Constructive Engagement With Jacinda’s Government? Or, Shouting Anti-TPP Slogans From The Side-Lines? The Left Must Choose

By   /   November 14, 2017  /   26 Comments

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It is very easy for the traditional Left to call for grand gestures of defiance against the prevailing geopolitical realities: living with the consequences of such calls when you are in government is much harder.

New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (L) talks with Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker at the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) leaders’ summit in the central Vietnamese city of Danang on November 10, 2017.World leaders and senior business figures are gathering in the Vietnamese city of Danang this week for the annual 21-member APEC summit. / AFP PHOTO / POOL / Na Son Nguyen (Photo credit should read NA SON NGUYEN/AFP/Getty Images)

THE CORE ELEMENTS of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) remain in place. According to Professor Jane Kelsey, the most dangerous of these, the Investor/State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provisions, although modified slightly for the better, continue to empower multinational corporations at the expense of participating nation states. The New Zealand Left is, thus, confronted with a dilemma: to maintain a pure oppositionist stance; or, to attempt to work with the new Labour-NZ First-Green government as it attempts to further modify and moderate the worst aspects of the agreement.

A retreat into uncompromising oppositionism would have the effect of further isolating and weakening the traditional New Zealand Left. Given that the traditional Left’s political effectiveness, after 30 years of neoliberalism, is already at an historically low-ebb, this hardly presents itself as a winning strategy. Labour, and its partners in government, would have little option but to paint its traditional leftist opponents as activists without the slightest understanding of what New Zealand governments can, and cannot, do. What’s more, in the eyes of the moderate, social-democratic Left (the traditionalists’ only feasible political allies) Jacinda Ardern’s government would be entirely justified in doing so.

Just saying “No!” to the TPP is about as helpful in the current geopolitical context as Nancy Reagan’s “Just say No” slogan was in the “War on Drugs”. It betrays a complete failure to understand the pressures being brought to bear on the New Zealand Government, both domestically and internationally. And that’s not all, knee-jerk oppositionism also fails to acknowledge the very real benefits that free trade agreements can bring to New Zealand exporters. The traditional Left, consequently, come across as economic illiterates – further diminishing their political credibility.

The example of Canada’s performance at the Apec Summit is instructive in this respect. As a nation of 36.3 million people, and with the second largest economy of the remaining eleven signatories to the TPP, its prime minister, Justin Trudeau, was far better positioned to take an uncompromising stand against the worst aspects of the agreement than the New Zealand team of Jacinda Ardern, David Parker and Winston Peters. And yet, even Trudeau was unable to resist the pressure – principally and particularly from Japan – to return to the negotiating table.

It is very easy for the traditional Left to call for grand gestures of defiance against the prevailing geopolitical realities: living with the consequences of such calls when you are in government is much harder.

What the Trudeau government does offer the New Zealand Left, however, is a lesson in how a broad, open-ended public discussion of both the costs – and the benefits – of the TPP free trade agreement was able to strengthen the hand of his government’s negotiating team. Confident that he was speaking for a majority of the Canadian people, Trudeau felt empowered to push his country’s negotiating position as hard as he could, short of damaging, seriously, Canada’s long-term diplomatic interests by inflicting a humiliating loss of face on the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe.

This is the course of action which the moderate, social-democratic Left, including the Council of Trade Unions, will be urging on Labour, NZ First and the Greens (neither of whom will need much in the way of convincing!) An open and “robust” discussion about the advantages and disadvantages to New Zealand of the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) as the agreement has been rebranded, will allow the arguments for and against international free-trade to be energetically rehearsed – most especially the arguments against the ISDS provisions.

A strategy of “constructive engagement” with the Labour-NZ First-Green government, by promoting transparency and encouraging the emergence of a national consensus on what the CPTPP should – and should not – contain, promises much more in the way of political effectiveness and achievement than simply shouting angry oppositionist criticism from the side-lines – the location to which, most assuredly, those comrades who give heed the purist slogans of the traditional Left will find themselves consigned.

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  1. Suzyq5 says:

    I believe Labour deliberately misled us on their intentions re: TPPA.
    They have also lied re: ISDS deal with Australia – that deal existed in the 2016 draft and therefore was NOT of labours doing. The changes made are not sufficient to protect New Zealand from massive job loss and environmental harm. The agreement relies heavily on agriculture, which is already damaging our environment, and this will only get worse. This reliance is also fragile as adverse effects of global warming could ruin those industries. The warmer air flows have already bought us myrtle rust, which could ruin the kiwi fruit exports.

