The TPPA and the Promised Land – A Critique of the Fran O’Sullivan Doctrine


My blog is late because I indulged myself by waiting up to see New Zealand win the Rugby League World Cup Final. Unfortunately they didn’t and were walloped 32-2 by Australia. So much promised by so many for such a very bad result.

And thinking about unfulfilled promises at 5 in the morning got me thinking of Fran O’ Sullivan, that worthy recipient of the Milton Friedman TINA Award, as she has laid in to one and all who have found any fault in the promises of great and unrivaled future prosperity by the adherents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA).

In particular she has wielded her neo-liberal broadsword against academics, trade unionists, the Labour and Green Parties and Neanderthal lefties in general who dare to even suggest that the TPPA, or what has been leaked about it, may have some downsides.

Signing the TPPA, says Fran, will bring the Promised Land .We will be led to it by John Key, Tim Groser (such an apt name at times!) and a band of angels. Academics like Professor Jane Kelsey who ask why if it is such a great deal the details are kept from the great unwashed are ordered by Fran to wash their mouths out. The Labour Party conference was flayed as a band of unregenerate head-in-the –sand leftists for having the temerity to resolve that no deal be signed until the provisions of the TPPA are made public and the national interest ruler is applied.

Fran is counting on Phil to get David to find a way to bin all of this nonsense and get Labour to be realistic and sign up to the inevitable. Those of us who belong to the great unwashed are relying on David to stay the course and implement what the Labour membership has resolved.

This will give us a Labour Party that is worth voting for because it has at last figured out that in the end principle and honesty in politics gain the respect of the public not opportunism and contempt for the base of the Party. It is worth remembering that the public moved past Labour leaderships on issues such as the war on Vietnam, racist rugby tours, nuclear weapons and Rogernomics as proof for this important political fact.

As Fran’s articles have become more and more shrill in demanding acceptance of the TPPA warts and all in order to give John Key and Tim Groser a happy Christmas ,I thought I might send her some early festive reading. She will be surprised that some very senior lefties have actually praised free trade while stressing, unlike Fran, that it has its limits and drawbacks.

I have underlined some of the text in the tract that I will send to Fran:

TDB Recommends

“[Capitalism] … has through its exploitation of the world-market given a cosmopolitan character to production and consumption in every country…it has drawn from under the feet of industry the national ground on which it stood. All-old established industries have been destroyed or are daily being destroyed .They are dislodged by new industries , whose introduction becomes a life and death question for all civilised nations , by industries that no longer work up indigenous raw materials , but raw material drawn from the remotest zones; industries whose products are consumed not only at home but in every quarter of the globe…in place of the old local and national seclusion and self-sufficiency , we have intercourse in every direction , universal inter-dependence of nations…The intellectual creations of individual nations become common property. National one-sidedness and narrow-mindedness become more and more impossible and from the numerous national and local literatures, there arises a world literature.”

But the authors of this paean of praise to globalisation and free trade, unlike Fran, also look at the downsides:

“It is enough to mention the commercial crises that by their periodical return put on its trial… the existence of the entire bourgeois society. In these crises a great part not only of the existing products, but also of the previously created productive forces, are periodically destroyed…there breaks out an epidemic that, in all earlier epochs, would have seemed an absurdity – the epidemic of over-production.”

The obviously lefty authors whom Fran would automatically, before reading them, have pigeon holed as outdated anti-free traders and nationalists will continue to surprise her as they sing the praises of globalisation and free trade:

“National differences and antagonisms between peoples are daily more and more vanishing. Owing to the development of the bourgeoisie, to freedom of commerce, to the world-market, to uniformity in the mode of production and in the conditions of life corresponding thereto.”

But having got this far Fran, I am afraid, will be disappointed in these lefties.

Having recognised that the enormous productivity released world-wide by capitalism can create abundance and prosperity the writers don’t think that it is a good idea to leave it to well-heeled elites but to have democratic control so that these new productive forces and the trade in the goods and service produced will be at the service of humankind and not result in destructive crises in world markets through over production. The authors contended that a rational world trade could be achieved through the cooperation of the productive workers .

