The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a “free trade” currently under negotiation between NZ and 8 other countries,

including the U.S.

The countries want to complete negotiation by the end of 2011.

Why should we be concerned about the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

If these negotiations succeed they will create a mega-treaty across nine countries that will put a straightjacket around what policies and laws our governments can adopt for the next century.

Which countries are involved in these negotiations?

As of November 2010 there are nine: in addition to the US and New Zealand, there are Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

When do the negotiations begin?

There have already been three rounds of negotiations. The fourth round is in Auckland on the week of 6 December 2010 – at the Sky City casino!

What could the TPPA affect?

Everything from foreign ownership of land and resources, including mining licenses, media laws and support for local NZ content, Treaty settlements, control of financial speculation, the price of medicines, to compulsory labelling of food, plain packaging of cigarettes, privatisation contracts for water, prison, schools and hospitals under public private partnerships (PPPs) …

Which NZ policies will be key targets for the US?

The US trade office publishes an annual hit list of ‘trade barriers’ in each country. NZ’s current sins include:
–    restrictions on sale and manufacture of GMOs and labeling of GM foods
–    NZ’s strict quarantine and labeling (sanitary and phytosanitary) rules
–    Parallel importing, especially for music and computer programmes
–    Intellectual property protection in the digital media and pharmaceuticals.
–    the Pharmac scheme for buying drugs and subsidies
–    voluntary local content quotas for broadcasting
–    dominance of Telecom over competitors and new entrants
–    increased restrictions on foreign investments

How come it is described as a ‘trade’ agreement?

That’s a clever branding exercise. It is really an agreement that guarantees rights to foreign investors that operate out from any of the TPP countries – think entertainment (Warners and Sony), pharmaceuticals (Merck and Pfizer), mining (RTZ and BP), tobacco (Philip Morris), retailers (Wal-Mart and Woolworths), finance sector (Merrill Lynch, Westpac, AIG, Macquarie, JP Morgan), agro-business (Cargill, Monsanto), private water operators (Bechtel, Veolia) and much more.

That sounds like the MAI that we defeated in the 1990s!

It is the Multilateral Agreement on Investment on steroids. The TPP is effectively a bill of rights for big corporations that is designed in secret and shackles future governments and our democratic right to decide future policy and laws.

How would a TPPA give foreign investors special rights?

That works at several levels.
1. laws that allow foreign investment would be locked so they could only be weakened, unless the government reserves the right to strengthen them before it signs the agreement. Previous NZ governments have already done that for everything but sensitive land, privatisation of existing SOEs, and a small number of assets.
2. it would guarantee foreign firms are consulted over proposed new laws and the government would have to show how it had responded to their views. NZers have no such guarantee of input into our own laws!
3. if the government does go ahead with a new policy or law that the investors say affects the value of their investment they could sue the government for millions of dollars for breaching their rights under the TPPA (trumping our domestic laws). The case would be heard in a secret international court run by the UN or World Bank, not in our domestic courts.

Sounds like Warners and the Hobbits on a massive scale!

That’s a really important lesson – we saw how one company could pressure the government to change labour laws overnight and get massive tax subsidies from a government that says there’s no money for health, early childcare, public transport, … Imagine the ‘chilling effect’ of a threat from these foreign companies to take a law suit against the government if it goes ahead with a law they don’t like.

What are some examples of restrictions?

Current examples of laws currently being considered include plain packaging of cigarettes, tighter regulations onshore and offshore mining exploration, stopping foreign sales of taonga that are under Treaty claims, banning the sale of the kind of toxic financial products that fuelled the financial crisis, restrictions on sale of strategic assets to foreign firms, a tax on ‘hot’ money flowing into and out of the country …

How does the NZ government justify the TPP?

The familiar line about better access for Fonterra’s milk powder into the huge US market. As US economist Joseph Stiglitz said “Most of these ‘free trade’ agreements are … managed trade agreements and they’re mostly managed for the advantage of the United States, which has the bulk of the negotiating power.” There is no real negotiation and “one can’t think that New Zealand would ever get anything that it cares about.” They also think a TPPA can morph into an Asia-Pacific wide FTA – yeah, right!

What can we do about it?

There’s lots we can do to stop it.  Find out more, and who to get in touch with, here.



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