The TPPA: Flawed in Principle

A few people in the NZ (and worldwide) are getting upset by the increasingly intense grass-roots rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). They can't see what's wrong in the text of the Agreement (recently made public after 10 years of top-secret negotiation, but only after the NZ government signed it). They are fixated on the idea that the liberal fringe is against the TPPA because we either

  • haven't read it, or
  • are against Free Trade Agreements altogether.

These people are deeply and frustratingly misguided for two reasons:

  1. the object to the TPPA has little to do with what it says. It has everything to do with how it was created, and what it means.
  2. the TPPA is not a Free Trade Agreement - it's a Faux Trade Agreement.

No One is against Free Trade

Although we should be more focused on Fair Trade, I'm not aware of one single person who's voiced opposition to the TPPA who is against Free Trade on principle. That is a mistaken characterisation. Let's leave that red herring and move on.

TPPA: Wrong on Principle

Anyone who castigates the TPPA opposition for not having read its 5000 pages completely misses the point. The TPPA cheerleaders taking this tack pre-suppose that we see the problem being in the specific wording of the final TPPA text. Wrong. Our problems with the TPPA are far more fundamental than that. They have to do with the TPPA's flagrant breach of basic democratic and procedural principles.

First the TPPA was negotiated - at the express demand of latecomer, the US, in complete secrecy. That is fundamentally anti-democratic. Various participating governments were being extraordinarily disingenous to portray such secrecy as "normal". Democracy demands transparency. If we can't see how our elected politicians (and their appointees) represent us, how can we reward or penalise them in the next election (the only time we can fundamentally influence our democratic system)? We can't.

Second, the authors of the TPPA are a problem. In whose best interest could the TPPA possibly be written, given that it was largely authored by 600 lobbyists and lawyers for US multinational corporations? Note that these authors have had intimate knowledge of the text while only a handful of people in NZ (fewer than 20, apparently) had access to the text during the decade long negotiations. I argue that by having the opportunity to frame the document, corporate lobbyists have shaped the TPPA in a way which will invariably benefit those who paid them to write it rather than the people of the participating countries.

Overwhelming by Design

Even if the text of the TPPA is totally benign to our national interests, the fact that there's so much of it, and going contrary to it could have such profound and devastating implications, is against our best interests. The fleet of high priced lawyers vetting any and all new NZ government legislation for its potential implications related to our TPPA responsibilities will effectively stymie decisive law making by the NZ legislators indefinitely. The people who stand to gain the most from the TPPA are not our exporters, or average citizens - it'll be that small group of lawyers who can nurse along the insecurities of our notoriously risk averse government administrators and legislators by constantly consulting and reinterpreting the massive corpus of the TPPA's text.

Given the ambiguity of words like "legitimate" used extensively in the agreement, and the massive real threat of law suits by multinational corporations for perceived disadvantages like loss of profit or discriminatory procurement processes, risk aversion by law makers has the real potential to effectively paralyse NZ's ability to create legislation, effectively costing us our sovereignty.

Skepticism is Key

The TPPA started out life as a relatively benign Free Trade Agreement, prior to the involvement of the US, it became increasingly less trade-related as the US corporate agenda gradually supplanted that of the original Pacific nation participants. Like the frog in a heating pot of water, I suspect some of its early adherents (including notable members of the current government opposition) have maintained their support despite the agreement having been substantially distorted from its original purpose and composition. These individuals, I believe, are succumbing to the sunk cost fallacy, due to their historical investment in the process they've been unwilling to look at what the agreement has become with fresh eyes.

Ultimately, despite the TPPA's anti-democratic process, there are people in NZ who are unwilling to accept the possibility that the current Government could be working for interests other than those of the citizens of this country. That is sadly naïve, I feel, given the wealth of examples of such corruption throughout history, and across the world. Several of the key actors in the National government's support for the TPPA process have demonstrated a clear interest in personal gain outside of NZ. It seems relatively easy in a world where "trickle down economics" is still seen as credible by some in power, that a government could be working against the best interest of its consituents while believing the opposite. Moreover, there's always a chance that they're, well, corrupt.