Have you heard of the TPPA? There’s a good chance you haven’t. And when you first do, it sounds like a crazy conspiracy theory: A bunch of governments getting together to sign away the rights of their countries to transnational corporations.
Surely that would never happen? Would it?
TPPA stands for Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. As the name suggests, it’s a free trade agreement between Pacific rim countries: United States, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. And it’s making a lot of intelligent people very worried.
Unfortunately, it’s hard to know exactly what to be worried about, because all the negotiations are going on behind closed doors so the public have to rely on leaked documents to get a feel for what’s being proposed.
Based on these leaks, Kiwi opponents to the TPPA fear it could threaten our healthcare system, food safety, intellectual property rights, financial controls, and right to legislate. The two aspects of the TPPA that concern me the most (aside from the secrecy surrounding the whole negotiation process) are the potential impacts on healthcare and environmental protection.
Shrouded in Secrecy
The governments involved in the TPP negotiations claim the details cannot be released to the public because of commercially sensitive material.
Our own Trade Minister, Tim Groser, goes one step further, claiming that exposing negotiation texts to “the full glare of transparency” would “screw the negotiation and destroy it.” Quite frankly, if our politicians have such little confidence in the negotiation process and texts, then it doesn’t give me much confidence in what they’re doing either.
Of course, it turns out transparency isn’t the end of the world: A similar agreement between the US and Europe, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) is currently being negotiated “as openly as possible” in order to alleviate public concerns about the deal.
Buying the Brand
Under the TPPA, medicine in New Zealand could get a whole lot more expensive. PHARMAC, New Zealand’s pharmaceuticals and medical device purchaser, currently negotiates bulk deals on medicine and provides it at subsidised rates to the public — that’s why a lot of your prescriptions only cost $5. However, the TPPA may give big drug companies the right to question and appeal every purchasing decision PHARMAC makes.
A recent release on wikileaks appears to provide more information about what’s proposed on the medical front, as discussed here and here. While the leaked documents seem to focus on ensuring pharmaceutical companies receive a “fair” price for their goods, many people fear the proposed rules could compromise PHARMAC’s decision-making process and make it harder to secure affordable medicine for New Zealanders.
Other leaked texts indicate that the TPP would allow pharmaceutical companies to extend drug patents more easily and delay the manufacture of generic versions, and would allow companies to patent medical techniques as well. Forcing PHARMAC to buy brand-name medicines instead of the much cheaper generic medicines will also push up healthcare costs for New Zealand.
Profits over People
The TPPA will allow international corporations to sue the New Zealand government if we implement any laws that may negatively impact the corporation’s profits — including laws designed to protect the people and environment of New Zealand.
Laws such as: Requiring plain packaging on cigarettes. Capping the alcohol content in RTDs. Banning carcinogenic pesticides. Pricing agricultural water use. Regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Pretty much any law designed to internalise negative externalities.
If we give overseas companies the power to sue our government, we open ourselves up to the risk of spending millions of dollars on unnecessary law suits. That threat could be enough to deter governments from passing such laws in the first place.
Honestly, hampering our ability to look after ourselves because it might harm some big corporation’s profits is one of the stupidest things I have ever heard.
This Sounds Bad — What Can I Do About It?
New Zealand’s government claims that the concerns outlined above won’t come true — the TPPA won’t gut Pharmac, nor will it allow corporations to sue our government for taking “public good” actions. I’d like to believe them, although the current government is not known for its honesty or integrity…
So if you’re concerned about the TPPA, head to itsourfuture.org.nz to educate yourself, write to our MPs, and keep up to date with what’s happening.
And if you need a final thought to rage/cry/laugh about, consider this: A lot of the rules proposed in the TPPA are made in the name of “transparency”, i.e., allowing corporations more access to and influence over decisions made by governments. Which is ironic really, given that transparency has been rejected completely for the negotiations themselves.