Tuesday, April 21, 2015

For once I agree with our bishops

Actually I agree with our bishops quite a lot of the time, but in this case I agree with them and with the Catholic bishops of NZ who together have issued a joint statement about the TPP - the Trans Pacific Partnership which could become the TPPA(greement). Here is the statement:

"The Anglican and Catholic bishops of Aotearoa New Zealand have written to the Government asking for more transparency concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated, so that New Zealanders can better evaluate its implications.

The bishops acknowledge the right and duty of any New Zealand government to promote our country’s trading opportunities and are mindful that the well-being of New Zealanders depends on economic growth.

However, the lack of transparency and public involvement relating to the TPP is a cause for great concern. The sense of unease stretches across the community, and includes people in business, academics and unionists.

Corporate interests are party to the TPP negotiations and able to exert influence in favour of their own interests, while the people are excluded. This leads to the belief that ordinary New Zealanders, and particularly those who are poorer, will be disadvantaged by the TPPA and all the benefits will accrue to those who already have considerable wealth.

The bishops accept that secrecy may be the norm in ordinary trade agreements, but the TPP is more than just a trade negotiation. It has the capacity to reach into domestic economies, and to dictate what happens within a nation’s own political and legal systems.

In the parallel Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) much of the secrecy has been lifted by the European Commission with the introduction of a number of measures to enhance transparency in the negotiations and to allow public scrutiny and consultation.

The bishops have asked the Government to give serious consideration to making the draft text of the TPP available, so that New Zealanders are able to evaluate for themselves, according to their own principles, the potential negatives and positives of the TPP. 

For more information please contact:

Jayson Rhodes – Communications Adviser for the Anglican Bishops

Simone Olsen – Communications Adviser for the Catholic Bishops "


Jean said...

Hi Peter

This is a welcome move especially as you say given the impact such an agreement has on possibly over-ridding or dictating national laws as a part of the trade agreement.

One issue of concern is the possible enforcement of having to comply with the use of patented seeds (which cannot be harvested and re-used). As well as infuencing our biodiversity, and food security it would also impact on our rural community who harvest seeds for worldwide distribution.


Stephen Jacobi said...

I agree that more information should be made available about TPP but it is disappointing that the Bishops have not seen the need to inform themselves of the implications of TPP before rushing to issue a press release. "Corporate interests" are not party to the TPP negotiations which are conducted entirely by government officials. TPP includes specific safeguards to uphold the right of the government to regulate in the public interest. TPP will not dictate what happens within a nation's own political and legal systems. I would be happy to meet with the Bishops to put them right on these points.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Stephen
I can give you their phone numbers :)

Seriously, what you say is very helpful and meets most if not all my concerns.

But the fact that what you say does not appear to be that clear and convincing to the NZ populace (let alone the bishops) raises the question whether the government officials responsible for TPP negotiations are doing all they should to inform us. (I am not holding you personally responsible for this shortfall!)

Jean said...

Hi Stephen

What are the safeguards?

I am aware even now the current free trade agreements presently in place with the US have indirectly allowed the US to apply pressure and remove our national ability to choose laws to uphold the public interest.

For example many Kiwi's would like it to be mandatory for the labelling of GE ingredients in consumer products. As is done for an number of other ingredients such as MSG. As it stands pressure has been put on our government by the US that if this was made a national law we would breach 'free trade'.

It is difficult to grasp how letting consumers know what is in a product and choose accordingly is not 'free' trade, it is definitely not fair trade.


Anonymous said...

Hi Peter

There is always a tension when negotiating agreements between allowing the participants to discuss issues freely without them being brought into the public domain before they are fully formed, and the desire for open and transparent information. Two thoughts:
I would imagine that any agreement would have to be ratified by parliament (and I would appreciate anyone in the know confirming that this is the case or not), and we need to be aware of the agendas held by those opposed to TPPA.

I do worry that the Bishops make these statements with a degree of innocence around how these deals are struck - and I wonder about the tendency to believe the rhetoric of opposition.

Cheers - Chris

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Chris
I am largely sympathetic to your concerns but I feel that TPP info has largely come out because there has been opposition rather than because there has been a good comms strategy.

Does Parliament get to debate it?
I would like an answer to that question!

Father Ron Smith said...

I usually leave outright politics to those we have elected to look after us and our welfare. However, if there is proven evidence of malpractice, I would me more interested. I cannot see how any trade pact could overthrow the rule of law in Aotaroa/New Zealand. I would agree that a degree of openness may better serve us all, but sometimes the security of our interests is best left to those whose job is to know about such things.

Stephen Jacobi said...

Thanks all for these comments. Debate about these issues is important - my point about the Bishops' statement was that it was poorly informed.

Jean, I'd be grateful if you could be more specific. New Zealand has no bilateral free trade arrangements with the United States - that's one reason why we need TPP. Our economic relationship is governed by World Trade Organisation disciplines which of themselves would not prevent GE labeling (provided it applied to all trading partners and did not single out imports) if the Govt wished to go down that route. I would imagine there are other public policy considerations but these do not have to do with TPP and trade agreements.

