Trade talks leak shows worrying concessions

Trade talks leak shows worrying concessions
17 Jun 2012, Sunday Star Times, Rob O’Neill: Newsdesk

THE INFORMATION leaked late last week out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade negotiations should worry just about every Kiwi.

They confirm suspicions that, in deep secrecy, New Zealand’s sovereignty, our ability to regulate on issues such as public health, the environment and competition, are being compromised. This isn’t just a concern here, but also in the US, where US President Barack Obama is being accused of breaking campaign promises.

The 2008 campaign document reads: ‘‘We will not negotiate bilateral trade agreements that stop the government from protecting the environment, food safety, or the health of its citizens; give greater rights to foreign investors than to US investors; require the privatisation of our vital public services; or prevent developing country governments from adopting humanitarian licensing policies to improve access to life-saving medications.’’

But that is exactly what is going on. In deepest secrecy.

The only defence he has, and it is lame in the extreme, is that the TPP is not a bilateral negotiation, but multilateral.

US senators and representatives are now getting worried that corporations have better access to information out of the negotiations than they do.

Locally, Professor Jane Kelsey is the major voice of opposition to the TPP.

Last week she said the leak confirms that National has agreed to let foreign investors such as Philip Morris, Pfizer, Warners, Exxon Mobil or Microsoft sue New Zealand for damages in private overseas tribunals if new laws or policies breach their rights or damage their investments.

Put simply, if a government under the TPP tried to boost competition in telecommunications the way the past two governments have done, New Zealand could find itself being sued.

‘‘Whether they have a good legal case is beside the point,’’ Kelsey said.

‘‘They can tie governments up for years in massively expensive legal battles. Just that threat can ‘chill’ the regulatory decisions.’’

This is just one of several provisions that should be of concern.

Earlier this year I requested a report commissioned by the Ministry of Economic Development into the impact of changes to our parallel importing rules. I was turned down.

Parallel importing is definitely in the sights of US corporates. They want it gone.

Big pharma wants to see our Pharmac drug-buying scheme neutered as well. Why? Because it is just too successful at keeping our national pharmaceutical bill down.

And then there are issues of intellectual property rights and online piracy. Many of us thought we had those sorted. But that wasn’t good enough for the recording and film industries.

These guys want it all, and it looks like our government will give it to them.

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