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Kiwis protest trans-Pacific trade talks; familar threats to public services, democracy

New Zealand and Canada are in somewhat the same position with respect to international trade agreements bearing down on us from the Asia-Pacific and European Union respectively. Controversial negotiations on a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) continue this week in Aukland. This morning they attracted a protest from groups concerned in particular about the deal’s possible investment protections, and threats to New Zealand’s strategic resources.

New Zealand academic and trade activist Jane Kelsey spoke at this morning’s rally about the NAFTA-like investment protections being negotiated for the TPP.

“They will threaten our rights to control foreign investment with privatisations of strategic assets. We know that our chances of getting them back when the privatisations fail will be nil when this agreement is signed,” she said (quoted in the New Zealand Herald). “We know that we are looking at the issues around GE (genetically engineered) labelling, that the agro (agricultural) businesses in the US will be insisting that there is no right for GE labelling – we can’t make our own decisions to know what it is that we’re eating.”

According to the news report, the protest was organized by the Unite and National Distribution Unions. Speakers also included Auckland city councillor Cathy Casey, who said, “This TPPA does not support local business, indeed, it opens the door to global multi-national companies to come in to this country, take over our local businesses and buy up our assets.”

The TPP is being negotiated between New Zealand, the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Canada wants in but is being held back (at this stage) by the U.S. and possibly also New Zealand, according to recent reports. There are no guarantees yet the deal will include an investor-to-state dispute mechanism, and in fact the governments of New Zealand and Australia would rather this process were excluded.

Today, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, Lori Wallach, issued a statement about the TPP talks, urging transparency. She said:

The public needs to know that TPP talks are not gambling away their future, and this will require a more transparent process. If the TPP really is going to be a “high-standard 21st century agreement” as President Barack Obama has promised, then there should be no problem with negotiations taking place in the light of day and the negotiating texts being released, including the texts on financial services and foreign investment that are currently being used.

While Canada is not a part of the TPP negotiations in Auckland this week, we are facing the same issues and raising the same concerns in the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement negotiations with the EU. The CETA package as we’ve seen it would include strong investment protections and limited government powers to regulate in the public interest; the promotion of the private service delivery model in postal services, water, health care, energy and transit, and; the shrinking of municipal government authority over how utilities are run and how public money is spent.

We need transparency in the CETA negotiations if it’s going to be a fair deal. Transparency and debate now before the deal is signed.