We have to hope Winston Peters sticks to his word and fights provisions in the TPP free trade agreement .

At the moment, the only thing standing between New Zealand and its total loss of sovereignty is Winston Peters.

Dislike him or write him off as you will, he is the only person now positioned close enough to the wet noodles of power to strenuously oppose the Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions (ISDS) in the absolutely ruinous TPP free trade agreement our Government is desperately trying to ram through with 11 other nations.

For this reason alone, Peters deserves the support of anyone who doesn't want our laws to be dictated, chilled or altered by foreign corporations. Which should, in fact, be most of us.

These provisions were put into international trade agreements between corporations and third-world countries over the years, using the rationale that such governments were inherently unstable and could jeopardise large commercial projects on a whim (say, if they decided to nationalise utilities all of a sudden). Now, they are used as the basis for all free trade agreements, even where a country has a reliable legal framework and an independent judiciary, like New Zealand.


Or like Australia, where that government is being sued for billions by cigarette merchant Philip Morris for introducing plain packaging - and potentially impacting its profits (it's suing Uruguay as well, and Ireland is being sued by Japanese Tobacco International). In Germany, where Angela Merkel phased out nuclear power after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan, the country was sued for $6 billion in compensation by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall for future lost earnings.

Even worse, the arbitration of these and many other disputes, according to Wellington lawyer and international law expert Bianca Mueller, "operates independently of a country's judicial system and is mostly conducted outside the public spotlight, even though the disputes concern public interest matters and the massive cost of arbitration has to be borne by taxpayers".

"Also, arbitration decisions are legally binding but cannot be appealed and the arbitration process itself is put in the hands of a few corporate lawyers who have sometimes worked prior for the large corporation involved."

The Greens have long opposed ISDS provisions to be fair, but with Winston Peters, as per Saturday night, we see an individual who has the power to communicate with different groups. A person who has promised to fight these provisions in the TPP and other free-trade agreements; the leader of a party that questioned the fact they were actually already in the Free Trade Agreement New Zealand signed with Korea (the one John Key had to quickly sign before scuttling home to smell kumaras with National's Northland candidate Mark Osborne).

New Zealand First has tried bringing a bill previously banning ISDS provisions from free trade agreements, and had they been successful, the Korean FTA would have been jeopardised.

But we've now signed the agreement with Korea and it won't be opposed. However, it still contains potentially troubling provisions. For example, that rates rebates and R&D tax breaks might constitute "better treatment" for local companies, which is not allowed. That New Zealand can never confiscate an investment without full compensation at full market value, for example, fish quotas or gambling licences - and that new decisions or regulations can't have the "effect" of confiscating an investment, or reduce the value or present profitability of an investment - such as a moratorium on fracking.

That's just a taster - but remember that the Korean FTA is about half as powerful as the TPP in terms of investor protections, according to parts of the draft text leaked last month by Wikileaks.

Surely there are reasons, calculations for why it is worth forgoing our sovereignty to accept these deals and agreements, beyond the headline figures - but they are never shared with most of us.


Which is why we have to pin our hopes on Winston sticking to his word, even if it started as a cynical grab for votes. He will be a thorn in the side of the National Party if he can interrupt their steady march to signing over this country's best natural assets to foreign corporations under trade agreements that put the welfare of people precisely last.

His comments to TVNZ's Q+A programme on the Sunday morning after his election victory were, I thought, lofty, but promising.

"It's not a matter of recreating something; it's a matter of reliving the dream that once New Zealanders used to have when the Government of the day had a fairer sense of nationhood and was fair to everyone regardless of their background."

Amen to that.

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