Gordon Campbell on Labour-bashing over the TPP, and Canada

Column – Gordon Campbell

Should we be surprised that Labour has ended up as the medias cheap and easy target over the TPP ? Clearly, it would be more risky to attack with similar gusto the government that actually negotiated and signed this deal. Treasonous even, for …

Gordon Campbell on Labour-bashing over the TPP and Canada’s election

Should we be surprised that Labour has ended up as the media’s cheap and easy target over the TPP? Clearly, it would be more risky to attack with similar gusto the government that actually negotiated and signed this deal. Treasonous even, for NBR readers.

Lest we forget though… the Key government said constantly that it wouldn’t sign anything less than a high quality, 21st century deal – but ultimately, it caved in and signed a deal that failed to win any meaningful access in Japan and North America for our major export commodity – the milk powder upon which we’d also gambled all of our negotiating chips.

Make no mistake, New Zealand was – and was widely seen elsewhere to be – the big loser from the crunch negotiations in Atlanta. Ultimately, we got suckered by the US via the same hub and spoke negotiating tactics that the US used on all of the TPP member countries in order to elicit their wish lists, and get them on board for concessions in other areas. In our case, the US then comprehensively failed to make the mirage of North American dairy access come to pass.

Obviously, none of this had anything to do with Labour. Oh, and the government has now also upped the risk of this country being subjected to the kind of investor/state disputes that are globally on the rise, and which have been taken (and won) against Canada this year, when it sought to protect its environment from the effects of development by foreign investors. Sure, when the texts are finally released we might get some analysis of the actual net gain from this deal: but I doubt it. We will also wait in vain for any analysis of the potential diplomatic fallout – now that we have aligned ourselves with the US in the Asia Pacific region against the country (China) that happens to be our main trading partner. The TPP was always as much a geo-political gambit of containment as it ever was a trade deal.

No, but that stuff is too hard. Far easier to play horse race politics on the TPP – who’s ahead, who’s behind – and lay into Labour, who didn’t negotiate it, and haven’t signed it. The advantage for the media with this response is that it’s a guaranteed win either way. If Labour oppose the deal in any way whatsoever, they can be lambasted as anti-trade, loony left extremists, as the professional hysterics in the National Business Review have already labeled them. Yet on the other hand, if Labour do anything less than condemn the deal outright they can equally be lambasted as mealy-mouthed hypocrites unwilling to offend their base by coming out of the closet and ‘fessing up to their free trade proclivities. On the TPP, Labour was bound to enrage its enemies – who will brook no criticism of the free trade caliphate – and disappoint its friends.

Is anyone over the age of ten really, really surprised that the Labour Party that negotiated the China FTA should find much to its liking about the TPP? On trade, on defence, on security and surveillance issues…. the two major parties have always been like Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Centrism is like that. As long ago as 2012 in Werewolf, Labour was signalling its embrace of the TPP – subject only to a certain limited set of conditions.

In New Zealand, something close to bipartisan agreement exists between the two major parties on trade issues, says Labour’s trade negotiation spokesman Clayton Cosgrove: “You don’t play politics with it [trade].“ Labour, he adds, “has a proud history back to Mike Moore and beyond of being free traders.” In Cosgrove’s view, “The TPP potentially offers massive opportunities in terms not just of agriculture, but government procurement.”

All the same, bottom lines do exist for Labour on the TPP…. “Pharmac has to be protected,” Cosgrove says. “ IP. Investor /state. SOEs, and how they are treated. The treatment of the foreign ownership of land is obviously a large one for us. So is agricultural access. And we’ve always said New Zealand must always retain the ability to legislate and regulate in the public good…” Since no one is talking about scrapping Pharmac, Labour’s commitment to Pharmac amounts to what, exactly? Cosgrove: “To its core ability to bulk purchase in a single desk fashion medication, as it does now…” .So does that mean protection for Pharmac to do its job as it currently does? Not really. “ It may mean if you look at the Aussie example, that issues are negotiated around transparency and decision making …I’m not offended by that, because transparency and accountability need not necessarily impact on what Pharmac does.”

