It’s been a great month for the campaign to stop the corporate deal of the century (although there are bound to be many more!) More than 26,000 messages went to Groser and Key from the ‘It’s not democracy, it’s not right’ campaign, supported by the celebrity video, and from Greenpeace’s letter campaign.
The 4 December press conference of five political parties, supporting the call to release the text, saw some great speeches, although too little media coverage. They are worth a watch on Scoop.
Green’s co-leader Russel Norman ridiculed the argument that ‘you can’t possibly do a negotiation in public. The other governments are aware of the NZ government position. It is in fact the people of NZ who don’t know the position of the NZ government.’
Phil Twyford from Labour described ‘the secrecy with which this government has negotiated the TPPA thus far’ as ‘undemocratic and divisive’. He and MANA’s Hone Harawira both pointed to the irony that New Zealanders’ had to find out what’s in the intellectual property text from Wikileaks. Hone argued that ‘Any threat to the Treaty of Waitangi we will oppose. The TPPA is a threat to the Treaty of Waitangi. The TPPA is a threat to the sovereignty of the NZ people, it’s a threat to the sovereignty of the NZ government.’
Tracey Martin, the deputy leader of New Zealand First was one of the best, pointing out that ‘We are all singing from the same songsheet here. This is about our sovereignty. This is about the NZ people being able to understand the decisions that their government is making on their behalf, and not only their behalf but their children and all NZers going forward. … To say “trust us, we know what we are doing” as Ruth Richardson did in the 1990s, just doesn’t wash any more. We’ve been betrayed before by a National government, we’re not going to take “trust us” as a statement, we don’t trust them, we want to see the document, we want to see what they’re talking about, there’s no such thing as free trade, it always costs us in the end, but what will it cost us and who will pay?’
Te Ururoa Flavell made the first real position statement from the Maori Party on the TPPA, and talked passionately about the WAI-262 claim, Smokefree Aotearoa and Treaty settlements. ‘Our people have fought for a long time to gain control of our destiny and culture and natural heritage and our rights and we believe that the TPPA will take that away.’
Avaaz also reactivated their campaign against the TPPA. Last December we handed over the global petition of almost 3Ž4 million people opposing the TPPA. Last week Avaaz organised more than 4500 messages to David Cunliffe, John Key and Tim Groser to ‘stop NZ leaders selling out or democracy’.
Polling by Avaaz conducted in four countries just before the December ministerial meeting reinforced the message for political parties from our own polling last December – supporting this agreement is a liability! 70% of Kiwis oppose an agreement that would limit access to generic medicines, with only 18% supporting it; 56% were opposed corporations having the right to sue the government, with only 25% in support; 71% said it was not acceptable to keep the deal secret until it was signed, with 10% supporting secrecy; and over half concluded the deal was a threat to democracy, a quarter did not know, and only 21% said the deal would benefit New Zealand.
On that polling, not even all National’s supporters like the proposed deal – let alone the voters that Labour is trying to woo back to the polling booth. That raises a serious question for Labour – why are they letting Phil Goff hold the Party to ransom by shouting from the rooftops – or least from the Herald headlines – as its official spokesperson that the TPPA will be great for New Zealand?
Labour’s silence gets worse …
Media coverage of last week’s meeting of TPPA trade ministers in Singapore had a common theme, here and overseas. Headlines screamed that the politicians failed to meet a self-imposed deadline of 2013, as if that was fatal to the deal. If that was true, we could all now go on a well-earned summer holiday without worrying that Tim Groser and his counterparts will sell us down the river. No one would love that more than me! Sadly, that’s not what’s happening.
A deal was never going to be concluded at the ministerial. What we feared, and what did happen, was that dominoes began to fall. Ministers defied three years of standoffs and stalemate and began to sell out by agreeing on so-called ‘landing zones’.
Mid-way through the ministerial Wikileaks posted two documents from one unnamed country that revealed there had been real dissension within the ranks just weeks before. One confirmed stories I reported from the November round in Salt Lake City about US heavying of other countries.
The second document charted the positions of different governments on key issues prior to the Singapore ministerial, showing a chasm between the US and most other countries. New Zealand’s position was weak on some areas, including investment, and self-serving in areas involving agriculture, but it was seen to be holding the line on intellectual property along with most other countries.
Washington Trade Daily (behind a paywall) dropped a bombshell on the final day of the meeting. It reported that ten ministers from the non-US countries had dropped their opposition to US intellectual property demands, subject to a few amendments. That presumably means a slightly adjusted version of the draft IP chapter that Wikileaks posted last month. Only one of the poorer countries apparently held out.
Groser has not denied that New Zealand has made or intends to make such concessions on IP, but is spinning some meticulously crafted statements designed to seduce the uninitiated.
When he says ‘technically, no decisions have been made’ that’s because in these negotiations ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’. The US has still not make any substantial offers on dairy or anything the other countries want so there is no final decision on IP. But Groser and others seem to have agreed to ‘potential landing zones’ and officials will now work within those parameters. That means the US has basically won without giving anything up.
On medicines, Groser says ‘We’ll require some adjustments but nothing that will cost New Zealand too much’ andNew Zealanders will not pay more for their medicines. Decoded means more of the medicines budget will go to Big Pharma. If the government won’t increase Pharmac’s budget to compensate, there will be fewer subsidised medicines thanks to the TPPA.
Likewise, ‘he would not rule out some extra cost to the Government to meet so-called transparency rules on Pharmac that would allow drug companies to challenge Pharmac’s decisions. That could require new regulation’. Regulations do not require Parliament’s prior approval. Of course, the claim of minimal impacts is crap – why would Phrma be demanding these processes if they don’t gain leverage over Pharmac’s decisions?
After admitting that he’s planning to cave on NZ’s resistance to the IP chapter, Groser says claims about him selling out are not true. Because he and the officials are the only ones who see the text, we just have to trust him when he says that. Seems that Phil Goff is only too happy to do so. It seems extraordinary that the only formal statement from Labour since the ministerial has been a cheerleading piece where Goff claims ‘NZ will be the winner in the TPP’. Not a peep about Pharmac, which is supposedly one of Labour’s bottom lines.
There’s one other angle that needs tackling – the lie that continues to be peddled by the cheerleaders that Parliament will ratify any final treaty. Joyce, who has been drafted in as Groser’s proxy, insisted that was the case in the House – but had to admit to Russel Norman next day that he was wrong and that Cabinet makes that decision. Stephen Jacobi, who has spent his life peddling these agreements, still does not seem to understand the constitutional realities. Maybe wilful blindness is a qualification for such a position?
Where to now? According to Groser, the chief negotiators will be ‘working fast and furious’ to pre-script more tradeoffs before the ministers next meet in late January. As if the current siege mentality is not enough, there are reportedly planning to meet on the margins of the corporate lobby talkfest hosted each year by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
That means pressure at home over the summer break, and a renewed campaign as they target a final deal around the APEC trade ministers meeting in April 2014. The last thing we can afford to do is relax the pressure and scrutiny on a government that is increasingly under siege on the TPPA.