TPPA: destructive to life as we know it?

Posted: May 10, 2012 by Admin in Economics, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, New Zealand politics

by Don Franks

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) is a free trade agreement currently under negotiation between NZ and eight other countries, including the U.S. There have been numerous rounds since negotiations began in March 2010. The parties originally aimed to finish in late 2011; to date negotiations have yet to be completed.

TPPA has rung loud alarm bells in some activist circles. TPPA opponents never refer to its process without putting quote marks around the “free” and there are usually quote marks around “agreement” and “negotiations” too. The implication is that TPPA oversteps the accepted mark of commercial decency and is the antithesis of “fair trade”.

A long editorial on March 26th  in Vanguard, journal of the Communist Party of Australia M/L, provides a typical example of anti-TPPA agitation. Some excerpts:

 The TPP will force governments to change laws in the interest of profiteering multinationals, at the expense of the wellbeing of people and the environment. Foreign investor rights will prohibit government support and assistance to Australia’s local manufacturing, food production and agricultural companies. This will kill local medium and small businesses in manufacturing and food production.

Foreign investors will be given new rights and powers to claim compensation from national and local governments for loss of “expected future profits” as a result of local health, environmental, labour, land zoning or other government policies. The few government procurement policies still retained that favour government purchases from local small and medium Australian companies will be prohibited. National and local governments will be compelled to open up the few remaining public instrumentalities and assets to foreign investors, or be prevented from competing with private corporations in areas such as public education, health, and community services.

 The TPP will establish Investor-State international tribunals that allow foreign corporations to bypass local courts and laws to sue national and state governments. The tribunals will be administered by the World Bank and the UN. The tribunals’ judges will come from corporate backgrounds and may rotate between sitting on the tribunals and representing corporations at the tribunal hearings at different times! In the international tribunals, the rights of foreign corporations to profiteer and exploit are elevated above the national interests and demands of local people and countries. National and local governments can be overruled in the interest of foreign corporations and corporate investors, and force governments to change laws for their benefit.

Vanguard also comments:

However, US imperialism is not getting its way without international resistance. In New Zealand, a well organised and co-ordinated campaign has mobilised many different sections of society. New Zealand unions, small and medium farmers and manufacturers, artists and cultural workers, Maori communities, academics, and former politicians are part of a wide united front opposing the sell out of New Zealand to foreign corporations, urging the New Zealand government not to sign the TPP.

What the Australian comrades mean by “the sellout of New Zealand’ – as though  New Zealand was a homogenous whole with common class interests – is anyone’s guess, and their description of the New Zealand campaign is  overstated.  As is the potential power of TPPA.

Vanguard writes as if profiteering multinationals have not, till the advent of TPPA, been damaging to the well being of people, the environment and destructive to small and medium business. Or, as if benign local laws have, until now, been sufficient to offer working people protection from the worst of the weather.

Vanguard’s phrase “( under TPPA) National and local governments can be overruled in the interest of foreign corporations” packs multiple misconceptions into thirteen words.

First off, wishful thinking to the contrary, national and local governments already exist to ensure the safe conduct of capitalist business, the will of corporations foreign and national.

Secondly, nationalist sentimentality aside, there is nothing especially vicious about corporations whose home base is in an offshore country. Born and bred Australian and New Zealand capitalists have never shirked from locking out workers, dodging safety procedures, paying low wages, rooting the environment or shipping production off shore the second it suits them. Also left out of the equation is that New Zealand and Australia are both imperialist countries and their capitalists benefit from such trade agreements opening up new markets. The situation is different in third world countries where trade agreements brokered by imperialist governments are agreements between unequal powers and detrimental to the masses and even to the local capitalists in the poorer nations.

Third, the suggestion that national governments – in effect, nation states – can, by a legal document, be pulled up short like an erring schoolboy is ludicrous. No ruling class in an imperialist country is about to hand over its sovereignty to some other ruling class.

Capitalist governments can and do commit anti social acts on sections of their populations every day of the week. What no capitalist class representatives have ever yet done is surrender their authority without a fight. Historically, it has only been in the face of overwhelming force that capitalist regimes have ever yielded power. Typically, right till the bitter end, strenuous desperate rearguard actions have accompanied the demise of doomed capitalist empires.

The most recent agitation against the TPPA is in the form of an open letter to TPPA negotiators, by 100 jurists from New Zealand and other countries currently or potentially engaged in the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, calling for the right of investors to sue governments directly to be excluded from the TPP.

