Sticking Our Head In The Lion’s Mouth

Trans-Pacific Partnership

- by Warren Brewer

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement, for which negotiations have started between officials, is, according to Kim Beazley (1), the Australian Ambassador to the US, an extension of the P4 (2) agreement between New Zealand, Brunei, Singapore and Chile. The US and Australia are among those wishing to join at present ( Peru and Vietnam are the others; Colombia has also expressed an interest in doing so in future). The Obama Administration will, according to the recently released 2010 trade agenda “participate in the first two negotiating sessions of the TPP in the first half of 2010, even as the consultative process progresses” (3), notwithstanding the expectation that the US will not have a formal negotiating position until mid-year. (4) Peru, Vietnam and Brunei will also be present at the initial meetings.

Speaking at a hearing of the International Trade Commission (an "independent", quasi-judicial federal agency that provides trade policy and advice to both the legislative and executive branches of the US government (5) Beazley noted that all issues were on the table and that progress made within the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) on trade facilitation would assist the negotiations. "Indeed, our cooperation in APEC addressing the obstacles concerning the business community, such as behind the border regulatory barriers and other business facilitation issues, are going to serve us very well as we move into advanced issues such as the TPP," Beazley told the hearing. Roy Ferguson the New Zealand Ambassador to the US, told the hearing that the TPP talks should aim for "new benchmarks for quality and ambition”.

And ambition is clearly on the agenda for ECAT (the Emergency Committee for American Trade, an organisation of Chief Executive Officers of “leading US business enterprises” who claim sales in excess of $US1.5 trillion per annum (6). Its’ Chairman, Calman Cohan, spelt out the agenda in all too clear terms – big business wants a “...comprehensive, high standard and commercially meaningful trade agreement” that will, among other things:

  • Promote liberalisation throughout all key economic sectors.
  • Harmonise and set new rules to promote trade facilitation and the effective use of supply chains to promote US international competitiveness.
  • Ensure effective protection for investment and intellectual property rights.
  • Address key and growing challenges to trade and investment globally, including regulatory barriers and challenges posed by government preferences for national champions, including State-owned enterprises.
  • Promote non-discriminatory and transparent government procurement rules.
  • Provide for efficient dispute resolution procedures and effective implementation.
  • Provide mechanisms for other Trans-Pacific nations to be able to join quickly and easily once they adopt the TPP’s commitments. (7)

All straightforward and predictable enough, parroting by in large, the wish list chronicled in the 2009 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers an inventory of the “most important foreign barriers affecting US” issued by the US Government (8). And that list is extensive; remove b io-security controls, voluntary local content in the media, foreign investment control, the genetic modification (GM) moratorium, Medsafe and Pharmac, on and on ad nauseum. (9) Since this was written the 2010 USNational Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers has been published. The section concerning New Zealand can be accessed online at Ed

That US Big Business seeks unfettered access to our economy, resources and, to the extent that they exist, the rolling back of statutory limitations surprises no one. But what should surprise us is Prime Minister Key’s capitulation before talks even start. "You can't rule out Pharmac...” Happy Jack concedes – noting that concessions will be made, he “would be surprised in the final analysis if we were to walk away with a potential Free Trade Agreement of such high quality with the United States of America because we weren't prepared to give a bit on the odd area". (10) We’ve already given an odd bit away of course; 70 Special Air Service (SAS) troopers in Afghanistan for starters, in a move that, as Murray Horton has noted, is reminiscent of Keith Holyoake’s “guns for butter” strategy in the Vietnam War era. (11) Kiwi lives on the line in the interests of “business” and much more besides if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is any indication of the agenda.

NAFTA Sets Ominous Example

NAFTA was heralded at its launch, January 1, 1995, as the vehicle that “would create hundreds of thousands of new high wage US jobs, raise living standards in the US, Mexico and Canada, improve environmental conditions and transform Mexico from a poor developing country into a booming new market for US exports”. (12) Fifteen years later and the results are in, no hyperbole, no predictions, no speculation, just the facts on the ground and they don’t make pretty reading. “NAFTA requires” according to Public Citizen (13): “...limits on the safety and inspection of meat sold in our grocery stores; new patent rules that raised medicine prices; constraints on your local government’s ability to zone against sprawl or toxic industries; and elimination of preferences for spending your tax dollars on US-made products or locally grown food. In fact, calling NAFTA a ‘trade’ agreement is misleading. NAFTA is really an investment agreement. Its core provisions grant foreign investors a remarkable set of new rights and privileges that promote relocation abroad of factories and jobs and the privatisation and deregulation of essential services, such as water, energy and health care”.

“New benchmarks for quality and ambition” indeed. The rationale for dismantling Environment Canterbury (ECan), an elected regional council, and shunting its responsibilities for water in Canterbury into the hands of unelected political appointees becomes clearer by the minute. To grumble about the inevitability of the TPP and its effects is not enough however – a campaign of widespread opposition to the ideological claptrap of the free traders and their self interest, at least on the scale of our opposition to the formerly proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI, which was defeated by a 1990s’ global campaign) is the order of the day – our future and that of our kids depends on it.


(1) “Australia Says TPP Talks Should Start With 'Everything On The Table'” - Inside US Trade, March 02
(2) P4: Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement - MOFAT
(3) 2010 Trade Policy Agenda and 2009 Annual Report
(4) Ibid.
(5) the International Trade Commission
(6) The Emergency Committee for American Trade
(7) ECAT written testimony
(8) 2009 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers (NTE)
(9) New Zealand Section of NTE
(10) “Concessions needed for US trade deal: PM”, Press, 17/11/09
(11) “Full Speed Ahead Into The Quicksand”, Peace Researcher 39, January 2010
(12) Public Citizen – NAFTA webpage
(13) About Public Citizen

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