Thsi morning New Zealand time, the United States Senate and Congress delivered a substantial blow to the Trans Pacific Partnership when one of the pieces of legislation necessary for speeding it through to President Barak Obama’s desk was defeated.
Although the measure was defeated, the Fast Track legislation itself was narrowly passed by 219-211 votes in Congress.
What does this mean for New Zealand’s prospects of a useful trade agreement?
Before we answer that, let us be honest about what a trade agreement is, as opposed to what the Trans Pacific Partnership is. There is disinformation being deliberately spread around to give misleading perceptions of what is happening. Some of the disinformation is simply bad planning on the part of supposedly reputable news sources on Facebook. Other disinformation is deliberate, in order to advance a particular stance for or against the Trans Pacific Partnership.
In theory – but not necessarily in practice – a free trade agreement is supposed to reduce barriers to trade around the world. It is supposed to remove measures such as tariffs and what some politicians call red tape, but which are usually laws intended to ensure various aspects of the well being of the individual nations, such as the environment, human rights and even sovereignty. It is true that sometimes in order to protect their own jobs from an angry electorate, politicians will promote inane laws that they might have otherwise voted against. It is also true that sometimes nations impose punitive tariffs for reasons of frustration against imports from other nations.
The Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement is none of what a trade agreement is supposed to be about. Although it is true that there is usually a degree of secrecy around the provisions of trade agreements, the level of it around the Trans Pacific Partnership is quite something else altogether. Aside from apparently very few politicians except the heads of Government and State that are championing the agreement, being able to see the text, those that are are not allowed to make any notes about it. They are not allowed to tell anyone else about the text of the agreement. And yet these Heads of Government/State are expecting the legislative chambers of Government in their respective nations to accept something that they actually know nothing about.
The New Zealand Government is no exception. Prime Minister John Key’s claim that the Trans Pacific Partnership will not harm Pharmac is about as solid as the ice breaking beneath someone skating on it. The claims by Minister of Trade Tim Groser that the secrecy is necessary is just giving rise to suspicion. If it is so damn good, release the text!
I am quite pro trade in all honesty. I believe it to be an integral part of the global economy. I believe done properly it will lift incomes, provide jobs and create investment opportunities. The key world is properly.
BUT, this is not being done properly. The Trans Pacific Partnership is NOT a Free Trade Agreement. It is NOT even a trade agreement. It is in fact something more approaching economic treason by the Governments of the nations that are involved with the negotiations. No self respecting nation would deny its legislative chamber the right to thoroughly examine the text and debate whether or not it is suitable. So I am quite encouraged by the New Zealand First Members of Parliament, namely the Right Honourable Winston Peters and list Member of Parliament Fletcher Tabuteau for persisting with asking questions of the Government.
But whatever the disinformation spreading around says, this is NOT over yet. Although if the President of the United States and the other Heads of Government/State cannot let their legislative chambers see the text it SHOULD be over. With no prospects of ever becoming reality.