With the failure of the Hawaii TPPA round to make a deal, the next round of TPPA negotiations is going to be more difficult, as well as more risky for the government. Internationally the Canadian government has been dissolved pending an election in October and all TPPA governments are managing widespread public concerns. Despite the secrecy of the last seven years of negotiations the recent media coverage has laid bare some weaknesses of the government’s position to the NZ public.
Four downsides have become apparent.
- The government has made it clear that it has left itself with few tools to prevent unlimited overseas sales of NZ homes through the TPPA and S. Korea trade agreements. These are now applied retrospectively to China. (John Key’s claim that it was Labour’s fault is entirely specious – akin to saying “you gave me a knife and it’s your fault I cut off my own leg”.)
- The promises, over many years, that Pharmac would be untouched by the TPPA have proven to be false. The current proposals on protections for biologic drugs would impact Pharmac’s ability to buy them. Prescription fees may not change but as tax payers we would be paying more or finding that modern drugs are out of reach of the health system.
- The leaked TPPA chapter on State Owned Enterprises goes far further than anyone outside the negotiations had understood. That the government is signing up to an agreement where the definition of an SOE is unclear is surely unwise. It could put the future of say, the NZ Superannuation Fund in doubt, and would effectively knee-cap any future opportunity for State Owned Companies to have joint social and commercial objectives. This is a significant intrusion into NZ’s democratic freedoms.
- The negotiations themselves have shown the utter weakness of New Zealand’s negotiating position and the claims that the TPPA would improve market access for NZ primary produce across TPP countries have been shown to be an illusion. Our already open economy has left few bargaining chips so it has become clear that, after 7 years of negotiations, our Trade Minister is not even close to being able to sign a deal that would open the markets of TPPA countries for NZ dairy produce. The bald facts of the failure on this score are surely somewhat surprising.
Two legal processes are in chain and will be in the news in coming weeks. Firstly the Waitangi Tribunal has agreed to hold an urgent hearing into a claim by influential Maori organisations and individuals from around NZ who have filed claims alleging the trade deal will jeopardise their Treaty rights.
Secondly a group of organisations including some of New Zealand’s most trusted organisations – the NZ Nurses Organisation, Consumer NZ, Ngati Kahungunu, Oxfam, Greenpeace, Tertiary Education Union, Association of Salaried Medical Specialists (the hospital doctor’s union) have asked for a judicial hearing of the “blanket refusal to release any of the categories of information sought by University of Auckland Professor Jane Kelsey under an Official Information Act request earlier this year.”
The Trade Minister has recently attacked TPPA opponents as “breathless children” who “run off at the mouth” before the deal is done. Over the last week there has been wide coverage of Australia’s own free trade nightmare with big tobacco which has so far cost $A50M of public money just to get the case ready for the ISDS tribunal. Compared with the well documented anti-democratic cases related to the use of the Investor State Dispute System this attitude seems like either a naive myopia or wilful carelessness with New Zealand’s democracy.
Finally, the government’s reputation in negotiating is less than impressive. From Sky City, Serco and charter schools to paying off a Saudi Arabian businessman the government is hardly demonstrating proficiency in looking after New Zealand’s best interests. These missteps relate to what are effectively single subject contracts not complex multi-party negotiations.
In addition to all of these issues opponents of the TPPA have a week of action from 8-15 August which will draw more attention to concerns about the agreement. Organisations and individuals concerned about the TPPA’s secrecy and its investor state disputes mechanism will be calling on the government to “step away from the TPPA”.