Last Saturday, March 7th was a nationwide Day of Action to protest the possible signing of a Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). Tauranga was the scene of 1 of 22 protest rallies all around New Zealand. It started with a peaceful protest street march along Cameron, Elizabeth Street and Devonport Rd followed by a well-attended meeting at the Edge Water Fan on the Strand last Saturday (March 7th). While the TPPA is frequently referred to as a ‘free trade’ deal, critics point out that only 5 of the 29 clauses actually refer to what are regarded as trade issues. The details of the TPPA have been kept secret from us but we know from leaks that there are chapters on intellectual property rights, stronger patent rights (meaning higher costs for our medicines), removing regulations on GMO food labelling, allowing foreign ownership of our assets, restricting internet freedoms and extending copyright. These are NOT just trade issues.
Probably the most contentious and worrying part of this deal is one that would push corporate control over many aspects of our lives. It would weaken govt, democracy and our national sovereignty. This is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), the dangerous mechanism at the heart of the TPPA that allows foreign multinationals to sue host governments over laws and regulations that may restrict their ability to make profits. It allows cases against the govt to be taken outside of our established legal system, and heard by an unaccountable arbitration panel of highly paid corporate lawyers. Corporations can claim compensation of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars which taxpayers, that’s us, have to pay. And an extreme example: a Swedish utility company which operates two nuclear plants in Germany, demanded compensation of ~ $5 billion under an ISDS clause in an investment treaty when the German Govt tried to close nuclear power plants there after the Fukushima disaster.
However, this deal does not allow governments to sue the corporations for harm they may cause to the public or the environment.
Many object that an important agreement like this which would affect us all very profoundly, should not be signed in secret without any opportunity for prior public or parliamentary discussion. And with scant coverage in the mainstream media most people are unaware of the consequences should our govt sign this deal. The increase in corporate powers enshrined in the TPPA would undermine our government's right to regulate to protect the environment, consumers, workers' rights or our economy. Defending against such claims would typically cost government many million dollars. It is important to voice our concerns now, before this "deal" is signed. Visit www.itsourfuture.org.nz for more information on the TPPA and actions you can take. WRITTEN BY: Dr Ron Lopert. Ron is a retired GP and was one of 11 speakers at the protest meeting. Ron is a member of the local branch of the Green Party.