When 2016 started, the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement, despite the increasingly large and well organized protests occurring, seemed to be a sure bet. The T.P.P.A. was ceremonially signed in Auckland against the backdrop of rallies involving thousands of people and – notably – increasing numbers of politicians from across the centre-left part of the political spectrum. In the six months since a train advancing steadily down the tracks looks like it has been derailed.
How, and what does it mean for New Zealand?
Before I go any further I should state that I have been opposed to this so called Free Trade Agreement from the start. I have been opposed for several reasons:
- It is an unprecedented attack on New Zealand’s sovereignty, something that I hold dear as a New Zealander
- It will make the price of pharmaceutical drugs more expensive – I have a life long medical condition that relies on substantial medication to keep it in check, which will be compromised if the T.P.P.A. goes ahead as pharmaceutical companies have been demanding a number of conditions whose net change will be to raise prices
- There is some truth to the concerns that Governments trying to pass the legislative agenda of their nations may be sued by corporations, which is already happening in some countries – Australia was sued by Phillip-Morris tobacco company because it reckoned that its profit margins might be affected
- International treaties and agreements that New Zealand is a signatory or party to, which meaningful contribute to our status as a credible first world nation may be undermined
- I find it really hard to believe that it takes 6,000 pages to write a trade agreement. At say 300 words a page, that is 1.8 million words – there will not be a single person who knows all of what is in each section, so is this really an F.T.A. or something else
So, what has happened to derail the T.P.P.A.?
First and foremost, in the United States there has been a significant change of political tone on the subject. As a result of a surprisingly strong showing from Bernie Sanders, the Independent who became a Democrat to take on Hillary Clinton in the contest for the Democratic nomination, Mrs Clinton has been forced to change her rhetoric from being pro-T.P.P.A. to being against it lest Mr Sanders rip her supporter base from under her. Although Mrs Clinton has a dubious record on keeping promises in terms of political commitments and may yet back track on her word, it would be ammunition for her most potent rival Donald Trump. Funnily enough Mr Trump is also anti-T.P.P.A. and if elected President, he said it will not proceed point blank.
The reasons for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton being anti-T.P.P.A. are vastly different. Mrs Clinton most likely changed her stance because it was politically convienient, or her campaign to become Democratic nominee might have lost crucial support and become imperiled. Her connections to banks are well known and only in the last year or so when it became obvious that she was going to contest the nomination, and ultimately the Presidency, has there been any significant effort to put distance between her and her corporate influences. Mr Trump’s decision not to support the Trans Pacific Partnership may stem from a desire to “make America great again”, presumably by cutting some of his and America’s corporate ties, as corporates and banks have had a large amount of input into the writing of the text.
But the T.P.P.A. still has its backers in the U.S. Senators such as Mitch McConnell and Congressman Paul Ryan are in open support of the T.P.P.A. Mr McConnell is Senate Majority Leader in the Republican controlled House, and Mr Ryan was the running mate for Mitt Romney in 2012.
Then there are other challenges. Several nations are going to have elections in the next year or two including New Zealand. As history does not favour fourth term peace time Governments here, the probability of the T.P.P.A. getting a cold shoulder are higher than they were at the last election.
And if the Trans Pacific Partnership is not dead, it should be.