On February 4, 2016, when the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA or TPP) was officially signed—after five years of secret negotiations—40,000 people marched through Auckland in protest. For those haven't heard about it, the TPPA is a free trade agreement, the biggest one ever.
The deal is currently being ratified in New York, with politicians from Barack Obama to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull extolling its benefits. But the repercussions are also speculated to be vast. The TPPA will allow multinational companies to sue governments, patents will be extended for 20 years, and there'll be no restrictions placed on foreign property ownership.
There's a lot of hate in New Zealand for the TPPA—someone even threw a dildo at a member of parliament in protest. Yet, the same can't be said for Australia. The TPPA is going through the Australian Senate this week, but there's been barely a ripple in public reaction.
So VICE asked some New Zealanders to explain why Australians should give a shit about the TPPA.
VICE: Hi Joh. Let's get right into this: What's your best pitch to make Australia care about the TPPA?
Joh Bloomberg: Australians don't give a shit about anything other than AFL, NRL, beer, and being righteously angry about subjects they don't understand. So I would say: Look, I know it's Grand Final week, and those dudes on the field do look good in tiny shorts, and I know that Triple J is thinking about shifting the Hottest 100 from Invasion Day to another less offensive day (seriously so many white dudes I know are raging at this), and these all seem like big issues, but the TPPA will have an impact on you, your family, friends, neighbours, hospitals, local food producers etc, for an infinitely longer period. Maybe you should take notice.
What scares you about the deal?
I see it as USA flexing their muscles and us pandering to them… it's just big companies doing their thing and, because we are a globalised world now, state and country laws can't hold them accountable. We haven't worked out how to have sophisticated international laws that are actually fair and balanced, so we end up with shitty free trade agreements that don't make anyone money except the big giant companies that really don't need to make more money. They don't need more money.
Do you think the TPPA will actually do harm, in the long run?
I see the TPPA as having the same sort of risks as privatisation of state-owned enterprises. Like, it seems to be necessary—and in the short term there might appear to be all these benefits and good things that come out of it—but in the long term, you probably regret selling yourself and your resources for short term gain.
Sort of like me and healthy eating. Buying the custard is so rewarding, and for a full five minutes after downing half a litre of custard I think my serotonin/reward neurotransmitter levels are PEAKMAXHOLYSHITLIFEISGREAT. But guarantee you, an hour later, I'm bloated and feel like crap and regret everything. It's all about balance. And in the TPPA situation, I feel like balance is impossible to achieve as we are automatically at a disadvantage.
Hey Finn, why should people give a shit about the TPPA?
This is the largest intergovernmental treaty since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. From the few details that have been leaked to the public the agreement appears to give corporate entities legal rights to challenge any country's local legislation if it threatens their potential profits. The secrecy of negotiations of this agreement has caused alarm. If the legal status of local legislation enacted by citizen elected representatives has the potential to be quashed, it cuts at the heart of the concept of democracy.
The facts are pretty scary but this deal is being ratified right now. Is there a bigger argument to be made against the deal?
Because this agreement threatens Australia's sovereignty. Because it undermines their democratically elected government. Because it has the potential for any nation to be sued for exponential sums and the potential to change every aspect of Australian citizens' lives for the worse. Australians should care.
Organiser at FIRST Union
Hi Stephen. What are the biggest problems, as you see it, that the TPPA poses?
In a nutshell, the TPPA is an agreement to either change or freeze national laws to suit the interests of overseas investors (the US, Canada, Mexico, Japan etc). If the TPPA becomes final, it will be very hard for future governments to pull out of the agreement.
The most worrying and dangerous part of the TPPA, for me, is the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system, which allows overseas investors (i.e. large multinational corporations) to directly sue governments whenever changes in the law hurt the corporations' profits.
But why would countries sign onto a trade deal if it's not going to benefit their economy?
The theory is that pandering to the interests of international corporations will result in more trade between countries, and that everyone will benefit. This is rubbish. The whole point of corporations is to make privately-held profits. The whole point of governments is to protect the wider public interest. It doesn't make sense for governments to throw away their powers so that corporations can make more profit. This is not how democracy should work.
There hasn't been a groundswell of opposition against the TPPA in Australia like there has in New Zealand. How would you make them care?
Aussies should care about the TPPA because they have already experienced the risks of this sort of deal. The Australian government has had to spend tens of millions of dollars defending a challenge to plain packaging of cigarettes by Philip Morris under the ISDS provisions of the Australia–Hong Kong Free Trade Agreement. This legal challenge set back plain packaging of cigarettes by years.
It's Our Future campaign, soon-to-be Green Party MP, Wellington
Hey Barry, what's the big deal with the TPPA?
The trade side of things is a bit like the cute side of the Trojan horse. What we're concerned about is the hidden side of the TPPA, which is about corporate rights and the possibility for governments to be sued by some of the most powerful and litigious multinational corporations.
Action on climate change will be undermined with the TPPA action on public health will be undermined, and action on the environment will be undermined. The power to regulate in favour of these things is in the public's interest so the TPPA is really dangerous. I think New Zealanders get it… They see that foreign companies have too many rights, so why should we give them more?
Where to from here? The deal has already been signed by all 12 countries, it's going through the ratification process, is there anything Australians could do—if they did care?
Well the TPPA is probably not going to get through in the USA. Both presidential candidates are against it, Congress is against it, the public is against it. If it doesn't happen in the USA, it's not going to happen—at least in the short term. But the TPPA has lots of clones, they're negotiating similar agreements Australia and New Zealand. We need to elect governments that will reject these treaties and replace them with agreements based on respect for democracy, fairness, human rights and democracy.
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