So last night I went to the Fabian’s lecture on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (currently having a negotiation round in Auckland) with Prof Jane Kelsey and Lori Walloch. It was enlightening to say the least.
I was already very concerned about the secrecy of the text – if we’re going to have over-arching law that compromises our domestic law then surely as a democracy let’s all have a chance to scrutinise it.
I was already concerned about the effect on Pharmac and copyright law.
But I wasn’t aware just how much this agreement (based on the leaked Investment chapter, and the likes of NAFTA and CAFTA a lot of the provisions are based upon) will skew rights towards foreign corporations over local citizens. Neo-liberalism? Cemented in.
I already thought the ability of foreign firms to sue the State was a bad thing – but having had cases such as Occidental Petroleum vs Ecuador, Railroad Development Corp vs Guatemala and Pacific Rim vs El Salvador presented… I now think it horrendous.
It’s so horrendous that Australia has ruled out so-called ‘Investor-State’ – at least while Labor are in power. While these countries are not in the TPP, but so Brazil has also ruled out ‘Investor-State’ ever; and South Africa and almost certainly India won’t have it in any future agreements. We should follow suit.
Putting our rights over to a panel of 3 unaccountable foreign trade lawyers (who we get to pay by the hour, encouraging them to stretch things out…) with no right of appeal just seems foolish. These tribunals have made up law so that in the Ecuador case above when Occidental expressly broke their contract, when Ecuador declared it null and void the tribunal decided that was “disproportionate” (despite that never being in any treaty or law or the contract), and fined Ecuador $2.3 billion.
The rules favour foreign corporates so much that domestic corporates have – under NAFTA and CAFTA – re-domiciled so that they can then sue as a foreign investment. And big governments crack – Canada has when Ethyl Corp sued over the ban imposed on MMT, as a gasoline additive, which was toxic and harmful to public health. MMT is banned in the US (where Ethyl is based), but Canada withdrew, reversed the ban, paid damages, and put out public apologies to Ethyl.
The academic literature also shows that inequality increases as a result of this sort of ‘free-trade’ agreement – it’s just a debate of how much it causes. This is a movement of money from the many to the few.
But don’t get me wrong – I’m not anti-trade. Free and fair trade would be great. If this was a free-trade agreement and just a free-trade agreement that would be fabulous. It also wouldn’t harm Pharmac, ban Parallel Importing, cause Copyright problems, or restrict our rights to choose how we govern our environment, health, extractive industries, banking sector etc.
So the answer is simple: release the text – show us what this agreement is about (or maybe somebody could leak it – crowd-sourced bounty is here).
Give it the Dracula treatment – bring it out into the sunshine of Public Opinion. If it ain’t evil, it won’t die.