New Zealand is about to have the honour of hosting the formal signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement by trade ministers from 12 nations of the Pacific rim. And it is an honour. This is the most comprehensive and far-sighted economic agreement the world has seen in our lifetime, possibly of all time. It tackled the areas of trade, investment and commercial law that proved too hard for the World Trade Organisation's last round of global negotiations and, while this agreement will not be the last word on any front (on many, such as agriculture, there is still a long way to go), it is being recognised worldwide as a breakthrough.
Once signed, it will need to be ratified by each of the member nations, which means approval by United States Congress. That is unlikely until after the US elections in November, if then. But the hurdles remaining are no harder than those the TPP has overcome thus far. To get to this point with governments of 12 countries, ranging in size and wealth from the US and Japan to Peru and Vietnam, is a notable achievement. The decision to hold the formal signing in New Zealand is recognition of the role this country played in initiating and driving the talks over the decade or more it has taken.
What a pity, therefore, the public has not yet been told when or where the signing will be held, nor indeed that it will be done here. That news has come from other capitals. It is likely, though not confirmed, that it will be in Auckland three weeks from today.
Certainly there will be protests. The TPP has been the subject of protest in this country since the US joined the talks in 2010, and the reason is not just antagonism to American power and values. The TPP's intellectual property discussions raised the risk that US patent law and copyright protection of pharmaceuticals and other products of investment in science and research could be strengthened at considerable cost to public purchasing agencies, such as Pharmac, and innovation in digital technology in other countries. Medical professionals and IT developers have been among those fearful of the TPP during the course of its negotiation. So were environmentalists and public health promoters. They feared the inclusion of investor-state dispute settlement procedures could stop governments taking action in the interests of public health or the environment that would reduce the value of commercial investments.
Their fears were fed by the secrecy of negotiations between governments, but the full text of the agreement was made public in New Zealand two months ago. Though it runs to 6000 pages, those who have been anxious about it for so long have had summer holidays to study the chapters of most concern to them. The precise terms seem to have survived scrutiny so far.
It is too much to hope any fears now assuaged will reduce the scale of protest at the signing. But is should not be too much to ask that those philosophically opposed to free trade respect the views of those who disagree with them, and let this country host the occasion with dignity and pride.
Debate on this article is now closed.