Trans-Pacific Partnership deal nears completion


One of the most far-reaching investment treaties ever written, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) looks set to become reality in the New Year.

Trade ministers from the 12 countries involved are meeting in Singapore this weekend (7-10 December) to finalise the text. The full treaty is comprised of roughly 26 chapters. Nearly all of these remain secret, but several have been leaked in recent weeks giving people a direct view.

Why are people so concerned about the TPPA?

There is widespread public concern about the passage of the TPPA from people throughout the 12 countries involved. One of the most contentious issues is the Investor-State Disputes Tribunal, a secretive offshore court that would allow corporations to sue governments for their loss of profits. For example, if the New Zealand State sought to pass tougher environmental or worker safety laws that had profit implications for multinational corporations, the State could be sued, and the taxpayer would pick up the tab.

While the negotiations seem to be mired in major differences across a whole range of areas, Law Professor Jane Kelsey has suggested that many of these will disappear this weekend as governments hand over major concessions the US in exchange for some market access.

What’s in it for NZ?

The golden chalice for the New Zealand State is dairy access to the US. Despite being global champions of ‘market liberalisation’ (e.g. open up your market to our products) the US still has a heavily protected agricultural market, demonstrating its usual hypocrisy in world affairs: ‘Do as I say, not as I do.’

One US academic writes, ‘Agricultural protectionism remains virtually intact
today in spite of the GATT/WTO* multilateral negotiations over the last three decades attempting to dismantle it and liberalize agricultural trade.’ The political will in Washington simply does not exist to open us access to its dairy markets. Interestingly, ‘government intervention in the US started during the era of the Great Depression in part to proffer safety nets for the one fourth of the population engaged in farming and to reduce the disparity in incomes between the farm and nonfarm sectors.’ **

This is not the case today. Farming in the US is overwhelmingly dominated by major multinational corporations, but the image of the dustbowl farmer remains.

Neo-liberal trade: the hard sell

Since 1984, successive New Zealand governments have embraced neo-liberal trade as the economic ideology to deliver prosperity for the country. For some, it certainly has done that. Unfortunately, for the vast majority of people, life is more difficult, not less, under a system of neo-liberal capitalism; distressingly, the TPPA will make things still worse.

New Zealand is now one of the most unequal societies in the OECD. It has one of the highest levels of incarceration in the Western world, very high levels of infant mortality and diseases such as rheumatic fever are on the rise. Approximately 1 in 4 New Zealand children live in poverty.

Sixty New Zealand health academics and practitioners have sent a strong message to the government that public health must not be further undermined by the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. The letter warns that provisions for private investors could deter future regulatory action on public health issues, such as tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy foods and advertising. It also notes that the existing TPPA text would undermine the ability of Pharmac, the government’s drug buying agency, to do its work in the most cost effective way.

The TPPA originated in New Zealand as the P3 agreement, a trade deal negotiated between NZ, Singapore and Brunei several years ago. Successive Labour and National governments have been very keen to extend trade agreements, and push for dairy access around the world.

The obvious problem with this model is that on one hand, it requires that the New Zealand environment is destroyed in order to produce dairy; on the other hand, it requires that we relinquish major social services in health, housing and education in order to get market access to these countries. While at present, dairy is NZ’s major export commodity; it is simply not sustainable even in the medium term.

The fightback

Opposition to the TPPA has been fierce in many countries, and demonstrations are organized in the US, Australia and Japan for this weekend. Unfortunately, active organising on the issue in Aotearoa has been sporadic. Unions are in such a precarious position, fighting on so many fronts that they are having difficulty mounting any serious challenges. As importantly, the nine years of an ostensibly ‘centre-left’ government in New Zealand was the period when the largest number of agreements was made, such the deals with China the P3. There was little organised resistance to these treaties, except some xenophobic and racist opposition to the China deal.

More generally, those of us who oppose neo-liberalism have a serious barrier in proposing alternative economic visions. We have said, ‘One NO, Many YESES,’ but these have been drowned out by the relentless propaganda of corporate power. Time and time again, the rhetoric of ‘free trade’ is used to cloak the massive transfer of public wealth into private hands. The ruling elite is facilitating this theft; they have been completely captured by corporate power. We cannot hope that elected representatives will listen to ‘the people’ or even do what is rational; these are ideologues driven by a desire to dismantle the public good and put it into private hands usually under the ruse of ‘efficiency’ or ‘cost effectiveness.’

The TPPA has nothing to do with free trade – it is highly regulated trade for the benefit of multinational corporations with gangs of lawyers on staff, politicians in their pockets and the armies and police forces of the world on call. A militant movement for international solidarity, for tino rangatiratanga and against capitalism represents our best chance for social and economic justice; the reality we are facing is dark indeed.


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