Groser and co would have been spitting tacks last week as the ANZAC spirit deserted the TPPA negotiations. Australia has done a deal directly with Japan which undercuts the demand for Japan to opening all agriculture in the TPPA. It leaves New Zealand struggling, more than ever, to get even the dust from the crumbs on the TPPA table. More on what that means later in the blog.
First up, a great thank you to everyone who turned out, in body or in spirit, on the national day of action against the TPPA on 29th.
I don’t think there has ever been a mobilisation like that in towns and cities across the country to oppose one of these agreements – even the MAI back in the 1990s, although Maori did manage a hikoi over the Auckland harbour bridge!
The most exciting thing for me is that this happened because people in all parts of Aotearoa spontaneously wanted to do something to stop the TPPA and started to organise among themselves.
There was great support from the sponsors: Oxfam, Greenpeace, CAFCA, the NZCTU and lots of the unions. All the opposition parties were on board. Greens, NZ First, Mana and the Maori Party spoke at many of the protests, plus a last minute appearance from David Cunliffe in Auckland – once it was clear that Labour would look pathetic if they didn’t appear. Better late than never, but still not far enough.
Above all, it was the huge energy on the ground, with coordinators in the centres and Ed Miller and Chris Zack nationally, that made it work. If you haven’t seen the roundup, including the massive media overage, go to itsourfuture.org.nz or the face book. Thanks also to the tweet team at #TPPANoWay.
Already people are asking when the next protest will be. Setting an arbitrary date doesn’t make much sense. But the secret squirrel bullshit continues, which makes it hard to pin down the next big target.
The groundwork has been done to mobilise at short notice. Word can get around fast. Keep the placards and banners at the ready – better still, put them in your window or on your fence.
We have just heard that the chief negotiators will meet in Vietnam from 12-15 May. That’s just before the trade ministers from the TPPA countries meet in China. We suspect they may have a ministerial meeting after that in Vietnam but only if Obama has made a breakthrough with Japan. The ministers won’t want to meet again if they come away with another ‘failed’ ministerial. Watch this space…
Which brings me back to Australia’s potential sabotage.
Australia has been negotiating a free trade agreement with Japan since 2005. It was stuck on agriculture into Japan and cars from Japan to Oz. Now that Abbott’s Liberals have sacrificed the car industry, with tens out thousands of jobs, they have cleared the way for trade-offs with Japan on agriculture.
There is scant detail. No text will be available for at least another month – conveniently after the TPPA ministers are next together in China. But it is clear that Australia has settled for far less on agriculture from Japan than is being demanded in the TPPA. There also seems to be no investor-state dispute settlement in the agreement.
Why could this be a deal-breaker? The Abbott government has promised to safeguard Japan’s five sacred products (rice, sugar, beef and pork, wheat and dairy) in the TPPA. Now it has given up a small amount of some of those to Australia. Those concessions will already create a furore in the Diet.
Obama is due to visit Japan from 23 to 25 April, where he was hoping to broker a deal. The talks on agriculture were already bogged down, with the US demanding much more than Japan was prepared to give.
Now Australia has undercut the ‘gold standard’ the US and NZ were demanding from Japan, and got first dibs on the total that Japan might be prepared to offer.
Further, Australia is entitled to anything better that Japan offers the US or others. That increases the political costs to the Abbott government if Japan makes any better deal with the US.
Why has Australia done this? Some suggest that Australia doesn’t think the TPPA is going to fly, so it has done the best deal it thinks it can with Japan. Other say Australia wanted to get something from the TPPA, so had to get in before the US.
If the US is unhappy about this, Groser must be distraught. He has insisted there must be comprehensive liberalisation of all agricultural products, even if it is phased over a long time – and he has consistently said he will walk away if that is not achieved. Australia has basically pulled the rug from under him.
It’s time for Tim to face reality. New Zealand has nothing to bargain with and no political leverage. The risks to our sovereignty from the TPPA are simply too high, and the prospects for economic benefits are even lower than before. Walk away Tim, walk away!