In early February New Zealand joined eleven other countries in signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.
For some, this signaled the start of a better economy, or that’s what the government would have you believe – and for the most part we have every reason to believe this is the beginning of New Zealand finally being on par with the rest of the world financially.
For others, it felt like a breach of democracy, and a deal was done with the Devil.
The TPP was signed by the 12 negotiating countries on February 04, 2016 at the SkyCityEvents Centre in Auckland.
Between 2,000 and 15,000 protesters were estimated to have marched down Queen Street at midday, including additional rallies in Aotea Square and outside of SkyCity.
“TPPA, no way,” they chanted. “TPPA, taking people’s power away,” others suggested.
So what is the TPPA?
In short – The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement among twelve Pacific Rim countries.
It concerns many matters of public policy and a stated goal to “promote economic growth; support the creation and retention of jobs; enhance innovation, productivity and competitiveness; raise living standards; reduce poverty in our countries; and promote transparency, good governance, and enhanced labor and environmental protections.”
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Acts website the TPP will give New Zealand better access to globally significant markets, diversify New Zealand’s trade and investment relationships and give a platform to build on the NZ$28 billion worth of New Zealand goods and services exported to TPP countries.
At first glance this all sounds great and very promising. However, only some sections of the agreement have been made public through document leaks. So much of the TPPA’s substantial content remains unknown, and at six thousand pages long it’s no wonder why.
So what are the concerns?
Former Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimmons told the New Zealand Herald the TPPA is a dangerous initiative.
“At the heart it is a huge lie which pretends this is about trade,” she said. “It’s not about trade, it’s about allowing foreign corporations to override the decisions of democratically elected governments.”
“The fact that it has a specific clause in it to allow investor corporations to sue our Government if it takes any actions which reduces their profits … that is the most anti-democratic thing that has ever happened in my lifetime.”
Fitzsimmons’ concerns are legitimate. What she refers to is the section of the agreement relating to Investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS. An instrument of public international law which grants an investor the right to initiate dispute settlement proceedings against a foreign Government.
For example, if an investor invests in country “A” who happens to be a member of a trade treaty, and country A breaches that treaty, then the investor may sue country A’s government for the violation.
In March last year WikiLeaks released a draft of the TPP’s Investment Chapter according to which global corporations could sue governments in tribunals organised by the World Bank or the United Nations to obtain compensation from them for loss of expected future profits due to government actions.
This is all part of the TPP’s aim to provide a fair and competitive marketplace and business facilitation in what it calls addressing new trade challenges.
There was a concern that this could give Tobacco industries more power in contesting our plain packaging campaigns to reduce smoking, however in October 2015, it was announced that ISDS laws would not apply to tobacco industries.
Graver concerns regarding medication regulation claim Introducing the TPPA would mean medicines will become more expensive as pharmaceutical companies get more power, according to the It’s Our Future website.
The site claims large foreign companies will be able to sue the New Zealand government for millions of dollars in damages arguing that new regulations have “seriously undermined” their investment values.
In a nutshell, we potentially haven’t been paying what we “should” be paying for medicines. This potentially creates the prospect of Pharmac discontinuing buying certain drugs because of their cost.
In a statement posted on the Labour Party’s website earlier this year, a spokesperson said:
“New Zealand must not sacrifice cheaper medicines through Pharmac, or give up our sovereign right to regulate and legislate for our health, we must preserve our democratic rights to regulate overseas corporations that operate here,” the statement reads.
Some may say these are a lot of “what ifs”, and others might protest that these are big enough concerns to warrant not opening our country up to such vulnerabilities.
But what about those that support the agreement?
There are those that echo much of the Government’s messages about the economic boost saying becoming a part of this union signals a new dawn in New Zealand’s economy and that joining the TPP finally puts us on par with the rest of the world economically.
According to the release of a “national interest analysis”, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, New Zealand “risks marginalisation and decline” if it does not sign the TPPA deal.
The document further reiterates the Government’s stance saying the deal would add about $2.7 billion to the country’s annual Gross domestic product by 2030 once it is in full effect.
The document states the TPP would serve as a platform to support the integration of New Zealand business into regional supply chains and would provide consistency and certainty to traders and investors and supports the foundation for a Free Trade Agreement of the Asia Pacific.
As far as marginalisation and decline goes it states that New Zealand’s competitiveness in TPP markets would be eroded, and trade and investment would be diverted away from New Zealand to other TPP members which could incur some significant costs to us.
Ok so, is it a good deal or bad?
I personally couldn’t tell you. I know what my stance is and what my beliefs are when it comes to the dissemination of information. But, whether or not New Zealand will suffer or prosper due to the agreement remains to be seen.
It’s one of those things that you just can’t gauge until you’ve experienced it first-hand.
Take the fall of the World Trade Center for example, the foreseen economic collapse wasn’t really felt until at least 3-5 years afterwards. The word recession featured in almost every news headline for nearly the next decade and New Zealand is still climbing its way out of that.
Until prices start dropping or the very much feared ISDS disputes make headlines we won’t actually know how beneficial or detrimental signing the agreement has been to our society.
Will New Zealand experience the prosperity enjoyed by the other economic superpowers, perhaps and – we deserve that.
But whether or not it also opens us up to the industrial corruption that is so much feared by much of the country is also a legitimate concern and remains to be seen.