    Sorry, but they have proven they’re prepared to mislead, not be open and transparent within the first two weeks. Everything they’ve been negatively accused of, they made the choice to prove correct.

    I’ve given Labour too many chances, never again. Jacinda appears to be nothing more than frosting – the substance underneath hasn’t changed and they haven’t learned.

    • Sam Sam says:

      But can the agreement formally known as the TPPA be fragile and biological at the same time? To answer that question you only have to look at Daily Blogs site metre ranking to understand an estimated number of eyes looking in on our exchanges to know that we care about what happens to the economic sovereignty of New Zealand and cares for her. So yes. These trade negotiations are fragile and biological at the same time. Amazing eh.

  2. Takere says:

    I’m sure many of us will be keeping ‘score’.
    Who was it that dumped tariffs which started the decline in real wages, employment conditions & rights and the general living conditions of hundreds of thousands of New Zealanders?

    This Labour government needs to realise they’ve boxed themselves in given the ‘gift’ of what to do with the failure of the last government’s 9 long years list of failures.
    Their to do list may not be long, 4 or 5 things really;
    1. Housing – Homelessness
    2. Poverty
    3. A failing Health System
    4. Welfare

    Then everything else.

    It is the high ticket priced items & fundamentally what most of us are concerned about going about our daily lives.

    They need to stop talking & start doing. The housing ‘target’ is starting to become wishy washy, one day it 100,000 over 10 years, then its 6,500/year for the first term …. plans for “Africa” are being pumped out almost daily. All I can say is; cut the crap and get building & acting on things.

    How does all this relate to the TPPA? The TPPA & shite governments over the last 35 years has brought this country to the brink!

    Less talkie & more dooey or else this government won’t last another term.

  3. tauputa says:

    Fundamentally what your saying is when the right engage in neoliberal reforms, scream like crazy and when the left do it acquiesce to the practical realities of being in government.

    As Steve Maharey famously said “There are things you say and do in opposition which you forget in governement”.

    While this approach is practical and acceptable to the majority of kiwi’s I doubt the firebrands who read this blog would be as enthused by your pragmatic position when its the left doing the neoliberal reforms.

    This post would be more appropriate on kiwiblog or even whaleoil.

  4. G.A.P. says:

    If we accept your contentions Chris, and i do understand what you are saying, are we now to be informed as much as possible on what is being traded away in our name or is it still all to complicated and important for us silly little people to comprehend and must be kept secret for years???

  5. Historian Pete says:

    “Canada’s Prime minister Justin Trudeau ,with36.3 million people , was far better positioned to take an uncompromising stand against the worst aspects of the TPP,and he was unable to withstand the pressure.”

    Trudeau is an unrequited Neo- Liberal. Enough said.Tell that to the the people of Iceland [population 330,000].When their main banks failed and their economy and currency went into free fall , they ignored the neo-liberal prescription and implemented radical steps to salvage their economy.They are now on a growth surge of 7.5%.This stands in contrast to Greece who accepted their neo-liberal medicine, against the will of their people, and have been on a downhill trajectory ever since.Some time in life there are events that require you to swim against the tide.If you have no backbone, like Jacinda and Parker, you can roll over and let the neo-liberals/Oligarchs/ one percenters tickle your tummy!

    • Aaron says:

      The people of Iceland hit the streets and literally surrounded their parliament in an awesome display of people power. If we want Labour to get more aggressive in their negotiations they need to be able to justify it by saying there are threats of civil unrest back home like happened in Iceland – how many people complaining about Labour are prepared to put in the sort of work required to make that happen?

      I always knew we were going to feel let down by Jacinda and this Labour party but there’s no point moaning about it because the only way neo-liberalism will be put to bed is if the people make it happen.

      I can’t remember who to credit for the following quote but it goes something like this “If the people will lead the leaders will follow” That’s why we had the spectacle of Bill English boasting about how many children he was going to lift out of poverty at the last election – because he was left with no choice.

  6. John W says:

    There is nothing “Comprehensive and Progressive” about allowing any form of transnational court to over rule our sovereignty as a nation state.

    The alternative is not yes or no but exploring a much wider range of options.

    Our enemy within is the business sector with transnational corporate ties who are dictating what is allowed while running profits to meet the demands of an investor state without borders nor responsibility to the people or their future prospects.

    Canada had principle briefly.

    Ardern lost a significant part of her support base.

  7. Andrewo says:

    Chris is 100% right on this.

    The Labour party uses the far left to get elected, but disregards it thereafter.