The latter, in their view, in every land should run the show not a very small elite who today have more wealth individually than the vast majority of people on the planet:

“United action of the leading civilised countries at least, is one of the first conditions for the emancipation of the proletariat…In proportion as the exploitation of one individual by another is put an end to, the exploitation of one nation by another will also be an end to. In proportion as the antagonism between classes, within the nation vanishes, the hostility of one nation to another will come to an end.”

However, I don’t think that Fran will, judging from her horror at even the slightest part of a market economy being subject to democratic controls , be persuaded that Marx and Engels when they wrote the above for the Communist Manifesto in 1848 were on the money so to speak.

And the Labour leadership may not want to go so far as to accept that a world of fair trade beneficial to all will be achieved through the programme set down in the Communist Manifesto. But when countries as disparate as Malaysia and Canada are baulking at provisions that will allow foreign investors to tie them up in litigation when they pursue social goals, make illegal generic medicines that undercut the pharmaceutical giants, weaken environmental provisions crucial to battling climate change and in general make a nonsense of the term “free”: before “trade”, then maybe they too will agree with Karl and Fred that not all is rosy in the garden if free trade rules the roost.

In contrast Marx and Engels merely noted that the benefits of free trade become benefits for all when the decisions on how to trade and under what terms become the decisions of the vast majority in open public forum. That it seems to me is all that the Labour Party conference was asking for.

I hope Fran enjoys her Christmas reading.


  1. Methinks Ms O’Sullivan and her fellow-travellers in neo-liberalism are becoming more and more aware with each passing day that the TPPA is fated for the rubbish bin of history. Hence their hysterical reactions to, what might otherwise be seen as, fair suggestions that the TPPA be made publicly available before signing up to it.

    After all, in what other avenues of commerce do parties sign up to a deal without first reading the fine print?

    Key suggests that we trust him and his government? Not on your f****n nellie, Ms O’Sullivan. We’ve seen enough of Key’s backroom shonkey deals; penchant for corporate welfarism; and and broken promises to trust him as far as I could thrown a Diplodocus.

    And speaking of extinct beasts, the entire tenets of neo-liberalism are up for re-negotiation. Post-2008 and the GFC/Recession, the world can no longer trust commerce, the “markets”, etc, to run unfettered. Like speed limits that govern our roads, Big Business and financial activities also need brakes on their activities.

    Otherwise the next GFC may finish off the much vaunted global economy for a very long time.

    • Once again left wingers go off on extreme tangents when discussing the ins and outs of international trade. To repeat – nothing in the TPPA that will lead to significant changes comes into effect UNTIL it is passed in to law by the NZ Parliament. Also there is nothing stopping any subsequent Government simply amending the law or pulling out of the TPPA altogether. If you don’t like it then fine campaign for the political parties you support to oppose it. However don’t try spinning this as if signing the TPPA is the end of Progressive society as we know it. You just look foolish, (or more foolish than usual).

      • Just FYI, a deal of this sort does not have to be seen or voted on by the full parliament, it can be signed in by the executive. Also, there is a provision in the deal that sets down that the contents of the deal cannot be made public for four years after it is signed. & lastly, this deal contains something called investor rights clauses. They state that investors can sue governments in ‘private arbitration courts’ should the Government do anything that threatens the profits of private companies, & that includes pulling out of the deal.
        In short, youre wrong about this deal not causing significant changes. the TPPA is nothing less than the handing over of economic sovereignty to overseas mega-corporates.

        • Whether or not you are right, (and I suspect you are not), what you ignore is that any provisions of the agreement can not be made law until they have legislative backing. This requires the assent of Parliament.

          • Assent from parliament requires just one vote. I hope that representatives would be responsible and not vote on any long lasting national agreement without significant public debate. Who knows but all this secrecy is spooky give me the creeps.

