In Tokyo on 21 and 22 September, two days before the election, MFAT officials will argue the National Government’s position that the remaining eleven countries should proceed with the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement unchanged. Unlike Australia, there is no constitutional constraint on the government to refrain from controversial decisions during the election period. It is more a matter of convention, and acting in good faith, but that’s too much to expect from a TPPA-obsessed National government.
The Japanese government is the de facto conduit for information about these secretive TPPA-11 meetings. That lets the National government refuse to tell anything to anyone – including the opposition parties that might form the new government.
As I reported in my last blog, we know they agreed at the last meeting in Sydney that parts of the original agreement could be suspended, unless and until the US re-joins. So far they have only agreed to suspend some intellectual property provisions on medicines. All eleven countries, including NZ, are supposed to have tabled their wish-lists before the Tokyo meeting.
Japanese reports say there are now about 60 proposals for ‘freezing’ the text. Some countries, especially Vietnam, are also likely to want to suspend whole chapters. Vietnam and probably Malaysia are also likely to go further than the others have agreed and seek changes to parts of the text and their schedules.
It’s theoretically possible that National could tell the other parties in Tokyo this week that it wants to freeze that single entry in New Zealand’s investment schedule. But it would gall National to do so, and they would have done it earlier if they were prepared to. Japan, New Zealand and Australia have said no schedules can be re-opened. If New Zealand seeks to do so, other countries will want to as well. That would not be limited to schedules on investment. It could extend to services, government procurement, state-owned enterprises, goods and agriculture. In other words, it could lead to a serious re-opening of the deal, which might never conclude. National would rather put the pressure and blame on Labour.
It also remains to be seen whether the other ten governments will want to progress the negotiations, knowing New Zealand might not be able to deliver. It’s obvious they aren’t going to settle those 60 proposals in two days and will have to meet again in October. That’s after our election and depending on the outcome the meeting could well be held in New Zealand.
These meetings only involve officials acting under political instructions. They are scripting options for trade ministers to decide and political leaders to affirm at the Apec meeting in Da Nang, Vietnam in early November. New Zealand’s position will fall to the new trade minister and PM in the next government.
That makes it imperative after the election to keep the pressure on a Labour-led government and their coalition partners not to sell out their constituents and the country. They also need to realise that some of their other policies, such as water charges, may fall foul of the TPPA and other agreements, especially the right of foreign investors to sue under the controversial investor-state dispute mechanism.
The most important first step is get the government to adopt a moratorium on future negotiations until it conducts a full open review of the implications of these agreements, including the risks of investor-state disputes. But that will only happen if ‘we the people’ force them to do so.