The TPPA is now a 2017 election issue

By   /   May 22, 2017  /   16 Comments

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Ground control to Major Tom? Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong. Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Apologies to the late lamented David Bowie. But the bullshit from the National government on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) since the Trump administration formally pulled out in January is really off the planet (apologies, I don’t usually swear in blogs, but I couldn’t find a suitable acronym).

Ground control to Major Tom? Your circuit’s dead, there’s something wrong. Can you hear me, Major Tom? Can you hear me, Major Tom?

Apologies to the late lamented David Bowie. But the bullshit from the National government on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) since the Trump administration formally pulled out in January is really off the planet (apologies, I don’t usually swear in blogs, but I couldn’t find a suitable acronym).

A week ago, Prime Minister Bill English and his ever-so-earnest trade minister Todd McClay have been in Japan talking up a supposed consensus to proceed with the deal, mainly as a way of enticing the US back to the fold.  This followed McClay’s tiki tour across a number of countries trying to resurrect the zombie TPPA.

McClay admits that he has nailed New Zealand’s colours to the mast without any reassessment of the supposed benefits of the deal without the US; he has only now asked officials to do the numbers. Presumably that will mean more of the shonky modelling they used to claim benefits from the original deal (which the media still often quote without acknowledging how bogus they are), and which failed to assess any corresponding costs (even the super-neoliberal Australian Productivity Commission said there was no net benefit to Australia once they were factored in). But National didn’t even bother to any research before jumping on the bandwagon to rescue the deal. Ideology rules.

ACT’s leader David Seymour, ever-eager to cement his credentials as a loyal lapdog, attacked Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First for criticising the move and claimed that ‘a renewed TPP would mean access to enormous overseas markets for New Zealand businesses’. So much for ACT’s commitment to evidence-based policy!  Equally telling was his endorsement of the handcuffs the TPPA would put on governments’ ability to re-regulate areas where successive governments have abdicated their responsibilities, something New Zealand sorely needs. According to Seymour: ‘New checks and balances against harmful regulation are a positive for New Zealand businesses and consumers.’

There is now a scaremongering campaign directed at the opposition parties. Labour could have pre-empted this by building on their position in Parliament last year and front-footing their rejection of the zombie TPPA issue as soon as it was proposed. Instead, they dragged their heels, giving National and ACT the space to create a negative narrative and put Labour on the defensive. It was good to hear Andrew Little reaffirm Labour’s concerns about the agreement, saying ‘the focus has to be on reducing the trade barriers and promoting and enhancing trade, not going behind the border and interfering with government processes.’ But until we hear Labour, and especially the invisible trade spokesperson David Parker, unequivocally reject the zombie deal there is nothing to guarantee they will have any backbone.

Ironically. Labour may prove more reliable on this than New Zealand First.  I remember well how Winston Peters become BFF with Condi Rice once he became foreign minister and the prospective new powerhouse of NZ First, Shane Jones, is pro-TPPA. It was reassuring to see NZ First shift from the initial press release where Winston said New Zealand needed a better deal from a free trade agreement with Japan than offered in the TPPA, with passing reference to the rest of the problems with the deal that Winston highlighted in the Northland by-election, to a more robust rejection of the Lazarus strategy as lacking in credibility.

Even then, people have good cause to be nervous about whether opposition parties will maintain their campaign position after the election, unless their members hold their feet to the fire. National (and ACT) have explicitly said they plan to have the revival of the TPPA so far down the track that an incoming government can’t derail it. Expect them and their corporate allies to stir up the threat of another crisis of business confidence, as they did with Labour in 2000-2001, and play up the spectre of Trump and Brexit to greatest effect. That’s how shallow and toxic the politics around these agreements has become, and why we need to reinject some principle into how these agreements are dealt with in the parliamentary arena.

A report in the NZ Herald even has McClay speaking like Trump: “We are very, very united”. But united about what? Not about implementing the TPPA before the end of the year, which was the NZ/Japan game plan.

The TPPA ministers, minus the US, met on the margins of the APEC meeting in Hanoi last Sunday. Despite some New Zealand media portraying it as a victory for English and McClay, the statement was carefully worded (we don’t yet know if it differs from the draft that was leaked to media in Japan during English’s visit there).