            • Finally someone acknowledges that nothing really changes without it passing Parliamentary scrutiny.

              I agree any legislation should be subject to the usual process that laws undergo in this country. The various parties can make their cases and if enough MP’s support the law change it will pass. If not then NZ will not be part of the TPPA. Simple really.

              • Gosman:
                “Finally someone acknowledges that nothing really changes without it passing Parliamentary scrutiny.”

                Matthew claims:
                “a deal of this sort does not have to be seen or voted on by the full parliament, it can be signed in by the executive.”

                Is Matthew wrong Gosman? Even if he is, the ratification bill can be pushed through parliament under urgency, as has most of the anti-democratic legislation passed by the Key regime. Besides, since the contents of the TPPA cannot be revealed to the public until 4 years after it’s ratified, civil society could not have meaningful democratic input into the ratification bill even in the unlikely event that it was allowed to go to select committee.

                Trade treaties were traditionally a set of handshake agreements about trade, which future governments could withdraw from at any time, with the only consequence being the loss of the benefits agreed in the treaty. Because it hands over power to arbitrate the contents of the agreement to global bureaucracies like the WTO, the TPPA is not a trade treaty, it’s more like a surrender treaty, and I for one, am *not* prepared to surrender Aotearoa to yet more economic strip-mining.

                • A law passed under urgency is still going through the parliamentary process. I think it is unlikely this would happen anyway however even if it did and the opposition failed to stop potentially damaging legislation passing there would be nothing stopping a future bill from repealing or superseding it. This is why the whole anti-TPPA campaign is a bit of a joke. If you don’t like the legal changes required to be part of it then vote against them or repeal them and pull out of the TPPA. It is no different to CER. We can pull out of CER at any stage, (although it would be a bit of a legislative nightmare to do so now admittedly). International agreements are not set in stone as much as some would like them to be. You just need to see what the Australian Government did in relation to the open skies arrangement in the 1990’s to see that.

                  • Gosman:
                    “A law passed under urgency is still going through the parliamentary process.”

                    Technically yes, but your original claim implied that “going through the parliamentary process” gives somebody other than the current government some way of having democratic input into the TPPA. Clearly, that’s not the case, and while continuing to claim that a future government could just withdraw from the TPPA on a whim, you gloss over the fact that as with Sky City, there are political booby traps built into the deal which make that difficult if not impossible, as you admit in the case of CER.

                    • It does not make it impossible. These ‘traps’ as you phrase them are simply sanctions by other nations. These can be imposed already if these nations so desire. Cuba and the US is a good example of this.

          • Key’s government is dead keen to sign this deal in, so I dont see the point of your post. It will be rubber stamped if they have the chance. & for that we should all be very afraid.
            & I am right… do some research… google Ecuador V Chevron oil …. good bedtime reading

            • It can’t be rubber stamped. It needs the backing of legislation to be made law. Otherwise no legal authority in the land will recognise it.

      • Have you had much experience yourself about the ins and outs of international trade?

        I had a 30 year old business in a high value artisan type field that had the 15% import tariff removed in 2001. My retail customers soon switched to product from Thailand and China while driving my prices down through competitive pressure.

        If I want to export I find that the countries I would supply to carry import tariffs of 40%.

        All the right wing neolib bullshit about level playing fields has left me struggling in a way that makes me feel resentful towards many of the people in NZ who don’t give a stuff about the overall wellbeing of their country and its society.

        Smug theorists like you will get their dues one day soon I hope.

        • So you want the country to protect your business for what reason? If you can’t compete then don’t compete. If you want other countries not to protect their industries so you can compete then support free trade deals. Simple really.

          • I never made a fortune, but I found that their bowls of rice was a lot cheaper than my bowl of rice. Meanwhile those on our shores who have no direct competition hike pay scales up into the stratosphere.

            I feel after many years of learning and gaining expertise as a self-employed worker that I have been spat out of society.

            How would a theorist such as yourself suggest that I put pressure on the large trading countries to drop their tariff rate from 40% to zero? Even our mighty dairy and meat industries can’t get them to drop tariffs.