Signatories include retired judges, Sir Edmund Thomas from New Zealand and Justice Elizabeth Evatt from Australia, former Speaker of the Parliament Professor Margaret Wilson, Bruce Fein, the Associate Deputy Attorney General under the Reagan Administration, and leading investment law scholar Professor Sornarajah from Singapore.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei, and Labour Party MP Andrew Little, have also signed. (Anti TPPA  organisers extol that list as some sort of political recommendation.  To my eye it is the reverse, a comprehensive compendium of capitalist  careerists whose interests consistently oppose my own.)

Be that as it may – is the potential right of investors to sue a threat to New Zealanders?

Which New Zealanders?

They can’t sue me or my mates, because we have nothing to pay with.

My instinct is that the bosses are not at risk either.

If there was a real threat that a section of the boss class might be successfully sued by some outside body there would be an uproar pushing every other headline onto the back pages. Even if this was currently the case, it would not affect me; whatever ills beset the bourgeoisie are no concern of mine.

A frequently-repeated complaint about the TPPA is that the thing is being negotiated in secret and then ratified by cabinet without any reference to the Parliamentary process.  Last year the Government ruled out a request for a Parliamentary Select Committee on the TPPA.

I would add my voice to that complaint, but with one reservation. Anti-TPPA campaigners argue as if the secrecy surrounding this agreement is against the run of play.

It’s not. Secrecy is the heavy grease coating every cog of capitalism. Secrecy saps working class solidarity every day .

Many, probably most, of the de-unionised workers in this country don’t know how much their work mates get paid. This secrecy, in the name of personal privacy, helps keep us atomized and divided.

Every time workers make a gain in an industrial dispute i’ts conditional that the result is confidential, to prevent other workers being inspired.

Any mainstream journalist can be immediately dismissed by a boss invoking two words: “business confidentiality”. This comfortable condition applies equally to private business and to local and national government.

Capitalist business secrecy will only be removed by a revolution.

As for last year’s denial of access to a Parliamentary Select Committee?

That body provides activists and other concerned people with an input in the democratic proceedings of parliament. A people’s voice in the House, with an approximately similar impact on parliamentarians as the voices of the mice in the wainscoting of the House’s chambers.

To me it is no loss that there was no select committee on the TPPA.

I don’t believe the TPPA presents a distinctively new threat to our side.

The New Zealand capitalist class daily and hourly carry out all sorts of anti-social actions but they are not about to surrender their own independent power to any international body. Our ruling class are unpleasant creatures, but they are not suicidal and neither is New Zealand some sort of neo-colony.

We need to raise our sights from defending the status quo to challenge the existence of the entire private property system.

Scaremongering conspiracy-type assertions about the TPPA damage the credibility of the anti-privatisation movement.

Advertisements
Comments
  1. cruelt says:

    No mention of NAFTA, through which the sovereignty of states has been affected.

  2. Don Franks says:

    No, cruelt, no mention of NAFTA.

    Not a deliberate omission.

    Any even slightly comprehensive history of trade agreements is beyond the scope of a small article like this. My main aim was to question some habitual local nationalistic assumptions.

    Free trade problems for working people are not the same across the globe.

    New Zealand and Australia are both imperialist countries and their capitalists benefit from such trade agreements opening up new markets. The situation is different in third world countries where trade agreements brokered by imperialist are agreements between unequal powers and detrimental to the masses and even to the local capitalists in the poorer nations.

    To me, as a worker in New Zealand, sovereignty means governance of your own stuff. Capitalists can worry about their countries and encroachments upon them.

    Our class has no country. We are bothered about other stuff, like bread and beer and rent.

    • cruelt says:

      Ok. But NAFTA has affected how imperialist states such as Canada operate as well (for example, when they had to repeal a ban against a petrol additive and pay damages to a large oil company). Also I would say it’s better to have some say over how the government of a state in which one resides operates. However, there is concern that with agreements such as the TPPA what little say we have will be made even smaller.

      It is believable that a government may put their own interests (maybe shares in certain companies) over the interests of their citizens. This government may not even care about potential restrictive powers of the TPPA. They may not sign something which is bad for them, but they may sign something which is bad for other NZ citizens.

      • Don Franks says:

        ” it’s better to have some say over how the government of a state in which one resides operates. However, there is concern that with agreements such as the TPPA what little say we have will be made even smaller.”

        That’s a tidy summary of the anti TPPA position. I can see the appeal of this trade union type position, but I don’t share it. TPPA opponents ignore the fact that the anti social elements of free trade agreements are all, unequivocally, byproducts of capitalism.

        I respect what many anti TPPA campaigners are trying to do, but believe our energy is better spent working to get rid of capitalism than appealing to the better nature of capitalist politicians.