The safeguards that exist in our FTAs are language around general exceptions which uphold the right of the Govt to regulate to protect public health, the environment and uphold Te Tiriti o Waitangi. Such provisions are included in the FTA NZ has signed with Korea and the Govt has said they will form part of TPP.

With regard to the role of Parliament, NZ's treaty making process is explained here:http://www.mfat.govt.nz/Treaties-and-International-Law/03-Treaty-making-process/index.php

In NZ the Government signs and ratifies treaties like TPP and Kyoto. But after signature and before ratification the text of the treaty is referred to Parliament along with a national interest analysis. Normally the Select Committee examines the text and may hold public hearings as it is doing at present with the Korea FTA. There may also be a Parliamentary debate if the Govt allows it. Treaties can only come into effect if any laws requiring to be changed are subject to Parliamentary vote. In other words there will be plenty of public debate about TPP prior to it coming into force.

This does not obviate the need for more public information about TPP which the Bishops rightly call for. It's just that other elements of their press release are woefully misinformed and represent listening to one side of an argument.



Kurt said...

The TPP will be a disaster for the 99% and a gift to the 1% of many countries. Here in the USA, the pro-Wall Streeters are pushing for a "fast track" allowing only an up or down vote in Congress. The TPP should be stopped.

Kurt Hill
Brooklyn, NY

Jean said...

Hi Stephen and everyone : )

It appears I am always apologising. I was mis-informed regarding the labelling of GE food. Currently NZ does have such laws. One of the 'fears' of opponents to TPP such as the Sustainability Council of NZ, is the US is keen to remove such 'barriers' to trade under the TPP agreement.

Interestingly in both Australia and the US the opposition to the agreement centrally focuses on the clause which allows corporations/international investors to 'sue' if they believe other countries products are given unfair advantage. The judgement of which would be done by commercial lawyers not an independent panel of judges, and as read by-passes governments.

One can understand the need for confidentiality while terms and conditions are bantered about, and for a degree of trust in a countries leaders. However, having true public concerns addressed like what are the safeguards in place to protect national laws? Is a fair ask by the public in a democratic country.

According to the sustainability council the TPP would not be debated in parliament.


Stephen Jacobi said...

Thanks Jean.

I think it would be difficult for TPP to be used to overcome food labeling precisely because of the safeguards that will be built into the final agreement. Government officials negotiating TPP are well aware of the possible risks to NZ policy.

These safeguards apply also to the chapter on investor state dispute settlement. These apply not just to multinational corporations but also SMEs who may be investors in another country. They can be invoked when there is egregious or discriminatory treatment or when assets are expropriated. The threshold for invoking ISDS is quite high as is shown clearly in these provisions in NZ's existing FTAs with China, ASEAN and now Korea.

As to whether TPP is accorded a vote in Parliament depends on the Govt which holds the majority - or rather on its Coalition partners. But the treaty process requires submission of the text and national interest analysis and it will be up to the Select Committee how it handles the process. Most often in the past this has involved public submissions and hearings. So the text is made public after it has been signed.

These are complex areas. My point about the Bishops statement was that they need to inform themselves before rushing to print.



Anonymous said...

Peter, I am not an expert in international trade, but I think the bishops have some cause for concern. You only have to google Professor Jane Kelsey and the material is all there. Admittedly, the Professor is no friend of globalisation, but Professors are professional reasoners, even if some others do not agree with their conclusions. Professor Kelsey seems to think TPP is dead in the water anyway, if you look at her recent comments (and they are extremely easy to find).


Jean said...

Hi Stephen

Thank you for all your responses. It has (and I am holding Peter responsible again for bringing up another topical topic) lead me to learn more about an important current issue.

It is good exceptions can be made are included in the TPPA agreement. I hope the government includes and gives a very thorough consultation when deciding what it puts in it. It appears that general objections listed in other FT agreements such as 'protecting the general health of a population' associated with the WTO have rarely proven effective in upholding such interests.

I admittedly come from the 'other side of the fence', having worked in the development and aid industry. So I am by association cautious around economic agreements which cross national boundaries - notably the social repercussions that have come from free trade zones and IMF structural adjustment policies.

I was also witness to National's quiet dissolution of NZAID and changing of development policies when it first came to power - without consultation with the experts in the community. So this has influenced a certain caution believing what they say they will do.

What would you consider what the Bishop's called for to be mis-informed or incorrect?

Although I believe once a treaty is signed it is not legal until ratified. the process you outlined above seems to give opportunity for debate but is there any opportunity for NZ to pull out at that stage? If not would it make more sense for greater transparency or greater input into the restrictions the government brings to the negotiation table, by organisations and experts in the areas where NZ would be vulnerable, such as environment, health, intellectual property, .....

It appears even politicians in the US are concerned large corporations have been party to the agreement and they have not. It is good NZ put some limit on the ISDS with the Korean deal which mean it can be over-ridden by a national law.

From the outside it appears the US has had more experience with the intersections between corporations and public welfare mediated by lawyers, and it doesn't appear to have much to recommend it - I would hate to see NZ subjected to large in size legal battles internally or externally, and I see our vulnerability with our experience in such legal battles being neglible in comparison to other countries.

Best Wishes