An amazing team of activists has taken the campaign on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) to local governments throughout the country. Their latest triumph came last Monday when the Dunedin City Council endorsed a resolution expressing concern about the TPPA by 7 to 6. The Otago Daily Times reported ‘a passionate debate on the council’s options’. That debate only happened because a committed group of concerned Kiwis convinced the council that the TPPA was a serious issue for the people of Dunedin.
One side of the council made the predictable and self-serving argument that ‘we can’t take a position until we know what’s in it’, by which time it’s too late. It transpired that New Zealand’s chief negotiator David Walker had given the council a private briefing that assured them the government was taking all the concerns in the resolution into account. So there was no need to pass a resolution, was there?
Other councillors said they needed to be pro-active and take a pre-emptive position. If the government was supporting the position in the resolution, what could be wrong with adopting it?
Their majority vote to support the resolution, with one amendment, came on top of a resounding endorsement of a similar motion by the Christchurch City Council. Back in the late 1990s Christchurch’s Council had taken strong stance on the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (the MAI) and later on other FTAs. That history dispelled any suggestion that these agreements fall outside the core business of local governments. The Christchurch Council not only supported a 12-point resolution, they recommended that Local Government New Zealand adopt it too. The resolution reads:
Trans‐Pacific Partnership Agreement Resolution for the Government’s consideration
That the Christchurch City Council encourages the government to conclude negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Free Trade Agreements in a way that provides net positive benefits for Christchurch and New Zealand, that is, provided the Partnership and Agreements achieve the following objectives:
i. Continues to allow the Christchurch City Council and other Councils, if they so choose, to adopt procurement policies that provide for a degree of local preference; to choose whether particular services and facilities are provided in house, by council-controlled organisations (CCOs) or by contracting out; or to require higher health and safety, environmental protection, employment rights and conditions, community participation, animal protection or human rights standards than national or international minimum standards;
ii. Maintains good diplomatic and trade relations and partnerships for Christchurch and New Zealand with other major trading partners not included in the agreement, including with China;
iii. Provides substantially increased access for our agriculture exports, particularly those from the Canterbury region into the US market;
iv. Does not undermine PHARMAC, raise the cost of medical treatments and medicines or threaten public health measures, such as tobacco control;
v. Does not give overseas investors or suppliers any greater rights than domestic investors and suppliers, such as through introducing Investor-State Dispute Settlement, or reduce our ability to control overseas investment or finance;
vi. Does not expand intellectual property rights and enforcement in excess of current law;
vii. Does not weaken our public services, require privatisation, hinder reversal of privatisations, or increase the commercialisation of government or of Christchurch City Council or other local government organisations;
viii. Does not reduce our flexibility to support local economic and industry development and encourage good employment and environmental practices and initiatives which enable marginalised young people to develop their skills and transition into meaningful employment;
ix. Contains enforceable labour clauses requiring adherence to core International Labour Organisation conventions and preventing reduction of labour rights for trade or investment advantage;
x. Contains enforceable environmental clauses preventing reduction of environmental standards for trade or investment advantage;
xi. Has general exceptions to protect human rights, the environment, the Treaty of Waitangi, and New Zealand’s economic and financial stability;
xii. Has been negotiated with real public consultation including regular public releases of drafts of the text of the agreement, and ratification being conditional on a full social, environmental and economic impact assessment including public submissions.
Video links of the presentation to the council are on you-tube and will soon be up on itsourfuture.org.nz.
Palmerston North, Nelson and Tasman Bay councils have adopted the same resolution. Horizons Regional Council agreed to send a letter to the Prime Minister asking him to submit any agreement that New Zealand reaches in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to the scrutiny of Parliament, including consideration by a Select Committee, before a democratic decision is made on signing the agreement. The government has so far refused any such process.
The Wellington Regional Council, chaired by Fran Wilde, decided it should not get involved with the government’s trade negotiations! But at least they voted to ask the Government to oppose any part of the deal that would curtail the way it does business.
Over the next few weeks, presentations are being made to the Clutha, Invercargill, Environment Southland, and Wellington councils, where the same resolution will be proposed.
Credit for kicking off the local government campaign goes to former Labour MP and Auckland Councillor Richard Northey. Back in December 2012, as the TPPA road show was about to hold its big meeting in Auckland, a resolution was popped onto the agenda of the regional development committee of the council. Richard moved a series of amendments along the lines of the Christchurch resolution, which was adopted by 9 to 7.
That resolution has provided the template being put to other councils. While it would have been great to have an outright rejection of the TPPA, the resolution sets a number of pre-conditions that reflect local government’s mandate and that the TPPA will not meet.
The fact that the councils are being educated about the TPPA, debating it, and expressing their scepticism, is a major achievement that needs to be built upon. The key is to get Local Government New Zealand to take the TPPA as seriously as they did with the MAI and the GATS in the past. An open letter to their recent annual conference in Nelson urged them to take responsibility for educating local councils and generating debate. The Christchurch City Council has reiterated that.
As the number of councils supporting the core resolution multiplies, their peak body must act to defend the right of local governments to promote and protect the interests of their communities. The only way to do that is to release the text and enable fully informed debate to occur now. Not after they have signed it. Not two weeks before they have signed a deal, as Labour wants. Now, before the decisions are made. Without that, the resolutions of local government are meaningless and local democracy in many areas of core responsibility will be reduced to a sham.