Guyon Espiner writes disarmingly of Trade Minister Tim Grosser, who represents New Zealand in negotiating the TPPA (Listener: "Deal Or No Deal" March 7, 2014) and, as a result I'm worried.
You may ask what is the TPPA and why should we care about it. The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) started as an effort to improve trade between four small, potentially equal trading partners, Brunei, Chile, Singapore, and New Zealand. That was in 2005. By 2010 it had morphed into something much bigger, much different, involving 12 nations, including now such diverse nations as Mexico, Canada, Japan and the US.
In trade, size does matter. According to leaked documents, the TPPA is overwhelmingly less about trade among equals and more about corporate will. US multinational corporations have had their sway with this agreement and it is their ends that are most represented.
As corporations, whatever their benefits, carry the impulse toward monopoly, we are all potentially at risk of its effects if the TPPA is established here.
The leaked documents describe three areas of concern to us all. Most serious is the provision for foreign corporations to effectively sue our governments, national and local, to supersede the regulations we've designed to protect our interests. In event of conflict with corporate aims the governing law and jurisdiction may well be offshore, in obligingly friendlier legal environments.
While Mr Grosser is committing us in secret to an agreement that covers major parts of our economy, we've already seen an example how intellectual property rights - in that case movie production - can be affected by muscular tactics from big corporations. To get the Hobbits' made here, Hollywood pushed the government to grant concessions which compromised the interests Of New Zealand workers while rewarding people at the top.
Our small farmers are not necessarily immune from corporate practices. They have only to look to the US where Agribusiness is so concentrated that Monsanto can overwhelmingly influence seed farming and where Tyson Foods is the world's biggest meat producer. Family farms are either disappearing or simply operating under contract to Tyson. Some critics describe the trend as the reincarnation of serfdom.
You think we've got high food prices now, right?
And then there's the meds your nanna takes to stay alive.
Currently we have subsidised medications, and that's possible because Pharmac not only negotiates with the pharmaceutical companies over price but also places a heavy emphasis on generic medicines. Generics are essentially copycat knock-offs of existent name brand meds developed after the patent on the originals runs out.
The cost of generics is a small fraction of the name brands. The result is that Kiwis who need medications to treat or control chronic illnesses are, for once, currently better off than their counterparts in the US.
If Big Pharma has its profitable way patents on meds will be extended, generics discouraged and elderly patients may have to choose between buying food or medication.
The most concerning element of the TPPA, beyond its potential cost to all New Zealanders, is the fact it's being negotiated in secrecy. A trade agreement whose clauses (leaked) contain provisions to supersede New Zealand Law is being negotiated without input, in secrecy, by our lead negotiator, Tim Grosser.
If the Espiner portrait in the Listener was designed to calm objection, it failed miserably. Tim, we are told, doesn't like politics and wouldn't have got in but for MMP.
In effect, he is an unelected official who does not like to be held accountable in the democratic process of election. After selling us to the corporations which sponsor this trade agreement, Grosser will go home and become a jazz pianist.
Fortunately, nationwide, Kiwis are assembling to protest. Locally, they're saying "no deal" on March 29 at 1pm at the river walkway . While Tim Grosser has his heart set on the piano, if the TPPA goes through we'll all be the ones singing the blues.