March in February! The TPPA is inimical to New Zealand’s national sovereignty, and poses a deadly threat to its democratic institutions So, march tomorrow/today as if your independence and your freedom depends on it – because they do.
WHAT I WOULD GIVE to get a look at the Government’s polling data on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Coming out of the summer holiday torpor, my best guess was that the public, generally speaking, was pretty relaxed about the agreement. But everything the Government and its allies have done since early January suggests that the opposite is true: that the numbers reported in TV3/Reid Research poll of 20 November 2015 have not budged, and that a clear majority of New Zealanders remain opposed to the agreement.
Since then, the anti-TPPA forces have worked tirelessly to analyse the 5,000 page document and to marshal their arguments against ratification. In the weeks following the 5 November 2015 release of the TPPA text, a raft of expert, peer-reviewed research papers (available at https://tpplegal.wordpress.com/) were written and released. These have made a considerably greater impact on the news media than the rather perfunctory National Interest Analysis, thrown together by New Zealand’s team of TPPA negotiators, and released by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) on 25 January 2016.
The expert paper entitled “The Economics of the TPPA”, jointly written by University of Auckland economics professor, Tim Hazledine, Dr Geoff Bertram, Rod Oram and Barry Coates, impressed even the NZ Herald’s senior business writer, Brian Fallow. The rising level of vitriol deployed by the National Party’s best ideological skirmisher, Matthew Hooton, and echoed shrilly in the columns of the Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan, indicates strongly how disadvantaged in the propaganda stakes the pro-TPPA forces now feel themselves to be.
The greatest blow struck against the TPPA, however, was delivered by the Labour Party. On Tuesday, 26 January, from their New Year caucus retreat in the Wairarapa, Labour MPs dispatched their Finance Spokesperson, Grant Robertson, to Auckland. There, he informed the first of the four main centre town-hall meetings organised by the anti-TPPA group, It’s Our Future, that Labour would NOT be supporting the agreement.
The full impact of Labour’s rejection was blunted by Leader, Andrew Little’s, maladroit handling of the TPPA’s two strongest caucus supporters, Phil Goff and David Shearer. Within days, however, the grim fact that the cosy, 30-year-old, bi-partisan consensus on Free Trade had ended, began to sink in.
The TPPA had turned out to be a bridge too far – even for the NZ Labour Party. This was not a free trade agreement in the mould of the China-NZ FTA. It was, in the words of the veteran New Zealand diplomat, Terrence O’Brien: “an economic policy integration agreement”. And the intent of such documents is, indisputably, to limit the sovereignty of nation states. As Professor Tim Hazledine explained in a Herald op-ed article of 3 February 2016:
“The fundamental idea or ideology behind the TPP is that national governments cannot be trusted to act independently on many issues, because they will inevitably succumb to local vested interests. Only the cleansing discipline of untrammelled global free-market forces will deliver efficient outcomes.”
By “local vested interests” the free-marketeers are, of course, referring to the citizens of the nations concerned. That is why the opponents of the TPPA talk about the agreement threatening democracy itself.
Exactly how far this message: that the TPPA is inimical to New Zealand’s national sovereignty, and poses a deadly threat to its democratic institutions; has entered public consciousness is what the Government, MFAT, the “intelligence community”, the Police, the NZ-US Council, the National Party, and the mainstream news media have no doubt been working like blazes to find out.
Because all of them know that if a substantial portion of the New Zealand population – maybe even a majority – can be convinced that the anti-TPPA message is true, and if that conviction can be given political force by the Labour, Green and NZ First parties, then a great deal more than the future of the TPPA is at stake. If protecting our national sovereignty and defending our democracy become the battle-cries of the 2017 General Election, then the entire neoliberal project will be threatened.
So, march tomorrow/today as if your independence and your freedom depends on it – because they do.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 3 February 2016.