OK, it’s (almost) official. The zombie TPPA has been restored to life and Winston Peters will support it. Both Labour and New Zealand First will sell out the principles that led them to reject the ratification of the deal before the election.
They claim the TPPA 11 (I refuse to call it the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement on Trans-Pacific Partnership) is much improved and that adopting it is in the national interest. No-one believes the spin. But both parties clearly calculate there’s enough political brownie points in supporting the deal to justify burning off the loyal constituencies who voted for them and expected them to keep their word. Only the Greens retain their principles.
What’s the latest move and is it irreversible? Last night in Japan, New Zealand and the other ten countries reached a deal to resurrect the TPPA, a year to the day after Trump notified the US withdrawal. The text remains unchanged, except for provisions about entry into force and similar institutional rules, the wording of which we have yet to see.
As most people who follow this know, some items will be suspended, pending the US re-entry. These include most, but not all, the really toxic rules that would expand the profits of Big Pharma, Hollywood, Google etc. Changes to foreign investors’ rights to sue the government have been trimmed around the edges but the main legal risks and corporate rights remain untouched.
All this was settled by the last ministerial meeting in Vietnam in December. There were four outstanding issues, including Canada’s demand for a stronger cultural exception.
The Canadian government was seen as the main stumbling block. Like our new government, they inherited a toxic deal. Unlike our new government they refused to become a party unless the others agreed to politically important bottom lines. Last night Canada cemented a deal that involves side-letters on culture, as well as on the local content of automobiles (something NOT on the list of the four outstanding items announced in Vietnam). That’s still not going to be an easy sell for the Trudeau government at home, but at least it played hardball and won some additional concessions.
In other words, Canada’s government showed political backbone and it succeeded. Ours caved at the first post-election meeting and rationalises that as the best they could do.
The signing is set for Chile on 8 March. We still haven’t seen the new text, and the Japanese have suggested it may not be released until after it is signed – including the side letters that Canada and some other countries have negotiated. The travesty of democracy lives on!
There is still time to put the feet of Labour and NZ First to the fire before 8 March, but it will be very hard to get either party that has put political capital behind the TPPA-11 to admit they are wrong. The longer-term game is the domestic ratification process, and rising the political price to a point where the current calculus no longer holds.
That needs to start now. Waitangi Day around the country should be an early test, although Labour, MFAT and pro-TPPA Shane Jones have been doing a hard-sell to Maori economic interests. There will be public meetings in Auckland on the evening of 12th February and in Wellington on 14th. Details will be on the Its Our Future website.
And yes, I know there are people who want to get out on the streets. We need to think about when and where that might have maximum effect. But we can’t go off half-cocked. People need to be confident that they know why the TPPA-11 is as bad as the original, and believe that their voices collectively can make a difference. And we can.