    The same goes for the Greens. They provide the necessary votes for Labour to remain in power, but their policies are torn to shreds once Labour is elected.

    Only yesterday this government scrapped plans to equip commercial fishing boats with cameras. The true environmentalists within the green movement must be weeping. All because dirty fishing industry money is behind NZ First.

    Earlier they ruled out the Kermadec sanctuary, once again due to dirty money from commercial fishing/iwi.

    Just think how many run on the board the Greens would have got by now if they’d gone with National!

    • Tom Gardner says:

      I write as the father of a former fisherman, who worked with himself and one deckie. He managed, but did not at all become wealthy. If the “wrong” species of fish has the temerity to enter his net, what is he to do? Declare, and face a punitive fine (“deemed species”), which would lead, in short order, to bankruptcy? Or, tip over the edge, back into the marine food chain, and survive to fish another day? Cameras on board?! — shades of Stasi. Along with occasional low-flying aircraft to snoop. Are you really in favour, Andrewo? The former East Germany your spiritual home?

      • Andrew says:

        Hey, I know the fishing industry. It’s as feral as. Anything goes on those boats!

        If they don’t like cameras on deck, what have they got to hide?

        (Maybe the drugs, guns and catch that get swapped with foreign vessels whilst offshore?)

    • tauputa says:

      I think Chris is applauding this pragmatism – fire up the activists when out of power and disregard them as cranks when you capture the treasury benches.

      Chris thinks this is ok – which it is if you want to hold onto power. My question is why the left are so obsequious when they get sold out again and again whenever Labour wins and disregards them.

      • cleangreen says:

        Chris is having a bad day that is all.

        maryn makes far more sense.

        Sowhen you see right wingers like the one aboe Andrewo say chris is right.

        Yes Chris is showing he is right winged sometimes when the sun and moon non-align sometimes but Chris is a left winger many times so it is just a blip we should ot believe we have to eat crow when ourleader spat the dummy.

        Jacinda will feel the ‘reality’ of it all, as her plane hits the Auckland airstrip as she returns.

        So until then we need to voice our concerns, as she promised “we will all have a voice and will be heard” remember saying this jacinda several times notabily at the Auckland town hall before the election?

  8. Samwise says:

    Labour can embrace the TPP all it wants, but in the final analysis it provides a real point of difference with the Green Party. At the next election we will have a real choice which party to vote for.

  9. Black Lemming says:

    There is little point in a progressive Govt passing legislation to end child poverty ,clean up rivers and streams , fight climate change ,and consolidate workers rights if corporations can use ISDS to undo, reverse, or prevent govt change .

    The foundation to making real and lasting change in NZ is to ,remove ISDS from all trade agreements to make sure it is the Govt who makes the rules not the corporations .

    A frozen clause can be unfrozen and still create the same harm as original TPP should the US return , which is highly likely if Trump is deposed .

    Side agreements with individual countries not to sue under ISDS sound great but multi national corporations can sue from any branch in a country which has ISDS capability and get can easily get around this as Phillip Morris did in sueing out of Hong Kong rather than directly in Australia.That danger still remains.

    ISDS could be limited to compensation for direct expropriation (Nationalisation of private assets) ,but compensation for indirect expropriation ,( sueing a govt for hypothetical loss of future profit ) is still there and must be carved out .Even the US is keen to see ISDS completely dropped in the revamped NAFTA.

    TPP is the 1st real test of Jacinda Adern .NZF and the Greens will want to see real change in the TPP not window dressing .She has the support of National to pass it but what would that do to her relationship with her partners and her ability to seek a second term …

    A vote for Labour has become a vote for TPP and the base is not happy. Labour needs to try harder ,and select committee hearings will make that very clear .Neither Winston or James will be happy with the APEC effort . We can and must do better .

  10. Marc says:

    “The New Zealand Left is, thus, confronted with a dilemma: to maintain a pure oppositionist stance; or, to attempt to work with the new Labour-NZ First-Green government as it attempts to further modify and moderate the worst aspects of the agreement.”

    Just for the sake of clarification on principles, is it also possible to ‘moderate’ genocide, or ethnic cleansing, as it appears to happen in places like Myanmar, now, a member, or at least associate member of APEC and ASEAN?

    I saw Jacinda sit next to their leader, the former Nobel Peace Price winner, who is now mostly silent on, or somewhat bizarrely misrepresenting (due to perhaps misinformation), what goes on in her own country.

    So at the dinner tables of the high office holders of the states we still have, do they actually care about what REALLY goes on, and how their peoples are REALLY AFFECTED?

