Opinion: The TPPA 2.0 – evolution or revolution?

The ‘TPPA version 2.0’ will be signed in March. But how different is the new ‘Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership’, involving Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam?

The CPTPP is said to give Aotearoa better market access to the markets of its signatories. This will be most beneficial in terms of Japan, Canada, Mexico and Peru, with which we do not currently have free trade agreements.  The agreement should entail a reduction in tariffs, which will improve the situation for our precious exporters. The general costs of doing business should drop. Stephen Jacobi (executive director of the NZ International Business Forum) expresses the hope that more countries might want to join the CPTPP in future. The big fish would be the USA, which infamously dropped out of the agreement (along with the universally lauded Paris Climate Agreement). However, some say that it is perhaps better for the USA to be absent from the agreement for now, at least while they have such a protectionist leader in place. With the USA as a member, the agreement would’ve covered 40% of world GDP, but will now ‘only’ cover 14%.

But what about the big concerns people had with the TPPA? Is the CPTPP really all that ‘progressive’ as it is ominously labelled in its title? Labour had opposed the TPPA during its time in opposition, marking a break from its previously uninhibited embrace of free trade. As recently as last year it bemoaned that the TPPA “will have ramifications for generations of New Zealanders. For their sake, we should not so lightly enter into an agreement which may exacerbate long-term challenges for our economy, workforce, and society.” Labour emphasised its concerns about sovereignty, secrecy and inadequate economic modelling; NZ First condemned the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system. Labour’s volte face is not all that surprising, however, given it signed the forerunner of the TPPA in 2005 with Brunei, Chile and Singapore and a trade deal with China in 2008.

The concern about increasing the cost of pharmaceuticals and medicines has been removed because the provisions at issue have been suspended. New Zealand will no longer be forced to extend copyright protection to 70 years (which would’ve cost consumers $55m per year). The investor state dispute settlement system remains but its scope has been reduced. According to MFAT, there are ’strong safeguards to protect the Government’s right to regulate in the public interest and prevent unwarranted claims’.  Te Tiriti o Waitangi is ‘fully protected’. Moreover, the CPTPP hasn’t stopped the new government from banning foreign home buyers, a move to alleviate our housing crisis. There are fears that the controversial provisions, which have only been suspended, will be revived if the USA ever joins. The core investor protections may still restrict Parliament’s ability to legislate in New Zealanders’ best interests. There has been no stringent economic analysis (as Labour has previously demanded). There has been no discussion on how the Crown will fortify protections for Maori, as called for by the Waitangi Tribunal.

The shroud of secrecy surrounding the negotiations has not been lifted, with an Official Information Act request being denied due to a secrecy pact between members to withhold negotiating documents till 4 years have passed. Jane Kelsey remains vociferously opposed to the agreement, denouncing the government for having failed to play a strategically like Canada had during the negotiation, which allowed it to obtain ‘side-letters’ to alter its obligations in areas to which it was opposed. NZ First now supports the CPTPP. Ironically, National (now an advocate for transparency) claimed it was open to supporting the legislation provided that the government release the deal’s details beforehand.

The Greens remain opposed.