What the hell/heck/shit/fuck is the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement?
We get it. The acronym TPPA makes you want to scream. It’s on the news, you’ve got one friend who won’t shut up about it, you might have even protested your little heart out walking from Cuba St. all the way to the Beehive.
But with that being said, I doubt there are many of you out there who could conclusively say you know exactly what the TPPA is all about. Allow me to enlighten you in this breakdown of what the TPPA is, how it is going to affect our country, and why it is been so goddamn problematic.
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What is the TPPA?
The TPPA is a free trade deal between eleven of the Pacific-Rim countries—Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam, and the United States. It aims to expose more nations to free trade partnerships by eliminating tariffs and allowing multinational corporations more opportunities for domestic business contracts over local companies, in order to create an open international business market. It also covers smaller details such as biosecurity, internet freedom, and copyright/intellectual property laws.
Why so problematic?
The main problem with the TPPA is that the whole process has been secretive. Negotiations for the deal began in 2008, and were finalised in October 2015 when the drafting of the treaty began. It wasn’t until it was signed in Auckland on February 4, 2016 that the text became accessible.
The lack of transparency has been criticised extensively both domestically and internationally. Domestic concern has been voiced predominantly from left-wing political parties and by groups that were established to exclusively oppose the TPPA like It’s Our Future. On an international scale, the loudest criticism has come from Canada’s new Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has vowed to not ratify the treaty. A number of candidates in the US Presidential primaries have also opposed the deal, including frontrunners Trump and Clinton.
How does it directly affect New Zealand?
The TPPA is the most important free trade agreement in New Zealand’s recent history, and the impact of it will be felt across our society. Below are six areas that will feel the effects, the list isn’t exhaustive, but it demonstrates how far this agreement reaches.
Trade and Industry:
With the full implementation of the TPPA, New Zealand will have strong trading relationships with the first and third largest economies in the world—the US and Japan.
We will also save a projected $259 million a year on tariffs, and it will see the elimination of tariffs on fruit, vegetables, sheep meat, forestry products, seafood, wine, and industrial products. It is estimated this will add $2.7 billion to our GDP by 2030, a figure which is actually only 0.9% more than the original projected growth.
If both the US and Canada do not ratify the treaty in the coming years this small financial boost won’t come, something which could be detrimental to a number of our primary industries, as well as our foreign policy relations with North America.
There is also concern about how the TPPA will allow the expansion of free trade with countries that do not currently comply with the basic international standards of labour. The primary concern is Vietnam’s labour laws, as they do not comply with international standards and unionism is still illegal.
The Treaty of Waitangi:
According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trading’s website, under the TPPA Māori land, taonga, and the Treaty of Waitangi will be upheld by the Crown, and the interpretation of the Treaty will not change. Despite this seemingly explicit statement, It’s Our Future claim that the Treaty of Waitangi and Māori rights will be ignored in favour of big business.
Because negotiations took place in private and sought little consultation with iwi before the negotiations, the exclusion of some major Māori rights is a very real possibility. Long term this could mean that iwi may not have to be consulted for land sales and developments, the privatisation of land or assets, or regarding changes in commercial enterprises and regulations for our primary industries. This would be a direct violation of the Treaty and the basic rights deserved by indigenous peoples.
A few months ago, Netflix announced they would be cracking down on people using geo-unblockers to access overseas Netflix catalogues. Using one of these extensions is quasi-illegal, but also a no brainer, because New Zealand Netflix is garbage and Canadian Netflix is bomb AF. This sudden change was rumoured to be because of the TPPA. If the rumours are true, and because nothing has been done about it so far, it could mean that these extensions will be shut down. This will be an international travesty for all fuckbois of Tinder, because asking someone to “stream-a-pixelated-episode-of-a-TV-show and chill” is just nasty.
Copyright laws will also change under the TPPA. This is because our current copyright period of 50 years is shorter than the 70 year period in other TPPA-affiliated countries. Although print media like books, screenplays, lyrics, and art will continue to be copyrighted for 50 years, digital media will have its copyright extended to 70 years.
There is also a chance that copyright infringement will become a more serious crime, and will be punished more extensively. This is because there will be an international standard to do so. Lol try stop me, fuck the police, torrent till I die.
This is a tough one, and I’m still not sure what’s true and what’s not. The government has been arguing there will be no changes to the prices of subsidised general prescriptions and that the only changes from the TPPA will be reflected in an administrative change in PHARMAC’s transparency as an entity of the Crown.
Seem legit, however, It’s Our Future are claiming this as untrue, saying that overseas pharmaceutical companies will be able to dictate to PHARMAC the price of medicines. This will come about through the aforementioned changes in copyright laws that would affect the patents on particular medicines to allow pharmaceutical companies to have a monopoly on certain drugs, subsequently causing prices to spike, and/or limit the distribution of medicine overseas as aid or otherwise.
The Legislative Process:
Another toughy, and hold tight because this is where it gets hella complicated.
To improve business relations with foreign investors/businesses and expand our free trade network, the TPPA makes it acceptable for these investors to sue a government for damages on a major scale through a process called Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS). If you’re not already a little suspicious of the TPPA, this is where you might start to be.
If a free trade deal has an ISDS clause, a government could pass a law in the people’s interest which could impact the profits a foreign investor might make. If the investor feels aggrieved because of the loss of profits, they could sue the government for the projected loss in an international arbitration court.
Examples of when this could happen include plain packaging laws on cigarettes, anti-fracking laws, transitioning to alternative clean energy technologies, and not using oil or nuclear power. If the investor is successful, because the government is funded by taxes, it will be Joe and Mary middle class who wind up paying these damages to gigantic corporations… haven’t the middle class suffered enough already?
You’d be naïve to think that businesses don’t already have a massive influence over legislation, but now thanks to the TPPA, it might actually be possible for the government to make its citizens pay reparations to a corporation that might destroy the environment or make money off giving people cancer (IDIOTS!).
The TPPA is a mind fuck, and it’s pretty clear there are some good and bad aspects of the deal. It is also pretty clear that none of us are going to fully understand the whole thing until it has been ratified in about two years time, and these airy fairy potential changes start coming into effect.
On the bright side, before we’re all potentially screwed, the debate over the TPPA has shown us that the people of New Zealand are actually extremely politically aware. Whether you’ve researched it and decided you support it, or have thrown your favourite dildo at a cabinet minister in protest, speaking up for or against the TPPA has contributed to a valuable national debate.
Even though the Nats have a majority government and are going to ratify this shit anyway, the TPPA debate has contributed to making our democratic process more interesting, participatory, and alive. In my opinion, people of Victoria University, that is a rather extraordinary thing.