• Bill Rosenberg is and economist for the Council of Trade Unions.

With the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement in its death throes, it is time to think about what a good alternative - what people-friendly globalisation - would look like.

It is not simply taking the same model and adding on a few weak labour and environment chapters as the TPP did. The whole framework needs to be changed.

The main point is this: public concerns are not primarily about trade in the conventional sense of importing and exporting goods. Most New Zealanders support greater exports. That doesn't mean there are no concerns about the effects of trade.


Recent research has shown how oversimplified most economists' and politicians' portrayal of trade has been. There are winners and losers, but in theory the winners could compensate the losers and still win. Unfortunately our systems of progressive taxation and social support have been seriously weakened and no longer do that sufficiently.

The recent OECD report on New Zealand's treatment of people who get made redundant made that clear.

Too frequently just the winners win, raising inequality and social tensions. That must be fixed to ensure public support.

But these agreements are no longer mainly about trade. It is misleading to talk about them as Free Trade Agreements. I'll call them international commerce agreements, and it is misleading to label public concerns as protectionism.

These agreements are now mainly about services, regulation (including so-called non-tariff measures), foreign investment, intellectual property, government procurement, commercialisation of public agencies, and other matters that are "behind the border" and cut deeply into people's daily lives. That is why people protest at restrictions on the ability of future Governments to make and change rules in the public interest, to adapt to new circumstances and repair poor policy of the past.

Concerns are heightened at the lack of openness in the negotiations and the lack of full parliamentary processes. This is important international legislation and New Zealanders would not stand for domestic legislation being made in this way.

Briefly, here are some examples of public concerns. Non-tariff measures include essential rules such as for food safety, workplace health and safety, biosecurity and privacy. It is difficult to disentangle those from deliberate trade barriers. Attacking them raises concerns that commercial considerations will overwhelm the public interest.

Many services including education and health are highly sensitive and closely connected to who we are as a nation. Commercialism can endanger their quality and reputation.

Financial services critically need more regulation rather than less, learning from the Global Financial Crisis.

Digital services create intense concerns about privacy, which in Europe contributed to the halt of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership negotiations with the US - a similar proposal to the TPP. Some digital services, such as Uber and the job auction site Airtasker, profoundly undermine working conditions and upskilling.

Many services are provided through temporary migration for work or overseas investment into New Zealand - both highly sensitive issues.

Giving extra-judicial rights to overseas investors to sue governments over their laws and decisions is seen by many people (including prominent jurists and economists) as a step too far in increasing commercial power.

Intellectual property is protection, not liberalisation. It is win-lose unless carefully balanced. Longer protection mandated in these agreements destroys the balance and favours big pharmaceutical and media corporations by making medicines and other goods and services more costly with minimal economic justification.

Restrictions hindering our use of government procurement to help local firms and raise employment standards make growing new industries, better jobs and living standards even more difficult.

A 3News poll in 2015 showed 54 per cent of voters disagreed with the TPP and their concern has not diminished. A recent survey by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand of the businesses most likely to support these agreements - traders and would-be traders - shows even they are not enthusiastic. The top "desired policy" among those businesses was no change.

It is not enough for the Government to repeat old arguments and assurances and plug on with the deeply distrusted TPP model. It is time for an honest debate. International commerce agreements cannot be an exception to the values that we strive for domestically.

We need much greater support for working people through the big changes that globalisation and technology bring, and policies that give them real assurances they will share the benefits - not just hear about them in a politician's speech.

Working people don't oppose greater interactions with other countries, nor trade. They just want international commerce to serve working people rather than working people serve international commerce.