            Do you ever rub shoulders with reality Gosman?

            • How smaller countries get more powerful bations to drop trade and tarrif protection is unsurprisingly via bi and multi lateral trade negotiatiobs such as being carried out for the TPPA. In the absence of some Global government, (which I suspect some leftists have wet dreams over), there really isn’t any alternatives.

              What I find strange about some leftists is that they blame economic problems in places like Cuba and Venezuela on them not being able to trade with the US but then decry the process required to actually get more favourable access to the same market. You simply can’t have it both ways.

              • >> In the absence of some Global government, (which I suspect some leftists have wet dreams over), there really isn’t any alternatives. <<

                And there we have it: the TINA doctrine (There Is No Alternative). Actually Gosman, "free trade" treaties *are* erecting a global government, and a completely undemocratic one at that. The smoking gun is the way treaties like the TPPA give the power to punish elected governments to the WTO, an unelected global bureaucracy.

                There are a multitude of alternatives. The main debate amongst their proponents is whether these should be based on strengthening the state to protect citizens from corporate globalization – the "expanding the cage" strategy to quote Noam Chomsky – or whether the state and its elected dictatorships are part of the problem, and sovereignty should be returned to local assemblies, who can send recallable representatives to larger assemblies at region, country, continent, and global scales when necessary. Like David Graeber, I favour the latter strategy.

                • Go ahead and push for this. I doubt you will make much progress anytime soon. Even the much trumpeted, (by some leftists at least) radical change in Iceland as a result of the GFC wasn’t actually that radical and nothing much has changed there. I am far more interested in what can be achieved rather than what you might wish to be achieved.

          • Not that you’ve ever been involved in business, Gosman (which I have, by the way), but how would you compete with low-waged societies where workers are paid a dollar a day? And have no health and safety protections? Or ACC levies to pay. Or holiday pay. Etc.

            How do you compete with another country that plays by a different rule book?

            • Indeed Frank.
              My product was based on materials that were always traded on the US dollar so it was easy to see what the labour factor was in the imported items. An item that had about $100 worth of my time appeared to have about $4 or $5 labour in the imported item.
              I never reached the average wage and only once came close to being on provisional tax. Not a great success moneywise but I took pride in my designs and quality and felt like a contributor to my society. The end purchaser appreciated it too.

              Another piece of theory is that the cost savings on imported goods pass through to the public.
              In reality I saw retailers margins increase by 50% and retail prices remain as they were.
              More skewing of the market to allow the trickle-up for those in control.

            • Have you heard of the Milenium Development Goals? One of the key goals is the aim to cut Absolute poverty in the developing world by 50 % by 2015. This is one of the few goals that is likely to be achieved in time. Do you know why they are likely to meet this goal?


                “Between 1990 and 2015 Halving the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 per day” (Target 1A)

                I assume this is the item to which you refer, although you have distorted the wording somewhat.

                Perhaps this target has been made easier due to the inflation over the past 15 years caused by the worlds banking system.

                If that is not the reason what do you put it down to ?

      • To repeat – nothing in the TPPA that will lead to significant changes comes into effect UNTIL it is passed in to law by the NZ Parliament.

        And you know this – how?

        Considering the contents of the TPPA are secret, how can you confidently state anything about this treaty?

        Your blind devotion to secret neo-liberal agreements is touching.

        You might as well state your belief in pixies, Norse gods, and honest Wall St financiers. (And I’m not sure about including pixies and Norse gods with the fantasy of honest Wall Street financiers.)

        *pssst* Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny don’t really exist…

        • I know it because that is how our system of government works. If you bothered to look it up you should know that Parliament is SOVEREIGN in this country. That means Parliament sets what laws we follow. You can’t change that by signing a treaty no matter what political outlook you follow.

          • “Whether or not you are right, (and I suspect you are not)”

            no – you dont know it – you admit as much in your own words

            and with regards to this point – yes parliament is sovereign, but IF we decide to change something we can be sued for it – get it?