Leave aside that Cosgrove’s last sentence is untrue. (Laying Pharmac’s decisions open to legal challenge via ‘transparency” is likely to disruptive and costly, as this “The Neutering of Pharmac” Werewolf article showed, back in 2012.) The more important issue is the tension that always exists between (a) elected governments retaining the sovereign right to legislate for the public good and (b) the international commitments we make via treaties, alliances and trade pacts. Regardless of the Hooton hollerin’ in NBR, there is absolutely nothing controversial about Labour saying that if certain treaties and trade pacts like the TPP prove to do more harm than good, we should be willing to exit them, as we did with ANZUS.

Again, this point was covered in Werewolf several years ago:

As constitutional law expert Bill Hodge points out, the TPP may contain provisions that bind future governments – but as with any international treaty, it will also almost certainly contain exit clauses that could be activated by any future government prepared to ride out the consequences.

“They may have to give a certain amount of notice, but generally future governments can get out, ” Hodge says. Anzus strikes him as a classic example. ”A new government can say we’re opening the books on these things, and are giving notice that we no longer consider ourselves bound.” On current indications however, the Labour parliamentary caucus seems to be far more united behind the TPP than it ever was behind Anzus.

It still is. To sum up: the majority of the Labour caucus is not – and never has been – seriously opposed to the TPP. Certainly, those voters who feel insecure if New Zealand does anything other than prostrate itself before the altar of free trade should follow NBR’s advice, and vote for National in perpetuity. Good luck with that. On the other hand, those voters who continue to oppose the TPP as a poor deal for New Zealand (and a deal that contains many damaging and anti-competitive elements) will have to look elsewhere than Labour, in 2017. For similar reasons, Labour will not pose any threat to the government’s intentions when it comes to the Cullen /Reddy review of the powers of our security services, either. It is a party driven by the fear of its own traditions.

Canada Votes

Conservative parties cuttentl;y rule in Australia, New Zealand, the UK…. and in Canada, which has an election on Monday. Polling suggests that Monday could well spell the end of Stephen Harper’s Conservative administration. A minority government headed by the Liberals, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau ( yes, the son of Pierre) seems the likely but not inevitable outcome. This is as good a summary of the campaign as any:

Harper has alienated progressive Conservatives and driven other progressive voters to levels of outrage rarely seen. Three out of four voters want change, and one in two crave it badly.

Canada’s usual third party, the socialist-oriented New Democrats, had an unprecedented opportunity to win this election, and have wasted it. ….The current leader Thomas Mulcairwas masterful and full of brimstone in the House of Commons but has turned out to be a disappointing campaigner. His style suggests a cranky uncle more than a firebrand for the oppressed. Mulcair saddled himself with a platform that is heavy on policy trinkets (think restoring home delivery of snail mail), and is more fiscally prudent than political prudence would recommend.

In a country with a balanced budget, and a low debt-to-GDP ratio, Mulcair chose to promise balanced budgets as far as the eye could see, in a bid to woo new supporters from the centre of the spectrum. This backfired, badly, when the centrist Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, promised instead to goose the economy with a few years of modest deficit spending on infrastructure, a position more consonant with mainstream public opinion on the left and in the centre.

Modest deficit spending? We’d buy that here, if it meant having a decent and functioning health system again. However, modest deficit spending would require recanting from the current manic pursuit of a surplus, at whatever social cost. For New Zealanders, one of the other interesting aspects of the Canadian campaign has been the role of Lynton Crosby’s tactics of diversion. Under Crosby’s tuition, Harper has played the fear-of-immigrants/ refugees-as-terrorists card constantly. While effective to some degree, it has also damaged Harper and enabled Trudeau to look much more modern, tolerant, and progressive. Meaning: Crosby-ite diversions like our flag campaign – or pandas – will divert the public for only so long from your basic failures of governance. In Canada, Crosby finally seems to have jumped ship, rather than go down with it.

Here’s a song for Canada, and its wide open spaces ….

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rZHPCcFmEjc&w=420&h=236]

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