Susan Chalmers: TPP traps - we need to know the costs as well as the gains

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The biggest cost that NZ could sustain under the TPP would be in the intellectual property, particularly copyright. Photo / Thinkstock
The biggest cost that NZ could sustain under the TPP would be in the intellectual property, particularly copyright. Photo / Thinkstock

I'm not an economist, but I do understand what a net loss or a net gain is. Most people will be familiar with the concept - at the end of the day, are you better or worse off? To figure that one out you need to know what you've brought in, and what you've paid out.

We've recently heard what New Zealand could bring in under the Trans Pacific Partnership - US$2.9 billion by 2025. But that figure is based on a hypothetical situation involving 21 countries, not the 11 that are negotiating. Even so, the Prime Minister recently embraced and advanced this figure.

What's missing? Our leaders haven't told us what the costs will be.

The biggest cost that New Zealand could sustain under the TPP would be in the intellectual property, particularly copyright. This is because the most powerful party to the negotiations - the United States - is a net exporter of copyrighted goods (movies, books, TV shows, songs, games, etc) while all other TPP parties are net importers.

The interests that drive US trade policy in copyright are Hollywood and the recording industry. They want stronger and more powerful legal rights that would bring more money to them, often at the expense of many different sectors of society and business.

The Fair Deal Coalition in New Zealand illustrates this concern. What do librarians, artists, people who are blind or have limited vision, internet users, internet businesses, schools, universities, museums and technologists have in common? They're all concerned about what the TPP will do to New Zealand's copyright law.

The film and music industries not only want stronger rights, but they also want the power to enforce them more easily in New Zealand.

That should come as no surprise to New Zealanders, who have seen the Kim Dotcom debacle, or to New Zealand internet service providers, who have had to carry the cost of policing copyright under the fantastically worthless Skynet law.

Since the Government has not run its own analysis of potential costs, perhaps we can look elsewhere for guidance. Australia is a good place to start. Like New Zealand, Australia is a net importer of copyrighted goods and wants better access to the US agricultural markets - for sugar and beef exports in particular.

In 2005 the Australia-United States Free Trade Agreement (AUSFTA) was signed. Some agricultural tariffs were reduced immediately. Sugar wasn't. Australian beef won't enjoy duty free access to the US market until 2023.

Australia accepted that trade - US market access in exchange for US copyright demands.

A report from the Australian Productivity Commission - the Government's independent research and advisory body - indicated that Australia suffered a net loss under AUSFTA as a whole because of accepting the US copyright demands.

So why has our political leadership not talked about the costs of accepting the US copyright demands? For instance, the cost of paying decades more in royalties to overseas companies, losing parallel imports, not to mention all the taxpayer money to support US copyright litigation here in New Zealand.

Even if the average person does not realise it, copyright is becoming important to our everyday lives, especially with the internet. It affects internet costs and the cost of university tuition, for example. Poorly drafted legislative proposals that would favour two industries over the vast majority of others have drawn people onto the streets in protest.

Examples include a bunch of acronyms (ACTA, SOPA, PIPA and Section 92A) that would equally put people off but have somehow elicited mass resistance in Europe and the United States and global internet blackouts.

Regardless of the reason for our leaders not acknowledging the potential costs, it is now time to run that analysis, as any normal business would. New Zealand's copyright negotiators have been holding the line throughout 15 TPP rounds, working to stave off these costs for the country. Let's encourage our elected officials not only to give them some support, but to explain exactly what the country is about to commit to. Shouldn't we know?


Susan Chalmers is policy lead at internetNZ and spokeswoman for the Fair Deal Coalition fairdeal.net.nz.

- NZ Herald

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