READER REPORT:

Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Thief in the Night?

ERIN ALLISON-MAXWELL
Last updated 14:30 29/10/2012

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OPINION: The vast majority of New Zealanders would be shocked to hear that our own government is involved in closed-door negotiations with the US and other countries to sign an agreement which will severely undermine our sovereignty.

"That can't be true!" People say. "Surely we would have heard about something as big as that." Yet it is true, and we as citizens are being kept in the dark, by design, throughout the whole process of negotiations and signing of the agreement.

There has not and will not be any public consultation. The terms and outcomes of the agreement will only become public once the deal is signed. What we do know about the details and clauses of the agreement so far, is from leaked information.

Lets look at some background information on the Trans-Pacific Partnerhip (TPP). In 2007 talks began, involving countries around the Asia-Pacific region. While it's presented as a trade agreement, aiming to liberalise and encourage international trade within the region, the majority of the clauses in the proposed agreement deal not with trade, but with securing new rights and privileges for international corporations, while reducing the ability of nation states to oppose them.

One of the most controversial parts of the agreement deals with foreign investment. Under the proposed agreement, foreign companies that invest in New Zealand will have the power to take New Zealand to an international trade arbitration panel, and possibly even sue us for damages, if our government passes a law that negatively effects their business (eg laws to protect the rights of our labour force, or protect the environment).

A case in point is that after Australia passed legislation requiring plain packaging for all cigarettes, one of the major tobacco companies, Phillip Morris, brought Australia before an arbitration panel to seek billions of dollars in damages, and to halt and reverse the legislation.

This is the kind of thing that could and no doubt will be happening to New Zealand if this agreement is allowed to pass.

Other controversial leaked clauses in the agreement deal with pharmaceutical companies and patents. Patent times would be increased and cheaper generic drugs would be effectively banned, which would radically increase the prices of medicinal drugs due to monopoly power.

At a public forum in July last year, legal experts in New Zealand presented their concerns that the agreement could undermine law regarding Maori culture, genetic modification, copyright and remove the subsidised medicine New Zealanders have access to through Pharmac.

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The agreement also deals with copyright laws, which will become much stricter. Copyright infringements, on the internet or otherwise, will be required to be punished by criminal convictions. All parallel imports will be eliminated.

Many legal experts, local and international, have spoken out about the dangers of allowing this agreement to be negotiated and passed without public consultation.

There is no doubt it will undermine our sovereignty and our democracy.
And yet the majority of Kiwis have never heard of the TPP.

Is it time to bring this thing out into the open before its too late?


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