Gordon Campbell on our refugee response, and a TPP rewrite

Column – Gordon Campbell

T he miserly nature of New Zealands response to the global refugee crisis continues apace. Yesterdays announcement of an increase in our intake of UNHCR refugees from 750 to 1,000 refugees will only kick in from 2018, after the recent special …

Gordon Campbell on our paltry refugee response and a brazen US rewrite of the TPP

First published at werewolf.co.nz

The miserly nature of New Zealand’s response to the global refugee crisis continues apace. Yesterday’s announcement of an increase in our intake of UNHCR refugees from 750 to 1,000 refugees will only kick in from 2018, after the recent special intake of 650 Syrian refugees over two years have been cleared. So, do the math. The “ increase” really means that the intake of 1,000 after 2018 will be pretty much the same number of refugees as we admitted this year, once you’ve added 2016’s share of the Syrian special intake to the current 750 UNHCR numbers.

In other words, this is a triumph of spin: an ‘increase’ in the refugee intake that is virtually the same as the status quo, but counted differently. Moreover, since New Zealand requires that 50% of our UNHCR intake is from the Asia/Pacific region, we will actually be taking in fewer refugees from the Syrian/Iraq war zone than we have done of late. For many advocates of a generous intake, the final straw will be the new community programme that will commence around 2017/2018. Under this “pilot”programme, churches, charities, and the likes of Rotary will co-operate with government in helping 25 refugees with their housing, employment and language needs. Supposedly – as Prime Minister John Key explained at his post-Cabinet press conference yesterday – this community programme is a response to the outpouring of public support for refugees evident last year, and it will be a test of whether that sentiment has “endured.”

Again… this seems incredibly ungenerous. Many of the community groups in question are already actively engaged with refugee resettlement. Do we really need a two and a half years of preparation to devise a support system for 25 people, nationwide? That long run-in time makes a mockery of our supposed Kiwi “can do” ingenuity and willingness to help the needy. To cap things off, Act Party leader David Seymour – in a piece of patriotic grandstanding straight out of the Donald Trump playbook– has called for refugees to be made to sign some kind of pledge affirming New Zealand values before they can qualify for admittance. Yep, that Good Samaritan in the Bible really slipped up in not getting a signed loyalty pledge beforehand from the guy that he helped.

Finally, if the employment record of refugees (and the education achievements of their children) after ten years in this country is as bad as Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse claims, perhaps a smart government should be putting in more resources upfront to help them resettle. Plainly, that would be an economically sound investment in the long run. At the wider level of the needs of immigrants to this country, we should also be taking steps to accelerate our recognition of the educational qualifications that some migrants/refugees bring here, but which they cannot use, due to the long and costly process of re-calibrating them to fit New Zealand specifications. But that’s another story.

The TPP – lame duck or dead duck?

It is becoming less likely by the day that the US Congress will vote on the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal during the so called “lame duck’ Congressional session held after the US presidential election takes place in November. This isn’t stopping the Obama administration from going to desperate lengths to curry favour with its Republican critics and corporate allies – mainly, by circumventing the TPP ‘s explicit provisions even before the deal comes into force. So much for then-Trade Minister Tim Groser and his fatuous twaddle about the TPP being a trade deal for the 21st century.

One issue in question is overt the need for data localisation. Put simply, the US has already taken steps to undermine what the TPP says at clause 14.13 ( and thereafter) of the Electronic Commerce chapter.

The section on cross border data flows created three exclusionary areas that – crucially – empowered member countries to require financial information about their citizens to be carried on local servers, in-country. There are obvious privacy and accountability advantages in that being the case. . The US financial services industry however, has strongly objected. Dozens of members of the US Congress wrote to the White House objecting to this restriction on US corporate power. The White House has rushed to concoct a solution to their liking. Initially, it would require all future trade deals to reverse the problematic data localisation requirements of the TPP.

