TWENTY YEARS New Zealand has been pursuing this dream. Twenty years of plotting and scheming to secure a genuine free trade agreement with the USA. Twenty years of being rebuffed, fobbed-off, and quietly advised to wait in line until the time was right. And all for what? To be kicked in the teeth by Tokyo (with Washington’s tacit approval) and told to bugger-off home if we don’t like playing with the Big Boys?
The question is: Will we go on playing with the Big Boys? Will we humiliate ourselves by remaining on Maui; gathering whatever crumbs and scraps of concessions the Big Boys condescend to toss into our begging-bowl; and call whatever we’ve managed to collect by the time the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations are wound up – a victory for New Zealand diplomacy?
The Opposition parties better hope so.
If John Key and Tim Groser are obliged to lay on the table of the House of Representatives a TPPA that commits the New Zealand people to decades of inflated pharmaceutical costs; a draconian intellectual property regime specifically designed to enrich the largest US corporations; and an Investor-State Dispute Settlement process which makes a mockery of this country’s sovereignty – but which includes almost nothing in the way of immediate and tangible economic benefits for New Zealand’s exporters – then this government will be dog-tucker.
Andrew Little, Winston Peters, Metiria Turei and James Shaw will be able to collectively hang a “bad” TPP agreement around the Government’s neck like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross. Doctors and pharmacists will blame the National Government for the health system’s inability to supply those in need of life-saving drugs. Struggling farmers and manufacturers will condemn it for failing to achieve the promised access to US, Japanese and Canadian markets. Constitutional Lawyers will lament the truncation of democratic authority. Youngsters will resent the lengthening reach and growing ruthlessness of copyright enforcers. By 2017, that TPPA albatross will have swollen into a stinking invitation to vote National out of office.
So why on earth would John Key and Tim Groser sign it?
Well, it’s possible that John Key is just so enamoured of the United States and its President – his good golfing buddy, Barack Obama – that the idea of saying “No” to the TPPA is simply unthinkable. He may believe that his stock of political capital with the New Zealand public is still so huge that signing up to a crappy TPPA, while costly, will not put him in deficit. It may even be the case that the New Zealand ruling class lacks the moral resources to stare down the emissaries of global capital. If so, then National is lost.
But just imagine what the political effect would be if John Key and Tim Groser came home from Maui with grim faces and patriotic words. Picture them on the stage of the Beehive theatrette answering questions from a clamouring crowd of journalists. Consider the impact of Groser intoning, in that irritating professorial manner he has perfected:
“Look, in the end, it just wasn’t good enough. Perhaps we were a little naïve. I was certainly stunned by the blank refusal of the Japanese to negotiate seriously on the question of dairy access. They as good as told us to go home if we didn’t like what was on the table. And here we are.”
Then it’s John Key’s turn:
“It has always been my position, and the position of my government, that a TPPA which failed to deliver real gains for New Zealanders was not worth signing. We’ve waited 30 years for the world to open up its borders in the way New Zealand opened hers in the 1980s, and if necessary we will wait another 30 years. This country will not be bullied into signing an agreement contrary to the interests of its own people. We were not willing to sacrifice Pharmac. Nor were we prepared to compromise this country’s sovereignty. Obviously, we’re disappointed. But there a some lines that a government does not cross.”
With a few, well-chosen, words, Key could place the 2017 General Election beyond the Opposition’s grasp. The Left has been clamouring for New Zealand’s negotiators to reject the TPPA in its current form. But what would happen if they did?
Be careful what you wish for.