Today is the signing of the little zombie deal that could, (CPA)TPP1. Those of you already following Weka’s earlier post have already seen my short thoughts on this deal, but I thought I’d give you both the long take and some political analysis on this tire fire for its signing day.
But first, let’s talk about action against it! The petition at dontdoit.nz has broken 5,000 signatures, a really respectable number for an issue where we’re breaking with the Labour party, (there is an understandable deference to authority by some more moderate supporters of the government, but that’s a really poor reason to support a deal like this) so great work to everyone involved, and it’s still worth having a look at signing if you haven’t yet. There is a protest today at Parliament, assembling at noon, so if you’re in Wellington, show up! I plan to be there, weather allowing. It’s important that Labour realize they have put themselves in an unenviable position by signing on to this deal despite their “bottom lines.”
That brings us back nicely to analyzing the deal, and let’s do so in terms of Labour’s bottom lines. Like a zombie, it is definitely suffering necrosis. Firstly, and most alarmingly, we are clearly being set up for the US’ re-entry into TPP with the worst parts of it, such as the copyright provisions, simply “suspended” rather than deleted. You don’t “suspend” parts of a deal you don’t want there, you delete them, so they are suspended for a reason- clearly the large multinational corporations that have lobbied hard for this treaty want the US to come back to it once they have a more friendly administration, or even once they can talk Trump into it. (he has talked about renegotiating a “better deal” for the US- which likely means he would want to make the deal even worse for everyone else, so we can hope he makes no progress there) So the biggest problems still haven’t been “solved” as claimed, but rather set aside until eventual consideration of the USA’s re-entry.
Secondly, the much-vaunted side deals to limit ISDS claims, which Labour claims half-victory on, are really a total failure. What they have done is make it marginally harder for Australian corporates, and any other country’s corporates who we have secret side deals with, to take us to the ISDS tribunal. It’s still absolutely possible: Corporates aren’t like people, they don’t have citizenship. As long as they have operations or are willing to set up operations in a country without a TPP side-deal, they can simply relocate their HQ to that country and sue us under their ISDS clause, and suddenly our side-letters don’t apply. So in practice, we are likely open to 95% of our trade to the TPP11 countries in lawsuits, rather than having cut it down to 20% or less of our trade.
I will point out that the problem with TPP’s ISDS mechanism isn’t that allowing investors to resolve disputes with states individually isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but that it is structured as basically a corporate rights charter instead of a legitimate, law-based disputes process. You could arguably design a good ISDS in a multi-country agreement by having nominated third-party countries hear cases in their courts with their judges, and pay due respect to the public interest in those laws. TPP has some provisions around legislation in the public interest, but it’s hard to have confidence in them when the sorts of tribunal’s TPP’s ISDS is modelled after have historically been kangaroo courts presided over by lawyers whose whole careers have been built on pro-corporate trade advocacy- so there is not even a veneer of neutrality.
Thirdly, Labour’s triumphant legislation to ban foreign buyers of existing homes is the real half-win. Yes, it will do a little to improve the housing situation by forcing foreign investors to build new houses, but it doesn’t solve the land concern. Foreigners will still be able to buy up farmland, or empty land to build McMansions on, so it’s less of a win than it seems to be.
Basically, Labour has broadly failed on its own “bottom lines” depite rounding themselves up to victory in the media. So why support this new zombie deal when they were clear on those deadlines and it’s failed to meet them?
Because the purpose of the bottom lines was, sadly, never to communicate clearly the conditions under which Labour would reject the deal. Rounding themselves up to passing one of them shows that quite clearly- if they were bottom lines, half-success on just one of them would mean the deal needed to be rejected, and thus we are clearly in bad faith territory here. But why?
Well, I think honestly, Labour have never had to turn around one of these trade negotiations before. They are not a populist party by nature, not since the 1980s, and they think they honestly know better and can do better than the public on trade. I believe they honestly thought they had the power to turn those negotiations around, if they even happened, and that Japan would likely slow things down for long enough that they could make a really good show of it. But someone was busy working behind the scenes in Japan, and they reversed themselves, and Labour found they were suddenly under time pressure having promised everything would be alright if they won the election, and their bias of being for Every Single Trade Deal Ever Proposed reared its ugly head again.
If you don’t like that behaviour, if you think it’s dishonest, well, you honestly need to not vote for Labour. You have precisely one option if you oppose corporate trade deals like the TPP in the future, and that’s the Greens, who have opposed this deal in Parliament, and will oppose it in Cabinet.
As for New Zealand First… I can’t actually fathom them really and genuinely supporting the new deal. I think they knew that it would be a price they’d pay to go into coalition, and New Zealand forced them into coalition by making them the critical party to get above 50%. Again, if you thought they’d prevent a TPP, don’t vote for them, and demand they give some real guarantee they’ve changed their stripes before you ever consider doing so again.
Beyond the bottom lines, here’s another summary of bad things about the TPP2:
Here are the bad things that come back when/if the US deigns to re-enter TPP:
There are SOME actual improvements, to be 100% fair:
1 If you’re going to change the bloody name of the deal, at least get your acronym letters in the right order for the new name. Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership definitely acronyms down to CPATPP, so I’m not sure why people acronyming the new name are sometimes calling it CPTPPA. The “A” is clearly now in the middle of its name, but this just belies the fact that it really is the same deal- I would say in drag, but frankly that’s slanderous to drag queens, who are excellent performers (and an implicit critque of toxic masculinity, nonetheless!) and do not deserve to be associated with this rubbish.
I’m calling it the TPP from here on, because it is in many ways the same deal, just with bits of it in hiding until the US rejoins.
2 This analysis is a summary based on splitting the difference between It’s Our Future NZ’s analysis of the original TPP-12, and MFAT’s claims about suspended sections of (CPA)TPP. You will note that MFAT only claims that the new agreement protects our rights to legislate in the area of healthcare and education, and even then, that healthcare claim presumably depends on the suspension of the items the US wants to make PHARMAC pay their drug companies more money. They don’t even pretend that the new deal won’t limit our ability to regulate our private market.
Image credit: Perlinator, generously released under CC0.