The ministers said they were united in the process and want to get to a place where there is something we can agree to collectively, for leader[s] then to agree.’ In other words, the ministers of all eleven countries agree there needs to be a process. But they agreed to that when they met in Chile in March. And they agree that the process needs to get them to a point they can agree on what to do together, and that their leaders can agree to as well. In other words, there is no agreement among countries on what should happen with the TPPA minus the US.

Whatever happens in New Zealand, we pose just one obstacle to achieving the game plan. There are ten other countries remaining in the pact, most of whom will have to play ball for it to become viable in a legal sense.

Two will be occupied elsewhere. Last week the Trump administration gave 90 days’ notice of its intention to renegotiate NAFTA, which means they process could begin in August. Canada and Mexico have taken no steps to implement the TPPA to date. The incoming US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer (basically, the US trade minister) has said many of the TPPA rules will be the starting point in negotiations, aside from those affecting not involving market access for goods and agriculture. Why would Canada and Mexico begin implementing those outcomes voluntarily and invite the US to set a starting point even further up the feeding chain?

Equally, Vietnam and Malaysia don’t want to adopt potentially crippling rules on SOEs and medicines in the TPPA, which they reluctantly agreed to in the expectation of some market access gains to the US. Chile and Peru are looking to China. Singapore and Brunei are playing a watching game.    

That leaves Australia, New Zealand and Japan leading the charge. Japan and New Zealand have already agreed to strip themselves naked. But Australia can’t guarantee it can implement the original deal. The government doesn’t control the Senate, which didn’t support the TPPA even when the US was involved, although there was never a vote on implementing legislation. Now the Australian Labor Party has said that it won’t support the zombie deal.  

In an attempt to defuse opposition to the TPPA, Australian trade minister Steven Ciobo has said Australia wants to revisit the ambiguously worded obligations that gives Big Pharma at least five years’ guaranteed monopoly rights over the marketing of new generation biologics medicines. Republican Senator Orrin Hatch, who is pivotal to any vote being taken in the Senate, has railed against the compromise wording and demanded a twelve-year monopoly on behalf of the US pharmaceutical industry.  In other words, the Australian Liberal wants (and may need to pass the TPPA through the Senate) a TPP-minus revision on one of the issues where the US is guaranteed to demand more.  

The US can also be expected to roll back the provision that would prevent tobacco companies from challenging policies under the TPPA, and a few other hard fought compromises in the final text. America First will mean America First under Trump, Pence or whomever is the next President.

They will push for new rules on so-called currency manipulation and tighter restrictions on SOEs that will deter other countries.

The driving rationale being given for all of this is the Holy Grail to re-engage the US in the TPPA. They may be betting on the impeachment of Trump and his replacement by pro-TPPA Vice President Mike Pence. Or they may be playing the long-game until after the 2020 election.

But they need a reality check. This is not just about Trump!!! Obama could not get the original TPPA through the US Congress because it was opposed by both Democrats and Republicans, for very different reasons. Both will demand changes. Mike Pence was a supporter of the original TPPA, but the political climate has changed. He would have to demand more as the price of re-engaging the agreement, even if he took over as President.

There will be a stocktake over the next couple of weeks about what all this means and the most effective ways to ensure that the TPPA is forefront in the election campaign and beyond. Practical and constructive ideas are very welcome!

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16 Comments

  1. saveNZ says:

    Shocking. Looking forward to Labour and Greens actually speaking out against the zombie TPPA. Hopefully they are not going to be enablers from the side lines…

  2. jax says:

    Totally agree Jane. It is clear that National wants to resurrect this treasonous deal and have it sealed so that any new government cannot reverse it. I’m sure that this will be a red line issue for many voters and if Labour wants to win the election then they must lead the charge on killing the TPPA for good. The Australian Labour Party have opposed it.

    Where the hell are the Greens outrage on this ? On Q&A Meteria unveiled a package for ALL Mother’s and children ( not need based) which they obviously see as a priority and which I cynically see as something that they may feel they can successfully negotiate with either a Labour or National government like their Home Insulation scheme.
    My perception of what the Greens should stand for is firstly the environment and as a second string, social activism because Homo Sapien is part of the environment.

