What is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?

TPPA - Neoliberalism without borders
The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is shaping up to make the NZ government's proposed asset sales programme look like a mosquito to its great white shark. Judging by his superficial press releases, Trade Minister Tim Groser thinks he can convince us that it won't hurt a bit, or at least not much, and that bleeding the country in this way will cure its economic ills. But convincing us isn't high on the agenda, apparently, judging by the almost complete absence of publicly available information on the negotiations. It's actually part of the agreement that the details of the negotiations will remain sealed until four years after it is finalised. The only reason we know anything about the TPP negotiations is through leaked documents the negotiators didn't want us to see, including Article 12 of the Agreement (dealing with Investment).

Groser, New Zealand's negotiator to the Agreement, insists that “excessive sovereignty” is a big problem for the New Zealnd economy because it allows obstacles such as trade tariffs in countries that want to protect their workers' rights, to hinder “outstanding growth opportunities” for New Zealand.

The TPPA is designed to remove obstacles to economic globalisation – Profiteers Sans Frontieres. To do this, it has drafted provisions that will allow corporations to sue governments for loss of profit caused by pesky things like health and safety regulations, labour laws, minimum wage laws, food laws, environmental protection laws, trade tariffs, privacy laws, the Treaty of Waitangi, etc. Um, did we learn nothing from the neoliberal economic reforms of the 1980s and 90s?

The TPPA poses a clear threat to workers' pay and conditions, access to affordable medicine, internet freedom, local media content, our sovereignty over natural resources, our ability to hold private companies accountable for environmental destruction. This amnesty applies mainly to foreign multi-nationals – local investors would still be subject to the laws of their own country. Go figure.

Needless to say, this will affect the citizens of every country in the Partnership, as well as those not part of the deal (who will lose out by being forced to compete with the 'streamlined' economies of TPP countries).

Dubbed 'NAFTA on steroids', the TPP will be the most expansive 'free trade' agreement in history, if it is allowed to go ahead, which at this point seems imminent. The Partnership includes New Zealand, Australia, USA, Vietnam, Brunei, Chile, Singapore, Peru, Malaysia and now Mexico and Canada.

The lack of transparency is in itself cause for concern. The news media have been disturbingly (if predictably) quiet on the subject, knowing which side their bread is buttered on. The beneficent, smiling public face of the negotiations is skin-deep. The TPPA will be a gross violation of international law – or rather, a drasic rewrite of international trade law, drafted by lobbyists for international capital. Elected politicians, journalists, non-profit groups and the public have been almost entirely excluded from negotiations (except for a few necessary Trade Ministers), whereas representatives of corporate interests, numbering in the hundreds and named as 'official trade advisors', have been setting the agenda.

New Zealand's opposition parties have taken a less-than-united stance on the TPPA. Mana have announced their policy to terminate negotiations completely. The Greens, in a joint statement with the Green parties of Australia and Canada, are calling for transparency and “to open these negotiations to public input and comment”. Although they haven't denounced the Agreement outright, they have expressed concerns that it will prevent governments from “performing effectively”. The Labour Party have cautiously skirted around the issue of secrecy, and merely touched on a few specifics of the Agreement, such as the implications for local tobacco laws and our international image in regard to ties with China. They are not voicing any concerns about the big-picture implications of signing over our national sovereignty in favour of big business. After all it was the Labour-led government that in 2007 initiated the TPP negotiations.

Straight from the horse's mouth (the US Trade Representative Office): the TPPA will introduce new measures "making the regulatory systems of TPP countries more compatible so U.S. companies can operate more seamlessly in TPP markets".

An added benefit to the US is the softening up of China's neighbours in the Pacific so they have allied territories on which to place their big guns if China 'misbehaves'. Hugh White, former Australian Defence Adviser, shed some light in an interview on Radio NZ: "[the TPP] is aimed by the United States as being part of its approach to contesting China's growing influence in Asia and trying to reassert American influence...To the extent that New Zealand supports it and for that matter to the extent that Australia supports it... I think it will contribute to a sense that we're lining up with the United States against China". On this issue, Groser announced “there is no ambiguity around this... TPP is not anti-China”. Why America thinks it has more right to assert its influence in Asia than China does is baffling, but that's another matter.

The next round of negotiations is scheduled to take place in Auckland on 3–12 December, providing a perfect opportunity to get out in vast numbers and embarrass our roughshod government when they are trying to look all shiny and agreeable to international capital! Watch this space.

-Sian R.


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