Just in case you thought the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) wasn’t shrouded in enough controversy, universities may also suffer at its hands.
Since New Zealand’s involvement in negotiations began in 2008, the 12-country agreement has generated major controversy, most recently with Seven Sharp’s Mike “unbiased” Hosking telling the nation that “the TPP negotiations have an urban myth feel about them. People who know little (if anything) whipping themselves into a frenzy that will ultimately prove to be a waste of time.”
In theory, New Zealand joined the agreement as a means of opening trade routes with other countries (ie. dope for our exporters and we get cheaper swag, our milk brings US and China to the yard) and the details are currently being nutted out by a bunch of leaders as this goes to print.
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However, experts have criticised the effect that the TPPA could have on medication prices, copyright laws and internet freedom, parallel imports, and general government vs multinational corporation showdowns. (There are several sources you can go to for more information, including The Wireless’s fantastic cartoon by Toby Morris.)
Also, we only found out about these consequences because they were leaked.
But what will the TPP mean for universities?
There are fears that the agreement will hinder academics’ access to important information due to financial and legal constraints imposed by companies. The agreement could also see libraries lose some of their information-sharing rights.
In 2013, Former Tertiary Education Union President Lesley Francey claimed that the agreement would “limit the freedoms of publicly-owned tertiary education institutes to operation in the best interests of their students and the public”.
At an Education International (EI) conference last month, global delegates expressed grave concerns over the TPP. In a formal resolution, EI stated the agreements “pose direct threats to the provision of quality public services, including education, in particular through restricting governments’ capacity to regulate in the public interests”.
Academics have raised particular concerns over the TPPA’s copyright implications. Under current New Zealand law, copyright lapses 50 years after the death of the author, and there are fears that the TPPA will cause this term to be extended to 70 years.
The change would technically favour copyright holders and their estates, but it could ultimately inhibit those looking to innovate or create and may increase royalty costs for users.
Across the Tasman, the Australian Productivity Commission has estimated that copyright changes required by the TPPA will increase the country’s copyright costs by $88m.
Universities New Zealand Executive Director Chris Whelan appealed to the Government in March on behalf of the country’s eight universities.
Whelan claimed that “extending the term of copyright [would] negatively impact” universities’ ability to “disseminate and assist the application of knowledge” and that an extension to copyright laws would also see early New Zealand books, newspapers, pamphlets photographs, films etc “remaining digitally unavailable”.
Auckland University’s copyright officer Melanie Johnson claimed in UniNews that “the TPPA could… increase costs [and] restrict access to information resources.”
Auckland University Vice-Chancellor Stuart McCutcheon said that if the agreement extends the copyright of works to include within the life of the author, plus seventy years, “it will lock up our cultural heritage for a further 20 years… it means students, creators, performers, researchers, and educational institutions will all be denied access to culturally significant material.”
While VUWSA hasn’t taken an official stance towards the agreement, President Rick Zwaan expressed concern that it could “increase costs to universities and impact the ability of academics to share research”.
The Green Party trade spokesperson Russel Norman predicted that the potential copyright-related costs would put pressure on tertiary education finances, claiming “universities had to find that money somewhere”.
Labour’s Trade and Export Growth spokesperson David Parker told Salient that “if the TPP is the same as our earlier trade agreements, it will not have adverse effects on our tertiary institutions.” However, “we won’t know for sure until we see the terms, which is why it is wrong that the Government is not being transparent”.
Outside the University
The Waitangi Tribunal ruled last week that the TPPA is likely to breach the Treaty of Waitangi. Claimants had brought their cases to the Tribunal on the basis that the crown could not grant land land and sea rights to offshore trade partners without Māori consent.
MANA leader Hone Harawira said the Government has “refused to make the text of the TPPA available to Māori, they’ve refused to engage with Māori and they’ve refused to honour their obligations to protect Māori under the Treaty”.
The most frequent criticism of the agreement, though, has focused on its implications for affordable medication in New Zealand.
Leaked agreement papers suggested that drug companies would be able to put financial and legal pressure on New Zealand’s Pharmaceutical Management Agency (PHARMAC), the organisation that decides which medications the Government buys in bulk and subsidies for citizens.
Prime Minister John Key confirmed this week that the Government would be forced to pay more for medication under the agreement, but that it would not stop providing $5 subsidised prescriptions.