    Surely they should be denouncing the govt on issues such as stopping the theft of our water, environmental reforms, liveable wage, promoting NZ as a peace keeping nation , and most importantly raging against the TPPA.

    So when the US was part of the secretive trade deal it was suggested that the TPPA could add $2.7 billion to our GDP over the next 12 years (.9%) but when questioned on what the figure would be without the US now, English was unable to specify an amount no doubt because it will be a pittance and thus dead in the water.

    So for a few reductions on tariffs English is going to enable foreign investors to increase their powers over NZ by way of allowing them to sue our govt under the ISDS system, take profits out of the country, prevent the govt from initiating environmental reforms, and force a change of laws that reflect those of the US.

    We will get to experience what it is like to live in an occupied NZ , a country where we will be stripped of our sovereignty, independence and assets !

  3. debsisdead says:

    The is no chance of a Little led Labour Party taking a firm stand on this, most of the Aotearoa Labour Party’s MPs are neolibs thru to the core of their beings.
    Little will fall back into his well used possie on the top of the fence & all the rest will follow suit to ensure they don’t stuff their place on the list.

  4. Jane Kelsey says:

    Update: Bill English said on Q&A on Sunday that getting the TPPA implemented ‘can only happen if there isn’t some renegotiation’. But he and Todd McClay know that other countries are demanding significant changes. They just aren’t telling us. Now the foreign media are exposing them.

    The Toronto Sun quotes Canada’s minister as saying each country would re-evaluate its needs. Canadian officials as stressing that ‘even the countries most enthusiastic about the previous agreement understand that it must be significantly altered before it can move forward.’

    Malaysia’s media says: Some nations like New Zealand, Australia and Japan have been pushing for the deal to continue, but Malaysia’s Trade Minister Mustapa Mohamed said in an interview on Friday his country was less keen to proceed. “One of the reasons we decided to be part of the TPP was the potential access to the American market,” he said. “And if that does not happen one of the major motivations to be part of the TPP will be removed.” Mustapa added if the remaining countries went ahead the pact should be renegotiated. “In the event it’s TPP minus one, in our view it cannot be the one that was agreed in Auckland in February 2016,” he said.

    Why is National misrepresenting the reality? Because it allows them to deny the need for further debate, including in Parliament, and to depict the opposition parties who are rightly criticising the “zombie TPPA’ as damaging the national interest. A cynical exercise in spin for short-term electoral purposes, knowing that any revised text would become public well after the election, if at all.

    • Iain Mclean says:

      Jane;

      “Why is National misrepresenting the reality? Because it allows them to deny the need for further debate, including in Parliament, and to depict the opposition parties who are rightly criticising the “zombie TPPA’ as damaging the national interest.”

      On TV1 news,Mon 22 May,Bill English used the phrase “Dark clouds of Nationalism” [looming] in defense of his eagerness to get the deal done.

      This says it all. National does not care about any loss of Sovereignty.
      And I very much doubt that Labour does either. (Same Puppet Masters)

      We all know TPPA has nothing much to do with trade at all but more to do with
      control of Governments,their SOE’s,Our Pharmac and the Internet by Off-Shore
      Entities.

      NZF could not possibly support this.

      Cheers.

      Keep up the good work,Jane.

  5. Mike in Auckland says:

    “But until we hear Labour, and especially the invisible trade spokesperson David Parker, unequivocally reject the zombie deal there is nothing to guarantee they will have any backbone.”

    What I heard David Parker say on RNZ at around midday was so far not encouraging. All he had to say was, that Labour opposed any new TPPA deal as long as the issue of foreign land sales were not addressed.

    That is just a useless and weak comment, as land sales are not even really a “trade issue”, although an important other issue.

    As for the election, yes it now is an issue, and it better be addressed appropriately and cleverly by the opposition. The populace is already being conditioned to welcome moves to advance more “trade opportunities”, the MSM give much air time and space to the government’s position, while we hear little from the opposition parties.

