Over the last 6 years tens of thousands of New Zealanders have hit the streets in opposition to the TPPA. Hundreds of thousands have signed petitions, and polling has consistently shown that the public were against the agreement.
It is easy to see why there has been so much opposition. First, the TPPA was negotiated behind closed doors, and any criticism of this secrecy was met with contempt from the National-led government. Second, while the agreement was framed as being about “free trade” (dropping tariffs and subsidies for the import and export of goods), the bulk of the agreement was about rewriting or freezing the rules about what the government could or could not do so as to suit the interests of overseas investors (i.e. big corporations). The government’s ability to pass laws or regulate to protect the public interest (affordable healthcare, workers’ rights, regional development), and the natural environment (climate change, clean rivers) would all be compromised by these changes. Third, the rights of Maori under te Tiriti would be subordinated to an economic agreement for the benefit of big business. Finally, the agreement would allow corporate investors from the other TPPA countries to directly sue the New Zealand government in unaccountable investment tribunals if actions taken in the public interest were to cut into their profits. This process is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).
In a nutshell, the TPPA was about New Zealand trading away the broader public interest in the hope that our dairy exporters could get better access to the US market.
Fortunately, the original TPPA effectively died when the United States pulled out of the agreement. Unfortunately, the agreement has crept back to life in zombie form as the TPPA-11. The National-led government pushed hard — right up until the election — to get that agreement across the line in a near-identical form to the original deal. The plan was to have the political leaders announce the new deal at the sidelines of the APEC meeting in Vietnam next week.
Where does the TPPA-11 stand under the new government?
The announcement that Labour, New Zealand First and the Green Party would form a coalition was great news for New Zealanders concerned about the TPPA-11. While Labour’s position on the TPPA has historically been hot and cold, the party’s position became more clear in their minority view in the Select Committee report on the agreement. The Party criticised the secrecy under which the agreement was negotiated, and strongly questioned the economic arguments in favour of the agreement, particularly in light of the potential downsides. The position concluded by stating:
“The TPPA will have ramifications for generations of New Zealanders. For their sake, we should not so lightly enter into an agreement which may exacerbate long-term challenges for our economy, workforce, and society.”
We at It’s Our Future could not have said it better, nor when our new Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, said while debating the TPPA Amendment Bill in Parliament, that former Trade Minister Todd McClay had “let down New Zealand with the way [the TPPA negotiation] was undertaken: in secret, without conversation with New Zealanders, and without bringing New Zealanders along with him.”
Despite what Labour has said in the past, we are concerned and disappointed that Jacinda Ardern and the new Trade Minister, David Parker, now seem enthusiastic about concluding a deal on 11 November 2017. If this happens, it would be a slap in the face for New Zealanders who rightly expect that the Labour Party will make good on its previous criticisms and give the public a chance to have their say on the agreement with the benefit of transparency and consultation. There is no rush to sign on to the mess National has created, whatever the trade bureaucrats in Wellington might think. Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens were elected by the New Zealand public with a mandate for change, and our approach to trade should change accordingly.
This week, It’s Our Future and our friends at ActionStation have launched an open letter to Jacinda Ardern urging her to hold off on the TPPA-11 until New Zealanders’ voices have been heard. We were encouraged yesterday to hear Jacinda Ardern take a tougher line on ISDS (“We remain determined to do our utmost to amend the ISDS provisions of TPP”), but she will need to go further if New Zealanders are to be given the respect they deserve on the TPPA-11.