    Can we choose to be half pregnant or half homosexual and so forth, or can we not?

    By the way, the ‘left’ in NZ is hardly much of a unified force, it has not been so for ages. And those truly ‘left’ are a minority, as Labour, NZ First and Greens were in their majority not voted in for their principled stands they may sometimes hold, most vote according to what they consider serving their personal preferences and interests.

    That is why the Greens have not managed to get much above ten percent of the vote for years, or support in the polls for the same reason.

    Most people are more or less corrupt or corruptible, self serving and so, as when you wave a wad of dollars in front of their face and ask them to do something, they will jump and do almost anything.

    That is the dilemma we face.

    Personally I would have expected a bit more of a principled stand by Jacinda Ardern and her Labour off siders on the summits and meetings, it seems they are becoming part of the same brand of ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ on the global stage, who more and more resemble the kings, queens, dukes and duchesses – i.e. the corrupt, self important aristocracy, that ruled in the Middle Ages.

    The people are simply ‘governed’ and never get what they really want, hence they become more self serving also, just voting for the carrots and lollies, little else.

    So the future will only get worse, and democracy is a farce, in my honest view, only those that may be some forms of principled anarchists may still hold values they stand and fight for.

  11. elle says:

    The new TPPA is not perfect Jacinda says but better than before . not good enough!
    Its perfect for multinationals who call all the shots,NZ gets the crap end of the deal.
    We may as well voted National.
    There should be a referendum on the rules of TPPA . one person should’nt decide for all of us, it may not be easy to defy the top dogs,but not impossible.
    This govt seems weak and capitulative already, fooled by crafty National.
    Giving in to overseas pressure over TPPA,breaking promises. What does the PM stand for? Globalism ??? or is she out of her depth.
    Labour will be a lost cause if it dosnt do what it said.

  12. David Stone says:

    Unsurprised at and in agreement with the comments here.
    D J S

  13. Nobody says:

    What a joke.

    It is not the function of the People to engage with these “processes”, it is the function of the People’s Representatives to do that, on our behalf. That’s why we elect them!

    Surely by now this Labour government has divined that the People are fine with trade, but not fine with ISDS or the loss of our sovereignty. So what bloody chance do you think we have of them suddenly undergoing some Pauline conversion on the road to handing our democracy over to the people they are actually working for?

    Can you imagine JA saying, “Yes, I know I can kiss away any hope of one day being President of the WTO, but look, those submissions to the select committee really brought me to tears… I suddenly realised what a sell-out I would be if i betray the people of NZ yet AGAIN.”

    Not going to happen Chris. They’ve got their job… lying to us and then doing the exact opposite of everything they said they would do… and we’ve got ours.

    See you on the streets.

  14. kejomu says:

    Open and robust discussion ? Yes please !!! If they,re going to do it all in secret then there’s no other option than to be extremly suspicious of their intentions. I,m only asking for a bit of democracy. Is that too much to ask from a “new way of governing” ? Cheers, Keith

  15. Jerko says:

    FFS all of you whiners need to take a long holiday somewhere out there in the real world. These people have just formed a Government and have had to shape up PDQ. The rotten Nine year national pricks have damaged the country beyond recognition and all you can do after five minutes of this new crowd is whine. The National Government carried out the negotiations in secret and no one was allowed to know what they were signing away.You now have someone who gets up front and tells you lot what she has done. You know what to do in 3 years time if you don’t like it. Vote the National pricks back in. You get what you deserve.

  16. Observer Tokoroa says:

    To all the people who sit on their Ass and complain !

    A trade agreement is a Trade Agreement. Whether we like it or not – we need access to the productive nations. We also need to become a productive nation ourselves.

    We need to accept that not every clause of every agreement will give Suzsy Q a new free pair of stockings, with exactly the right everything. Those sought of stockings exist only in Heaven – and Hollywood.

    Sit on your Ass until you get carbuncles, but for everybody’s sake stop caterwauling about dated liberalism and advise any nation that should they ride roughshod over our sovereignty we will resist them – fiercely. We claim the right to do unto others what they do to us.

    Above all – stop forever insulting Labour! And build up your little vague itsy bitsy impractical groups, and turn them into high achieving entities.

    Labour, NZ First, The Greens and Maori are not Fools !

  17. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Ah yes, the old appeasement trick.

    Because it has worked so well in the past hasn’t it…

  18. G.A.P. says:


  19. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    At least Mussolini got the trains to run on time…

    I’m just waiting to hear that one from you Mr Trottoir.