The National government has got its wish – the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is off the front pages and back into the shadows of secret negotiations. Big dangers lurk in those shadows!
The chief negotiators have had three meetings so far and another is scheduled for Sydney next week. That’s when they will settle the choices that ministers will decide on when they meet in Vietnam in November. No-one should under-estimate the pressure from New Zealand and Japan to leave the existing deal intact, changing just the number of countries whose ratification is needed to bring it into force.
The current scenario does not look good. New Zealand and Japan are extremists. They completed all the steps to implement the deal even after the US withdrew (although the US would demand more if they were ever to ‘re-engage’). Now they insist that everyone must stick to the original deal – you know, the deal the US forced them to adopt in return for illusory goodies the US has now withdrawn?
There are reports that some other countries have insisted they want to revisit the text. Malaysia and Vietnam, especially, made potentially crippling concessions in return for minimal, and now non-existent, access to the US market. But the backyard bullies are exerting huge pressure to bring the TPPA into force with no substantive changes. What if they all cave and agree to proceed with the zombie TPPA?
That decision will be made after our election when a new government is in power. The outgoing National government will present a fait accompli to the incoming government (which hopefully it will not lead) and effectively dare them to pull the plug on a deal that New Zealand has bullied other countries to agree to.
That’s why exposing the policies and commitments of NZ’s political parties during the election campaign is crucial – and why National is so pleased to have shunted it off the stage.
It’s Our Future has challenged the political parties to state their positions, not just on the TPPA but on a list of 10 red lines for a people-driven trade policy for the future (the headings are set out below, with the link). The parties’ written responses will be collated and released in about 10 days.
The NZCTU and It’s Our Future hosted a panel at Parliament last Thursday of trade spokespeople from Labour, Greens, the Maori Party and NZ First (in absentia) on the ‘future of New Zealand’s trade policy’. This is a snapshot of the parties’ views, based on my notes at the time (which are not guaranteed to be comprehensive):
Green Party (Barry Coates) Government’s patronising response to opposition to the TPPA misreads what is happening. There is a long history of successful challenges to agreements that restrict what governments can do, with no restrictions on global companies, dating back to the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI). These agreements are deeply unbalanced and inequitable, deepening the advantages of big companies over small and medium businesses, and removing flexibilities and supports that developing countries need. Trade-related aid to the Pacific was basically a bribe for the signing of PACER Plus. The Greens have been staunchly opposed to the TPPA and will continue to oppose agreements that fail to address challenges of ecological limits and sustainability, protect human rights or and respect democracy and parliamentary scrutiny.
Maori Party (Marama Fox) The Maori Party vigorously opposed the TPPA. Independent advice showed the Treaty of Waitangi clause needed an overhaul. The basic problem is that NZ governments are not meeting their Treaty obligations, so the Maori party are looking to domestic legislation to ensure the Treaty is not overridden by these agreements. There is concern that ISDS (investor-state dispute settlement) may have a chilling effect on Treaty settlements. The fact that different iwi may take different positions on the same issue is a matter of rangatiratanga and kaitiakitanga and should not result in a threat of an investment dispute; likewise, if the same iwi takes a different approach to a company it has established a relationship with over the years, such as onshore mining in Taranaki, and a different company that wants to mine offshore, but there is no relationship of trust. Greed has become the main driver of today’s economy. Social enterprise is the way of the future, putting people first. The Maori Party wants fair trade agreements that don’t have a negative impact on whanau, and to explore alternatives that deal with companies directly and try to achieve good outcomes that also protect sovereign rights.
Labour Party (David Parker) Every international agreement, whether on human rights or trade, limits a country’s sovereignty. It is necessary to discuss what are the appropriate limits on sovereignty. With the TPPA, there was an arrogant denial of the public’s underlying concerns. Every country has the right to control its labour market and non-humanitarian immigration; that shouldn’t be restricted by FTAs. Houses and farms should be restricted to New Zealanders. Labour protected these rights in the China agreement; National changed the rules in the Korea FTA and TPPA. Labour supports the Treaty exception and can’t think of any better way of writing one. Labour would prefer not to have ISDS. There may be justifications in countries with poor legal systems, but no NZ company has ever had to use one. Foreign and domestic investors should have consistent treatment. Governments must not give up the right to tax, especially the big Internet firms. Also need to be really careful over SOEs. Trade agreements are not a primary determinant of export success. Exports have been falling back as a proportion of GDP, investment has been going into the wrong parts of the economy, not the parts that grow competitive advantage. Labour would look to negotiations with EU as an experiment to get new clauses into agreements, even though they may not be needed with the EU.
New Zealand First (Fletcher Tabuteau) NZ First is committed to trade as a way to grow the NZ economy. It was a founding principle and still is. Economic policy will comprise a strategy for export-led economic development to add value to our resources, relying on independent business expertise with government support to encourage economic success. Whilst some may perceive NZ First as anti-trade, what the Party has in fact been is anti-corporate privilege. NZ First led the early opposition to the TPP with a call for transparency, and then pointing to the insidious nature of the agreement. The wording for example in the different chapters on environmental protection was ambiguous and circular in nature without teeth, whilst the investment provisions were clearly laid out and backed up with clauses supporting investment enforcement. ISDS laid out a corporate pathway to lock in corporate privilege outside the laws of sovereign nations and disadvantaged competing NZ business who had to comply with our domestic laws absolutely or contest them in our legal structure and our courts, which is fair and reasonable. With regard RCEP and TiSA NZ First sees no reason how it could possibly support them at this stage.
National Party: The Nats were invited but didn’t deign to reply, even though trade minister Todd McClay was seen around the House. That wasn’t much of a loss – we know where they stand. The so-called Trade Policy Refresh was as stale as the dead rats Tim Groser swallowed with the TPPA. Trade negotiators have been given an extra $27 million over 4 years to stitch up even more toxic deals – that could pay for a hell of a lot of genuinely affordable homes in Auckland or elective surgeries in Otago. Top of the agenda for those new TPPA-based FTAs is to double dairy exports by 2030 – another own goal for solving our problems of polluted waterways, climate change, rural debt and the ‘one trick pony’ economy.
There are many important issues competing for space this election. We need to make the TPPA and future trade policy one of them. The positions of political parties need to be nailed to the mast now, with a deliverable threat that backing down will carry a political cost by withdrawal of support from coalition partners.
We know where the Greens and Maori Party stand. But would they make the TPPA a coalition deal breaker?
New Zealand First has been an uncompromising critic of the TPPA – but would Winston repeat what he did when, as Foreign Minister in coalition with Labour, he became best friends with Condee Rice and called for a US-NZ FTA? What about potential leader in waiting Shane Jones, who is pro-TPPA and PACER-plus?
And what about Labour? David Parker confirmed Labour’s pragmatism. Its narrow grounds for opposing the TPPA may not survive into government, unless Labour voters force the Party to take a strong public position of rejecting the zombie TPPA.
- An end to secrecy
- Democratic oversight
- Unrestricted right to protect the public interest and the environment
- Regulation of overseas investment
- Protection of international obligations
- No investor-state dispute settlement
- Honour the Treaty of Waitangi
- Exclude local government
- Retain the role of the State
- Promote free flow of knowledge and information