    The MSM is as biased as usual, as on Sunday on TVNZ’s Q+A Meteria Turei announced new Greens policies in an interview, which NONE of the rest of the MSM have even reported on.

    Most people do still not get it what it means, the TPPA, and how it will most likely affect them. The conditioning or brainwashing that has been done has so far succeeded in most daring not to oppose anything they are told will only be good for NZ. The repeated talk of “JOBS” and “Secure Jobs”, “well paid jobs”, that is what they are told, but we know by experience, that many jobs have left the shores, possibly forever, and local manufacturing and even some service industries, have moved elsewhere.

    Having dealt with a Telco re internet issues recently, I was again reminded, that the healthy profits made here for shareholders are at the expense of local jobs, as I was over the phone talking only with people in call centres in the Philippines!

    • Louis says:

      The statements ‘But until we hear Labour, and especially the invisible trade spokesperson David Parker, unequivocally reject the zombie deal there is nothing to guarantee they will have any backbone.’
      ‘Ironically. Labour may prove more reliable on this than New Zealand First.’ Is contradictory. Besides any alternative to the TPPA is not ratified, it would be regarded as a new treaty and would therefore have to follow the same legal process, including addressing iwi interests and concerns, and it would have to be taken back to parliament, despite what Bill English has said, after all, those are the rules that Key/English’s government had set. The leader of the Labour party Andrew Little reaffirmed a few days ago “We don’t accept the erosion of our democratic institutions’ rights to make decisions in the best interests of New Zealanders” Labour’s anti TPPA position remains intact, as too the reasons Labour rejected the TPPA in the first place. On morning report Bill English acknowledged that the opposition is against it. The focus and the pressure should be brought to bear on the National government that is manically flogging the hell out of this dead horse. It’’s side tracking the issue by singling out Labour, when National is persistently ignoring public opinion and opposition’s rejections of the deal. The government has a habit of ramming through controversial legislation, despite what anyone says. We know how to deal with zombies, we know where to hit them where it hurts, vote the bastards out, that would swiftly put an end to this nonsense.

  6. Mike in Auckland says:

    “The driving rationale being given for all of this is the Holy Grail to re-engage the US in the TPPA. They may be betting on the impeachment of Trump and his replacement by pro-TPPA Vice President Mike Pence. Or they may be playing the long-game until after the 2020 election.”

    Yes, that is exactly the motivation behind all this!

  7. Castro says:

    It’s not an election issue; sell all your properties, donate all your money to charity, go and compete for a minimum wages job… then you will know all to well the issues that will decide the forthcoming election 🙂

  8. countryboy says:

    Then where do you swear usually @ Prof’ Jane Kelsey? That’s where I want to be.

    Lets remember that The Honourable Bill English is a member of a lying, cheating, back stabbing clan of Right Wing ( fascist ? ) farmers, I’m embarrassed to say as a one-time farmer. Bill’s one of those kinds of farmers, I’ll be betting, to have a history of selling each other up or buying their neighbours farms after the Banksters have picked over the lost lives of their victims. He did double dip after all. I find it all deeply depressing that such arseholes are not only members of the mainstay of our economy but we have one as a Prime Minister who would sell his grandmother for medical experiments if there was a dollar and a little status elevation in it for his short little self. 


    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Bloody well said Country Boy, that took the words right out of my mouth.

      Jane we are all here, and beg opposition parties to URGENTLY lodge a wit in court to hear a case to have the opposition parties (us the other half of the voters representing the opposition parties) claim half of the publicly funded TVNZ/RNZ networks to broadcast the truth for the good of our voters who and why to vote against this lying cheating corrupted Government so we can hear what they have signed up to against us all.

  9. Kim dandy says:

    Time for another lot of country wide marches/protests – just to remind those ‘ in power’ ( corrupt bullies) how unpopular this deal STILL is.

  10. LOSTRELIC says:

    It’s outrageous. “Really off the planet” is spot on. National are utterly shameless, a blazingly corrupt and dirty outfit. They do not work for the New Zealand people, they work to trash New Zealand for private gain. And yet, if it was left up to mainstream media, no one would ever know.
    Thanks Prof. Kelsey!