What New Zealanders told the Government about the TPPA

ROSANNA PRICE/Stuff.co.nz

These people joined thousands who made submissions to the Government on the TPPA.

It's been called a 'trojan horse', a 'mega cartel deal', and a 'side-show', but one thing's for sure - the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement is a different beast to other trade deals. Rosanna Price looked at hundreds of submissions to draw out the main concerns New Zealanders lay at the Government's door.

The flood of public outcry against the country's biggest trade deal has slowed to sporadic splashes of protest.

Momentum has ebbed since the February marches when the agreement was ratified, but is bound to ramp back up at each stage that passes the deal into law.

Thousands marching in Christchurch in an anti TPPA protest. Some deviated through Westfields Mall.
DEAN KOZANIC/FAIRFAX NZ

Thousands marching in Christchurch in an anti TPPA protest. Some deviated through Westfields Mall.

The National-majority select committee who heard some 250 oral public submissions over a two month period have already summed up their findings - with National irrefutably in favour of the TPPA. 

A majority of people had vast concerns the deal would have a negative impact on their lives and future generations, reflecting the views from more than 6000 individuals and groups that wrote in.

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BIG CONCERN: ISDS CLAUSE

The biggest concern? Foreign corporates being able to sue the government.

In a sample of 200 submissions, the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) clause came up the most frequently. The clause was a main theme across 42 per cent of these submissions, with health and medicine impacts at 37 per cent and the environmental concerns across 35 per cent.

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The ISDS clause would allow overseas investors to bring claims against the New Zealand Government if they believed there had been a violation of investment authorisation, agreement or obligation under the TPPA. Previous free trade agreements have had different provisions.

Wide-ranging feedback on the ISDS seemed to be a concern for everyone from the environmental sector, to trade, to health, to social equity.

Even manufacturers and exporters, while generally supportive of the agreement, still had reservations. Would this affect the "ability for the New Zealand government to regulate the country's self-interest" ?  

Bigger fears loomed in the health sector.

The Public Health Association wanted health policy and laws to be an exception to the disputes. One ISDS claim that's already had an impact on Maori health is tobacco plain packaging. It delayed implementation for at least two years, with a disproportionate impact on tangata whenua, the Association submitted.

Doctors for the Protection of Health in Trade Agreements said the investor disputes process was "inherently one-sided" in favour of transnational industries.

Carve-outs from the ISDS have been included for tobacco and some PHARMAC activities were not "a win for health", it said. They simply reduce the extent to which the agreement as a whole tips the balance of power away from democratic institutions and toward the interests of transnational industries whose over-riding goal is to maximise consumption and profit."

That special clause fed into a wider suspicion - that rich companies would have a large influence on the way the country was run. Many of the shorter submissions depicted a world troubled by corrupt multinationals.

But the select committee report on the subject matter explained "specific safeguards" wouldn't allow this to happen. 

"ISDS will not work against New Zealand interests," the report said. "Reduced profits, loss of potential future profits, investor expectations, or failure to provide subsidies are not sufficient grounds to claim a breach of TPP obligations."

ENVIRONMENT & HEALTH MAIN CONCERNS

Next big ticket issues down the list: the environment and health impacts.

One topic that crossed both of these areas was climate change.

What on earth has the TPPA got to do with climate change? According to the Climate & Health Council, it would give the fossil fuel industry powerful levers to resist reforms that could lessen the value of its reserve. It wasn't comforting these fuel companies have proved litigious in the past.

Often described as the biggest health threat in the 21st century, many submitters were concerned New Zealand wouldn't be able to meet climate targets it signed up for this year.

This "enormous challenge" would require governments to have "maximum flexibility and scope for policy innovation" - something the Council believed would be restricted under the TPP.

Health groups lobbied a solution: an independent health impact assessment.

The country's College of Public Health Medicine called for the review to allay their "serious concerns" about effects on PHARMAC's operating model and public health policy.

SOVEREIGNTY AND SUPPORT

A raft of other concerns came up in the feedback...loss of sovereignty, flawed economic modelling, lack of consultation, intellectual property and copyright issues have been debated since the draft agreement was released.

The Waitangi Tribunal have already criticised negotiation processes, but ruled there is (so far) no breach.

Small and local business owners worried that opening up trade would leave them in the dust. It could also lead to less jobs for Kiwis.

But a few industry submissions supported the deal.

New Zealand Chamber of Commerce, Federated Farmers, Zespri, and Horticulture New Zealand are all aboard the TPPA bandwagon. Fonterra was also on board, despite limited advantages for dairy. 

But, as the submissions showed, many Kiwis were still totally opposed to the deal being ratified. That included political parties - Labour, Greens, NZ First and the Maori Party.

The Government will continue to praise the deal as a great gift to our nation. Only time will tell if it's a horse of subterfuge. 

 - Stuff

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