Yesterday, my local MP, Nicky Wagner, did me the courtesy of returning my phone call to her office the day before asking to speak with her about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. I wanted to find out what her position on it was, and, assuming she was following the National party line, what benefit she thought it would be to her constituents...
I mentioned some of my concerns to her, and that, from what I could see, the National Government had not produced any compelling or credible case for NZ signing up to the Agreement, other than "ever body else is doing it, so we should too".
I told her I was very disturbed by the secrecy of the negotiations, and the implications for our democratic process - I consider such secrecy fundamentally undermined our democratic society, which assumes that our elected officials govern in the open, transparently, so that their constituents can witness - and hold them accountable for - the decisions they make and the commitments they enter into on our behalf.
She somewhat breezily said something like "Oh, but all trade agreements are negotiated in secret", to which I responded that her assertion is false, and what's more the TPPA is far more than a mere trade agreement. Even so, I also disagreed with her assertion. To this she said, "Well, if you were buying a house at auction, you wouldn't expect bidders to tell you how much they're going to bid?!". Surprisingly, I agreed with her, and I also saw the basic flaw in her analogy, and I hope it doesn't reveal the lack of understanding it seems to...
Let me carrying her "buying house at auction" analogy further, and correct her application. No, it would be ridiculous to ask the bidders at a house auction to disclose their various "bottom lines". In the TPPA case, the "bottom line" is the nature and size of the maximum concessions that our negotiators are willing to make to the other parties. That's fine, I have no issue with that being secret. But it's assumed that everyone bidding at a house has seen the house personally - been inside and done a due diligence. In the case of the TPPA, this is where Nicky's got things mixed up. In this analogy, we're buying a house we not only haven't seen, but whose address we don't even know. Thanks to Wikileaks, we have a general idea of the neighbourhood it's in, but even within a neighbourhood there's a lot of variability, and we have no idea how many rooms it has! It could be a hovel or a caravan for all we know. Or a meth lab.
Nicky told me that I should trust in her good friend Tim Groser's judgment. I told her that there are indications that his negotiators, regardless of their intentions, have not been achieving good results. The National Government seems committed to signing up to the TPPA - in a house buying situation, the sensible buyer is willing to walk away when the price is too high. I'm not convince that John Key or Tim Groser will have that sense. I do not see any reason to believe that they are working for the best interests of the NZ citizens, which is why I want them to release the full text of the Agreement for public scrutiny, including amendments made after each set of negotiations.
Nicky generously offered to provide me links to the compelling TPPA arguments she'd seen (and I'll amend this post with them if/when I receive them) and I finished by telling her that, pending some compelling reason to change my impression, that I, for one, would consider any MP who supports signing the TPPA... a traitor to their constituents and NZ.