The Obama administration said Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with the financial services industry that could smooth passage of the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

The thrust of the new proposal, which is aimed at placating concerns about a provision in the TPP that could give foreign governments the ability to require U.S. businesses to maintain data servers within their borders, would broadly prohibit requirements for data storage.

The overhauled framework would apply only to ongoing and future trade negotiations — such as the Trade in Services Agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the European Union and the U.S.-China Bilateral Investment Treaty — and not to the Pacific Rim pact.

So are the TPP provisions on data localization safe ? Not all – because the Trade in Services agreement will quickly supersede the TPP:

Most of the TPP’s largest trading partners are part of other agreements such as the trade in services talks, including Australia, Canada, Chile, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand and Peru, so the data localization obligations would eventually apply to them.

Easy peasy. So… if and when the TPP contains something that US corporates don’t like – ie that accidentally empowers the citizenry – the multinationals in question will simply pile pressure on the politicians, and circumvent the TPP. According to the TPP text, signatory governments retain the power to exempt financial services from the prohibitions otherwise on cross border data flows – but apparently, the Trade In Services Agreement will soon to be made top negate that protection. Needless to say, the power to drive around – or over – any other contentious parts of the TPP is not available to any other signatory to this abysmal document.

Footnote : Canadian IP expert Michael Geist has an interesting column on the TPP data localization issue and its related privacy defences here.

And in another, last minute addition…. here’s a segment from a report a day or so ago by the (paywalled) trade industry Bible, World Trade Online.

First, the TPP contained provisions that had to be subverted:

Once complaints by Congress and others arose over the TPP provision exempting financial services firms from the data localization ban, the administration went “back to the table with the regulators to determine if there might be another way of crafting this for future agreements that would allow regulators to get the information they need but still give financial services more similar benefits to the 80 percent of the economy that secured the provisions for the first time [in TPP],” he said. “That’s the balance we’re working on achieving.”

Pursuing the fix in future trade agreements was based on the administration’s assessment that the TPP could not be renegotiated, Deputy US Trade Representative Robert Holleyman said. “We can’t take bits and pieces of TPP and reopen it for negotiation,” he said. “We’ve tried to look for alternative ways that we could address the concerns of members of Congress and others.”

Driving around the TPP via the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) was the way ahead for dealing with most TPP member countries, but this route will not become available not – it seems – until later this year.

Holleyman did not provide a specific answer in response to a question on when the U.S. would propose the fix in the TISA negotiations. A Geneva source said this week that data flow issues and local data requirements are unlikely to be discussed in TISA until later this year.

Malaysia and Vietnam still remain problematic, since they’re TPP members who do not belong to some of the other trade pacts planned to be covered by the proposed fix. But note how – as usual with the TPP- the corporate insiders have been given access to the text of the fix, before it gets made public.

The [Obama] administration has told financial services industry sources that it will provide cleared advisers with the final legal text this month.

Finally, Holleyman urges Congress and other US corporates, to look on the bright side. Look, he urges, at how the TPP bans foreign governments from enforcing data localisation in all other areas of US commerce, besides financial services :

Holleyman also argued that although TPP does not ban data localization for financial services, it is the first trade agreement to address the issue for other businesses. “There has never been any trade agreement that the U.S. have ever negotiated that has made it impermissible for countries to require that data be stored in their country in all sectors,” he said. “There’s no trade agreement that prohibits forced localization of data.”

According to Holleyman….the TPP provision that fails to make financial services firms subject to a ban on data localization requirements was due to objections raised by U.S. regulators. “Our regulators had concerns because they require certain data to be held in the United States to meet their regulatory purposes, so the TPP agreement reflected that concern of the regulators,” Holleyman said.

Those darned regulators got into this mess, Holleyman is saying, aand the Obama administration has had to sit down with those regulators and devise a fancy way of plucking victory for the US financial services industry from the jaws of their partial TPP defeat. New Zealand? Obviously, we should be regarding this as a unilateral US effective rewrite of the TPP.


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