Jane Kelsey: Secret talks bring threat of financial crises

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Natalie Slade
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Natalie Slade

Wikileaks has done it again.

The story of the past week in terms of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement was not Prime Minister John Key's visit to the White House.

The more startling news is that our Government, with almost 50 other countries, is negotiating another secret deal in the shadows of the World Trade Organisation. They are calling to negotiate a Trade in Services Agreement (Tisa).

It is part of a troika: along with the TPP and the deal the US is negotiating with the European Union, it aims to create a new set of global rules that are designed exclusively to serve commercial interests.

This is no exaggeration. Last week US corporates held a launch for what they call Team Tisa. The co-chairs are Citigroup, Liberty Mutual, IBM, MetLife, UPS and Walmart. Leading members of Congress and the US Trade Representative were invited to speak.

If we thought the TPP was secretive - background documents remain secret for four years after any deal is done - Tisa proponents want to keep their documents secret for five years.

They aim to create an unrestricted global market for services, just as TPP is aimed at the Asia-Pacific. That means locking open the door to foreign corporations that dominate the world's media, IT, finance, tourism, transport, healthcare, education sectors and more.

They also want to make light-handed regulation the global norm. A standstill rule aims to freeze the existing level of regulation as the new bottom line.

What Wikileaks posted was the draft chapter on financial services. We can assume it will be very similar to the TPP's financial services chapter.

This is especially scary, because it aims to extend the model of liberalised and deregulated financial markets that brought us the global financial crisis.

The International Monetary Fund has criticised the US and EU for being in denial over the risks this model poses to themselves and the world. Yet they are pushing a more extreme version in Tisa, and, presumably, in the TPP.

The Wikileaks expose caused a flurry across the Tasman. Journalists realised that Tisa could threaten the four pillars policy that prevents mergers and takeovers among the Australian banks, who own most of ours.

Limiting competition means less reckless behaviour. Removing those restraints means pressure for even higher returns and temptations to play Russian roulette in the shadow banking system.

That adds a further downside to the TPP, in return for what? Suggestions from President Barack Obama that the US is committed to full liberalisation and will "put the blowtorch on Japan" are fanciful.

So, in my view, is the Prime Minister's pledge that he would walk away from a deal that wasn't good enough for New Zealand. The secrecy makes the Government the sole judge of the final package. It is nigh on impossible to change after that. The political risks from selling out will be limited, given the timeline has stretched into 2015.

The 12 countries involved, including the US and Japan, are never going to give up all their tariffs on agriculture.

Our Trade Minister Tim Groser has conceded as much. Nor is the US going to force a recalcitrant Japan to exit. The entire deal would be economically meaningless without Japan.

There are two more likely options. Either no deal is reached because there are too few gains for the major players and the costs of capitulation are too high. Or the US and Japan will strike a pragmatic pact that each can sell at home. The rest, including New Zealand, will have to forage for the leftovers. Wikileaks has shown the price for New Zealand would be more than unaffordable medicines, loss of internet freedom and foreign investors suing our government.

A TPP, along with Tisa, would also heighten the prospect of another global financial crisis.

Jane Kelsey is a law professor at the University of Auckland.

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- NZ Herald

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