releasing the draft text. Question time in the House yesterday was great – although both Key and Groser were absent, leaving Gerry Brownlie to field the questions. Winston Peters took charge, but Phil Goff chimed in at the end with a supplementary that asked why New Zealand had to hear this from Wikileaks rather than the government. He said the same in a formal press release. Even more significant, Goff conceded – perhaps unintentionally – that unless the text is released before it is signed, new Zealand will not have a say until it is too late. Then David Cunliffe said on TV3: ‘The current draft is unacceptable. We certainly won’t support the agreement until we’ve seen a full draft’. Hopefully, this signals that Labour will actually take a firm stand on releasing the draft text. We’ll see.

The second bombshell is a letter signed by three quarters of Obama’s own Democrats in the House of Representatives pledging to oppose any request for fast-track authority to get the TPPA through Congress. Fast track, otherwise known as Trade Promotion Authority, would require Congress to accept the final TPPA deal or reject it, in toto, and not to cherry pick the parts they want and block what they do not like. No major deal has been passed without fast track in recent decades.

The Democrats’ rebellion means Obama would have to rely on the Republicans. The Tea Party has already launched its anti-fast track campaign, and opposes the Trade Adjustment Assistance programme that provides extended unemployment benefits and job retraining to US workers who lose their jobs to trade.

According to the New York Times on 12 November, “Other members have signaled their opposition independently, meaning that roughly 40 percent to 50 percent of House members have signaled, sight unseen, that they do not support the regional trade pact.”

This reflects the politics of the House of Representatives, which is driven by constituencies, lobbyists and funders, almost more than by party affiliation. Members are elected every two years. Their priorities, often linked to campaign funds, range from dairy, tobacco, pharmaceutical monopolies and mining to environment, offshoring of jobs, food safety and reining in the finance industry. They are also pissed off at the unprecedented limits on access to the negotiating process and draft text (although they still have more access than any New Zealand MPs have.)

Obama first said he wanted Congress to give him Fast Track during State of the Nation address in February 2013. Eight months later he still has not introduced a bill. Even if they had a bill and Congress was willing, there is no chance fast track could be approved this year. The House of Representatives has only 15 sitting days left for 2013 before they go on a month-long New Year break. The toxic battle over the debt ceiling will dominate politics during February 2014.

Where does this leave next week’s jamboree in Salt Lake City and the trade ministers’ gaming table in Singapore? No government in it’s right mind would make any commitments to the US in this environment. Will they walk away? No. Will they capitulate? Not if we make it too hard for them to do so.


POSTCRIPT: The petition for releasing the text has been left open until the end of the month, to be released just before Groser takes off to the trade ministers’ meeting. It hit 14,000 along with over 11,000 letters from Greenpeace supporters. Groser told TVNZ: ‘there’s absolutely no support for putting these texts out in the public’. Let’s make him eat his words.


  1. Hardly king hits and more like well sign posted road blocks. These were always going to be stumbling blocks.

    NZ and other nations were never going to kowtow to the US position on patent rights no matter how lefties liked to scaremonger and invent conspiracy theories over the the issue.

    Any trade negotiations involving the US will require acquiences from the US congress. As you have highlighted the US Democrats tend to be quite protectionist.

    This post is essentially the equivalent of telling us the religious affiliation of the Pope or where bears defacate.

  2. You meathead Gosman how the hell were any NZ citizens to know what might or might not be “stumbling blocks” or “firm” positions till leaks started happening from these secret talks. Such statements are just bravado from rightwingers who have been tumbled.

    I would prefer no TPPA at all, and in the absence of transparency from the governments and negotiators involved will happily take wikileaks offerings in the meantime. No TPPA!

    • Trade negotiations just like Climate negotiations tend to happen admidst a degree of secrecy initially as the negotiators need to nut out issues between them before they present a draft that each nation can then ratify or not. However it usually isn’t rocket science trying to work out what each nation wants. For example nations like NZ like to push for significant reductions in agricultural protection. Nations like the US wish to protect their intellectual property rights. You act as if these are some sort of State secret which anyone with half a brain would know is not the case.

      • We’re long past needing officials to tell us what we agree to. It’s time for full democracy and transparency.

  3. Perhaps ever so slightly off topic, but at least a little relevant ….

    Can someone remind me what the legal definition of Treason is (in a NZ – and even colonial driven Commonwealth context is?)

    Have things changed – I mean from a legal perspective, and if so … WHEN?

    I seem to remember it was something to do with knowingly bringing severe risk to the security and well-being of the nation-state (in our case NZ).

    It included both economic AND social well-being, but basically was concerned with the viability and continuance of a country (such as NZ) as a sovereign and independent nation-state – with all the perceptions of normality, etc. that came with it (e.g. things like self-determination) .

    Please – don’t assume I’m trying to be smart, but I’m just curious to know when things might have changed, such that ‘conspirators’ – whether knowingly or otherwise began pushing an ideology or agenda that was likely to seal the fate of the nation-state they claimed to have some sort of affinity with (and in which – in most cases – they have personally benefited from)

    I’m curious to know (genuinely).

    • Yeah you are slightly hijacking this thread.

      As for your views I suspect you think someone supporting free trade agreement should be up on a Treason charge. This is nonsensical. The people who support free trade agreements do so from a position that they are in the best interests of the country they are from.

      I understand that you don’t hold this view. That is fine by me. I hold the view that protectionist policies are in the long term bad for nations but I don’t think people who promote protectionism should be tried for treason.

    • Of course! all trade deals are done in secret……

      I mean “commercial sensitivity” is a genuine concern you know…..

      As long as every things ‘above board’ as they say, our security officials need not worry about any acts of subversion around the TPPA, because they’re all just talking ‘business’.

      • The outcome of any negotiation is always subject to the legislative process in countries such as New Zealand. If the agreement was so objectionable then there is ample opportunity for any hald decent opposition to rally public support and nix the change. They can also repeal the law changes if they get in to power.

        A trade agreement is hardly set in stone. Not that you get this fact from reading the scaremongers on the left who would have you believe that there is some kind of special ability of governments to force something through in some secretive manner and more importantly keep it as law for all time.

  4. “No government in it’s right mind would make any commitments to the US in this environment. ” ,that’s the rub isn’t it …how do we rate the Key regime on this question of “in it’s right mind” ?

    I would like to know how we go about nominating Jane Kelsey for the “The Order of New Zealand ” for the selfless effort she is putting into this most critical issue of our time.

  5. Firstly . @ Gosman . Fuck ! You’re all over this aren’t you ? You’re a money fetishist . So go away . Go to where accountants bore each other . Surely , a special kind of Hell . You’ve already outed yourself , like the psychopath . You can’t stand the idea that you may go unnoticed no matter your heinous , money fiddling past .

    Secondly ; You , wonderful Prof Jane Kelsey are not alone , as I’m sure you know . Thank you and well done .

  6. The problem with the TPPA once Washington DC and Tokyo got involved is that it was no longer a free trade agreement. It basically became something more akin to a modern-day East India Company. There will especially be nothing in it for us if there’s little or no movement on farm subsidies and quotas.

    • Quite possibly true but it is a far cry from that to state that people are selling out Nz interests. If NZ gets no concessions on this trade agreement then it is virtually certain that it won’t be signed let alone put into law.

  7. Onya Bomber. Got “Gosman” down to the “reasonable” line. She’s over. Appreciate it, have a beer and recharge mate.

  8. “No government in it’s right mind” – Our government isn’t in its right mind. It’s insane and lead by an insane man.

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