Last night, we were amongst the first to report on the leak of an entire chapter of the secretive TPP agreement that is still being negotiated amongst several countries. We’ve been watching to see what kind of political fallout there would be and, interestingly enough, the biggest outcry over the chapter contents comes from New Zealand with accusations flying fast and furious.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) has been known to us for some time as an agreement with numerous provisions that could easily be considered a world-wide version of SOPA. We have been following this agreement closely for some time because any problem the agreement could run into could have ramifications on the provisions that are of primary concern for us.
when we looked at the recent TPP, a vast majority of it seemed to be related to multinational corporations and business in general. There was, however, the odd provision here and there related to intellectual property. The good news, most of the intellectual property provisions seem to indicate that the corporate court system being set up wouldn’t apply to anything related to intellectual property.
We looked at what the fallout has been so far in the recent TPP leak and noticed that the controversy was particularly pronounced in New Zealand. In an opinion piece on Scoop.co.nz, writer Gordon Campbell has said that this leak confirmed the worst fears about the agreement:
That’s what makes the leaked document significant, because it shows Groser’s assurances to be virtually worthless. New Zealand has apparently been willing to concede to terms that Australia has refused to accept. At the very least, Groser needs to explain how that situation has come about. As the Public Citizen analysis shows, the leaked text “reveals a two-track legal system, with foreign firms empowered to skirt domestic courts and laws to directly sue TPP governments in foreign tribunals. There they can demand compensation for domestic financial, health, environmental, land use laws and other laws they claim undermine their new TPP privileges.”
Nor, as Public Citizen goes on to point out, do these international trade dispute tribunals meet the normal standards of transparency, consistency or due process that we would expect to find in a New Zealand court of law. As mentioned, they do not provide fair, independent or balanced venues for resolving disputes between nations and private investors
In sum, the public has very good reason to feel concerned about (a) the adequacy of the TPP investor state dispute panels (b) the secrecy in which the TPP discussions are being pursued and (c) the emptiness of the Trade Minister’s assurances that everything will be hunky dory. If there is nothing to fear, why the secrecy? Can Groser at least give an assurance that before a document that will bind present and future New Zealand governments is signed, it is submitted to Parliament for scrutiny – and if not, why not?
Workers from the textile industry is also apparently quite upset with the agreement as well. From 3News:
The textile workers say the document also indicates the Government’s procurement policy won’t remain intact, although clauses covering that are still secret.
“Most other trading nations have strong government procurement requirements,” union secretary Paul Watson said.
“The United States requires its soldiers to be kitted out in American-made uniforms and Australian infrastructure projects often have a minimum local content provision.”
He says it would be “reprehensible” if the government signed a deal that doesn’t support local jobs.
Some political parties are even crying foul over the revelations uncovered by the TPP leak. From Stuff.co.nz:
On the face of it those protections are said to guard against events like government nationalisation of private assets, but activists such as legal academic and trade expert Jane Kelsey maintain they have the potential to severely limit how a country passes laws that affect foreign businesses for fear of racking up millions in legal and compensation costs.
The protections have been labelled “anti-democratic” by Green Party co-leader Russel Norman. NZ First leader Winston Peters called for a halt to the talks pending a select committee inquiry into the TPP.
Protagonists claim worst-case scenarios include tobacco companies being able to sue over plain-packaging rules because they violated a trademark, or oil exploration firms arguing against tighter environmental laws that affected their bottom lines.
The uproar has not gone unnoticed by the New Zealand government. New Zealand Minister Tim Groser has been trying to quell the outrage. From 3News:
But the Government has hit back at the renewed concerns, with Trade Minister Tim Groser saying there is no basis for them.
“[It's the] latest in a line of beat-ups of people trying to use this issue to try and stop New Zealand pursuing what I think will be an outstanding growth opportunity for us,” he told Radio New Zealand.
“The New Zealand Government will not sign any agreement which stops us now, or any Government in the future, from regulating public health and other legitimate policy purposes.”
In numerous situations, it’s extremely difficult to assure citizens that the government has the best of intentions for its citizens when it is negotiating laws in secrecy. It’s even worse when leaked documents reveal the worst of fears because not only is the government being seen as hiding something from its own citizens, but also appearing to be lying to the public when it says that there is nothing to fear about what it’s doing. I’d argue that this is a no-win situation for the government and the only way to really recover from it is to distract citizens with other issues in the hopes that citizens will forget what happened. Either way, this is certainly something worth watching because as time goes on, there are more and more reasons for people to not like the TPP.