            Do you call that free trade? – i call it extortion and intimidation

            and lets not forget thats only one tiny part of the TPP, what about any of the other clauses that make up the bulk of the TPP that dont even deal with trade?

            You can focus on a single point all you want but you do yourself no favours by not following the train of consequences and not including the entire picture

            You say critics of the TPP (which come from both left and right) are going off the deep end – but you cant seem to notice the substantial, balanced and wide ranging international condemnation from many quarters around the world and it seems you havent yet twigged that trade clauses make up a tiny % of the deal.

            When groups who are normally ideological strangers end up agreeing with each other – what does that tell you?

          • It’s interesting that you know this when no one knows the text of the TPPA, including what penalties might be involved should we attempt to withdraw.

            And if an investor signs a deal during the life of the TPPA – then what remedies do they have even if we do withdraw from the treaty? Their right to sue may not be extinguished simply because we’ve withdrawn.

            We don’t know. No one knows (except the Nats – and they’re not telling.)

            Which raises questions in itself. If the Treaty is so fabulously good for us – why isn’t Key trumpeting it from the Ninth Floor? Why the secrecy? What is he and Groser hiding from us?

            As for how sovereign our Parliament is – that remains to be seen, when faced against corporate power and the extortionate demands they place on us. Warner Bros and Rio Tinto should serve as a clear warning as to where we’re heading.

            You and Fran O’Sullivan seem to be the few remaining acolytes whose faith in this proposed treaty remains unphased. How you can support something you’ve never seen and have little knowledge of baffles the bejeezus out of me.

            • Ummm… Frank the other nations could only apply sanctions against NZ that they currently could apply to us WITHOUT a treaty. There is no extra ability for the US or Australia or Chile or whoever to punish us. If we pulled out then we would likely lose the benefits of preferential access to their markets but as we currently don’t have this now, (for many of the countries involved) the question would be so what? They aren’t likely going to invade or even seize NZ assets overseas. Your ignorance on these matters is rather disturbing.

          • How about a deal that allows companies to sue our government in ‘private arbitration tribunals’ that do not have to follow any countries sovereign laws, if our government has the audacity to pass a law that impedes their profits? Say, for example, we ban Fracking, & any & all companies that have been using fracking to find oil sue our govt for lost profits … how does that fit with your idea of infallible sovereign government? Because the TPPA allows for just that scenario…..

            • That still requires a law change to take effect in NZ. If you don’t pass the law then signing the TPPA doesn’t automatically give these other nations the right to sue the NZ Government in NZ courts. If we don’t recognise the rights of these private arbitration panels then we also don’t have to follow them. It is no different to how the International justice works now. Just as the US does not recognise the jurisdiction of the War crimes tribunal over it’s citizens.

              • If the executive sign this deal into existence, yes, it does allow companies to sue the government immediately. Signing the deal brings the arbitration panels into use, they already exist & are being used by other countries who have signed deals like this in the past… did you google Ecuador v Chevron like i said?
                You are sitting here telling everyone else we are wrong, & naive. But the fact is, youre the one who is wrong, & you are the one being naive. This deal is a stitch-up & the bait on the hook is selling milk to the americans….. who, btw, have already said they wont relax tariffs until 2030, so we may have to wait for that….
                open your eyes man …

    • Not an avenue of commerce, but National MP’s voted this year on the Public Health and Disability Amendment Bill where the Regulatory Impact Statement was redacted.
      That is, redacted not just for the public, but for the MP’s.

      So voting on something where there is a documented risk, but that risk is completely unknown is something that National MP’s are happy to say yes to.

      It is the most obvious sign that National do no represent anyone in New Zealand.

  2. Perhaps Canada is speaking from the position of once bitten twice shy hindsight. Somehow Canadians and Mexicans haven’t prospered from their North American trade deal as much as the neighbour in the middle.

