Monday, December 17, 2012

What's so wrong with TPPA?

I'm not sure how many regular readers of this blog know what TPPA is and I think the protesters have done a really bad job of conveying just how bad it is.

TPPA stands for the Transpacific Partnership Agreement. It's an agreement between a whole bunch of countries such as Brunei, New Zealand, Malaysia, Australia, and probably the most problematic, the US. It's also a growing phenomena. Japan is currently in there as an observer, and South Korea has expressed interest in joining.

The agreement attempts to create a "free trade" agreement. There's some discussion on the merits of free trade. For example, New Zealand's manufacturing sector could essentially disappear due to our free trade agreement with China - we can't compete with China's pay rates. In New Zealand, our politicians are quite happy to sacrifice various sectors for dairy and meat - basically, Fonterra and The Alliance Group Limited.

Which brings up this really interesting problem. Previously issues dealing to the profits of individual companies were considered civil matters - so the burden of proof was on the company (or a representative). So things like copyright for example.

At some point, things changed. I assume this is to do with campaign contributions. Suddenly there's a movement to make the disruption of these company's profits a criminal matter. So now, as with S92A, the burden of proof is on the accused. For example, if I get a warning about copyright infringement (which adheres to NZ laws - I haven't read up on any instance of a notification actually adhering to NZ laws thus far. Anyone know of anyone getting such a warning? - and I don't mean the usual buckshot type emails sent out which aren't actionable), it's up to me to prove that I wasn't infringing copyright.

So how does this effect TPPA? Currently New Zealand has Pharmac - a government entity that:

  1. Handles which medications are going to be subsidized.
  2. Leverages bulk buying by essentially buying medications for the country.
Pharmac has been a thorn in the side of pharmaceutical companies since the 70's. Such companies have argued that competition would drive down prices but it's been the position of New Zealanders that the leverage of this single entity far outweighs any perceived benefit of competition (perceived because a controlled number of entities does not necessarily drive down prices. Look at our supermarkets for example).

So the TPPA could actually make it so that we HAVE to introduce other pharmaceutical channels into the country.

But much more worryingly to me is the pressure it puts on New Zealand laws. It seems that if the NZ government were to put a law in place that, as a consequence, affected the profit of that company, then that company has the right to bring a case against the NZ government. So before laws are put into place, the government would first have to consider the profits of any company trading within the country.

Like probably all international trade agreements, this one is being done in secrecy. We aren't being told what we're trading away. Our sovereignty is at risk for commercial concerns. Our access to low priced medications is at risk. John Key is being offhanded about these issues claiming that any agreement would have to go through parliament. This is untrue. The power to make a deal lies with the executive (John Key). The only thing the government can do is to stop laws from going through to implement such deals - essentially putting us in breach of such deals and subject to any penalties that non-adherence might incur.

So we need some transparency around what's actually being traded away (currently we're reliant on leaked documents). I also feel that we need a change in laws around how these negotiations are made. We can not, and should never have, relied on a horribly small number of people to make these deals. In a democracy, our elected officials at the very least, should have to vote on any such deals. I'm sure this need will become more and more apparent as deals such as this - where the scope of such is extended to protect, not the people of New Zealand, but the large multinationals - become more and more common. They're entirely too common for my liking as it is.

Essentially, we the people, have absolutely no influence on such deals. The scope of these deals seem to represent, not us, but companies. This feels like a great big giant corruption of democracy. Of course, our elected officials NEVER swear to represent the people who elected them. Something else I would love to see changed...

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