February 2013 Trade Policy Update

February 8, 2013

Report Back on the Auckland Round of the Transpacific Partnership Trade Agreement (TPP)- December 2012

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement completed its 15th round of negotiations. Father Michael Gormly, Columban JPIC Coordinator for New Zealand, as well as Columban partners such as the Australian Fair Trade and Investment Network. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, if passed, would be the largest trade agreement yet with at least 11 countries around the Pacific Rim involved in the negotiations. Here is a note from Father Gormly from December 2nd, 2012:

Protest in Auckland against the TPP

Protest in Auckland against the TPP. Photo courtesy of AFTINET.

“The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) remains one of the biggest political issues facing New Zealand but one of the least publicized and least understood. The Agreement is deliberately being negotiated in secret. It is being negotiated behind closed doors with no possibility of public or parliamentary oversight. What we know about the TPP, through leaked sources, suggests that it so hideous that if revealed the public would be outraged and would overwhelmingly oppose it. The TPP is said to give special rights and privileges to corporations. It effectively elevates them to a nation-state status by giving them the ability to over-ride our domestic law. It is an unfettered license for trans-national corporations to come into NZ and enforce their will. If New Zealand is signed up to TinternPPA we stand to lose affordable medicines, environmental protection, financial regulation, et freedom, workers’ rights, GMO labelling, local businesses, Te Tiriti o Waitangi and much more.

The agreement is referred to as a concrete agreement so that changes would require the agreement of all other signatory countries. If we are signed up this Government and all future Governments would be bound by it. A handful of government officials and John Key, negotiating this Agreement on behalf of New Zealand, do not have the mandate or right to sign away our sovereignty. JPIC network groups voice concern over the trade agreement along with industry groups and political parties.

New Zealand has the right to make its own laws for the good of its people and its environment, opposing this undemocratic and treacherous agreement. The TPP currently being negotiated would let offshore corporations sue our government when it makes law changes through investor state disputes mechanisms. That is anti-democratic because it would limit New Zealand’s ability to make domestic laws. Network groups are committed to ensuring New Zealanders get to choose their own path in the future, free of foreign corporate control. The TPP is about kissing goodbye our rights as a country and placing them in the hands of greedy multinational companies who only care about how much money they can make.

Agreements such as this are part of an on-going project to take power away from democratic institutions – such as local and national governments – and to place it instead with multinational corporations. The issue isn’t really about trade. It’s about power, about democracy, and about sovereignty. Democracy is not a final product but a constant work in progress, something we all need to protect. The TPPA will be far from comprehensive. Public reports reveal that there are already exclusions, exceptions and reservations, varying in importance from the picayune to the colossal. The wholesale exemption of U.S. states from many of the important proposals currently on the table is clearly colossal.”

The presence of new countries in the process such as Vietnam and countries with strong economies such as Australia and New Zealand has made it much harder for the United States to get everyone to agree to the old model of trade agreements that usually favor U.S. companies and policies over other government regulations and companies.

One of the biggest issues continues to be transparency. Non-profit representatives and activists had no access to negotiators unless they arranged for meetings offsite, which is different from past meetings that allowed civil society stakeholders access to the areas where negotiators were staying and meeting. Additionally, no government has yet to release the text of the agreement to stakeholders outside the business community.  In every past trade agreement the text was made public.

The next round of negotiations is in Singapore in early March followed by another round in Peru.

Fast Track and the TPP

TPP demonstration at the September 2012 Leesburg, Virginia round of trade talks.

In the meantime, the U.S. Congress and Obama Administration are also currently discussing renewing Trade Promotion Authority- or “fast track.” This allows for the U.S. Trade Representatives to negotiate text with the foreign governments involved in the agreement and to bring it before Congress once completed for them to just vote yes or no. There is no opportunity for Members of Congress to change the text. Fast Track expired in 2007 and Congress and the Obama Administration hope to renew it in time for the termination of the TPP negotiations.

Preventing “fast track” is a concrete way for us as people of faith to ensure that trade negotiations are more democratic and that lawmakers can influence the text to ensure greater protections for communities, workers, and God’s Creation.