Trick question. Any TPPA would be crap. But a future government will try to sell it to us anyway. It is clear that there won’t be any deal until well after the election and the new government is installed. So where will the parties and potential coalition partners line up?
We know where the Nats stand. Expect Groser to sign up to a deal irrespective of how crap it is. He and Key have been sending mixed messages, presumably to cover all their options. On one hand Key insists that Japan must make a total surrender (although he never demands the same from the US). At the same time Groser is trying to dampen expectations, knowing that Japan and the US will deliver diddly squat to NZ and extract a high price in return.
Few of their colleagues would have a clue about what a finalised TPPA actually said. After all, blind trust is much easier than getting bogged down in the gritty details.
Then they’d spin it for all it’s worth (not much): NZ’s isn’t looking for immediate gains; we’re for the long-term; the real return will come when the big players join, especially South Korea and ultimately China; NZ can’t afford to be left behind.
And pigs might fly. But provided a deal was struck in the first two years of a new government, National would assume there would be no political come back. Even if there were political risks, Groser would want to do it anyway. Voters have short-term memories and other priorities.
What about National’s current coalition partners, whoever remains in the running? Peter Dunne is a long-time advocate of free trade and will continue to turn a deaf ear to his constituents and others who point out the contradictions with his own policies. ACT will go with a TPPA, even though it has argued against the executive’s treaty making power in the past. The Maori Party has been strong in its criticism over the past year, but it is not going to squander what minimal leverage it might have on trying to block the TPPA. As for Colin Craig – has he ever heard of the TPPA?
Would NZ First make the TPPA a red line with whichever party, assuming they hit the threshold? Winston has asked some highly critical questions in the House on the TPPA, but has not made it a major issue outside. His deputy, Tracey Martin has made a great speech at the politicos’ press conference late last year about secrecy, democracy and national sovereignty.
It would be nice to rely on Winston, especially as none of his policies would be deliverable under a TPPA. But I remember how a once-staunch opponent of the multilateral agreement on investment (MAI) in the late 1990s was suddenly besties with Condi Rice once he became foreign minister as part of the Labour-led government.
Labour is captive of a fundamental contradiction. So many of its policies would be threatened under a TPPA, especially by investor-state disputes. But anyone who heard David Shearer on Insight several weeks ago channel the same uncritical line as Phil Goff know that Labour’s old guard would reject a TPPA over their dead bodies.
Whichever party is in power, Goff and Shearer are likely to retain the crucial portfolios of overseas trade and foreign affairs. If in government, they will be as desperate as Groser to sign a deal. In opposition they would likely remain Labour’s members on the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committee that would consider any agreement.
Could the Greens force Labour into a corner? Yes they could, and the growing share of the traditional left vote now occupied by the Greens will prove critical. Again, they had been staunchly critical of the process and substance of the TPPA. Yet Russel Norman was equivocal when asked on TV3’s The Nation in March whether the TPPA would be a red line for the Greens. They sure could do with some help drawing that red line.
That leaves Internet MANA. Both constituent parts have been implacably opposed to the TPPA.
Not a pretty picture, unless people make it clear that there is a high political price of supporting any TPPA. Base lines should include: release of the draft texts now; reject the right of investors to sue; no changes to New Zealand’s existing IT and pharmaceuticals regimes; rights to re-regulate financial markets, foreign investment and capital flows; priority to public health and other public services over foreign commercial interests; protection of data privacy; Buy Kiwi at central and local government level; among many others.
Achieving that means making the TPPA an election issue at every opportunity – candidates meetings, political debates, letters to the editor, talkback and other media. Vocal constituencies are the backbone of most parties, from Grey Power, trade unions and tangata whenua to local businesses and the IT community.
Above all, bring these politics back into the smoko room (without the smokes) and the dinner table, and make this election about policies that matter, not the sideshows the mainstream media is peddling.
The failsafe option for the TPPA is to prevent the negotiations reaching a conclusion. That, too, depends on keeping the political price of capitulation too high. More on that next time.