  3. “Post-2008 and the GFC/Recession, the world can no longer trust commerce, the “markets”, etc, to run unfettered” – Post every “Boom and Bust” bubble over the last 500 years!
    It seems we are doomed to repeat history with monotonous regularity, until we, as a species, see the light, or perish in an orgy of unsustainability!

  4. If you put jenny shipley , ruth richardson , hekia parata , judith collins , paula bennett , anne tolly and helen clark into a pot and boiled them down , fran o’sullivan would be the rendering .

    She and her followers are no longer fashionable , no longer wanted and of highly questionable integrity as will be discovered when the inquiries start .

    Those whom defended her and her ilks loathsome agendas of greed and chaos causing , societal tinkering which has caused such damage and will linger for generations will be viewed historically as not only greedy money fetishists but just dull minded fools for being so easily manipulated by sociopaths such as freaky fran .

    @ Gosman . That’s irony in case you were wondering .

  5. Kia ora Matt, thanks for this piece. You mind want to add another title to Fran’s holiday reading, ‘The Democracy Project’ by Wall St occupier and Professor of Anthropology David Graeber. An easy and inspiring Christmas read summarizing arguments Graeber has made elsewhere in books like Debt: The First 5000 Years, and essays like ‘There Never Was a West’, as they relate to the ideals and history of “democracy”. The relevant one here is where Graeber points out that what globalization treaties like the TPPA have really been doing in the name of “free trade”, “free markets” etc is erecting massively centralized global bureaucracies like the WTO, which ordinary citizens have no way of holding accountable.

    In this book Graeber begins with a discussion of the historical records which show that far from being “democracies” in any meaningful sense of the word, modern republics like the USA and France (as well as parliamentary monarchies like the UK and NZ) were set up precisely to protect the wealthy (whether aristocratic or capitalist) from the threat of popular democracy. In fact, they are no more democratic than were the USSR and other regimes which preferred to clothe themselves in “socialist” or “communist” rhetoric. In other words the machinery of corporate globalization has nothing to do with anything a libertarian would call “capitalism”, just as the regimes of the USSR etc had nothing to with anything Marx would have called “communism”.

    If we need an appropriate phrase for the global system that the TPPA is part of building, we need only refer to Mussolini’s famous quote that “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

    • “Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”
      Unfortunately something neo-libs (including RW Labourites of the past couple of decades) can’t seem to grasp.
      What’s worse is the manner in which our ‘public service’ has been corporatised such that many gubbamint agencies now operate as Snr. Mgmnt’s little fiefdoms (often led by the incompetent and handed on to the next member in ‘the club’ on their golden handshake retirement)
      Democracy it ain’t!

  6. Free trade is about externalising the costs of production to other countries. Not moral but cheap. It happens to us as we do to others.

  7. “Current global agreements, established by the World Trade Organization in 1995, establish patent monopolies for pharmaceutical products, but also include legal safeguards that empower poor countries, where high costs may bar sick people from getting medicine, to develop cheaper alternatives. Some countries, like India, have outlawed “evergreening.” If passed, the TPP would overturn these protections….”

    “This proposal will raise drug prices and keep medicines unaffordable and out of reach,” Maybarduk said. “If it’s instituted, it will most certainly lead to preventable suffering and death.”

    “Five countries, including Chile, Malaysia and Singapore, have banded together to write up a counter-proposal that maintains the international standards set by the World Trade Organization.”

    I have a question for the Prime Minister:

    Mr Key, the secretive TPPA has been called, the “most harmful ever” trade pact for affordable medicine.

    Mr Goff says the Trade Minister has assured him drug-buying agency Pharmac will be protected

    The statement above, left out New Zealand’s name. This is an obvious oversight.

    Mr Key can you confirm then, that New Zealand is one of the five countries that have banded together against the TPPA attack on affordable medicine?

  8. Totally off-topic:

    have a great festive season, Matt – and please keep contributing next year. You provide thoughtful and challenging material that is a pleasure to read. Thank you for all the good pieces you’ve given us this year.

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