|The Zombie TPPA is creeping back to life
When the last It’s Our Future Bulletin came out in late February, the TPPA countries — minus the US, and plus China and the South Korea — were poised to meet in Chile to try and salvage the toxic agreement after the withdrawal of the US.
Prior to that meeting, over 1200 IOF supporters signed on to a petition to the NZ Trade Minister Todd McClay asking him to pull our country out of the negotiations. IOF was also party to an open letter of over 200 civil society groups urging the ministers from the TPPA countries to reject the TPPA model for future trade agreements.
At first, it seemed as though the outcome of the talks (which, surprisingly, featured a minor US presence) was a lot of optimistic rhetoric (particularly from NZ and Australia) but no real prospect of a revived TPPA.
Unfortunately, the situation has changed. Japan has recently revised it’s initial position that a TPPA without the United States would be “meaningless” and is now supportive of a new agreement with the remaining TPPA countries. There has since been a suggestion from senior Australian and Canadian officials that the UK ought to be included in the proposed agreement.
Senior trade officials from the TPPA countries are also due to meet in Toronto, Canada on May 2-3 to set out a roadmap for negotiations towards a new agreement in advance a full ministerial meeting on the sidelines of the upcoming APEC meeting on 20-21 May in Hanoi, Vietnam.
It now looks as though there is a real possibility of a new agreement between the TPPA parties — minus the US — based on the scrapped TPPA. This is a worrying development. Professor Jane Kelsey said it best in a recent press release, describing New Zealand’s pursuit of TPPA-minus-1 as “ideological recklessness” given that even the marginal economic gains from market access to the United States that were on the table under the TPPA are no longer available. Still, any new agreement that arises out of these negotiations will inevitably be very different from the original TPPA given the dramatic shift in power dynamics between the parties. Also, there is no reason that people power cannot either kill this new agreement the same way it did the original TPPA if the agreement develops along similar lines. For those of us in New Zealand, it is important that we make this an election issue and punish National in the polls for its blind pursuit of “free trade” at the expense of public policy.
Renegotiation of NZ-China FTA
New Zealand has had a free trade agreement (“FTA”) in place with China since 2008. Earlier this year the NZ and Chinese governments announced that they would attempt to renegotiate the agreement. These negotiations were due to commence on 25 April 2017. New Zealand’s primary objective in these negotiations is likely to be the removal of quantitative restrictions on the amount of dairy that can be exported to China before heavy tariffs kick in.
NZ has already phased out all tariffs on Chinese imports as at 2016 under the existing NZ-China FTA, so it is unclear what it is that the government will be putting on the table as a bargaining chip. There is a dangerous possibility that NZ negotiators will be tempted to sell out our regulatory sovereignty and/or further open up major NZ infrastructure projects to Chinese State-owned enterprises in exchange for better market access. As Professor Kelsey has pointed out, the Chinese trade agenda will not be benign and we would do well as a nation to think very carefully about our approach in negotiations with the world’s new superpower.
Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership
The RCEP negotiations — between China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, South Korea and the ASEAN nations — are officially due to be finished by the end of the year. In reality, however, commentators predict that the agreement will take much longer to conclude, if at all, due to competing visions for the agreement and the very different strategic interests of the parties. At one end, New Zealand, Australia and Japan are pushing for an agreement with tough rules similar to the TPPA, including for investment and trade in services. At the other end, China is reportedly pushing for a more traditional free trade agreement focusing on reductions in tariffs on goods. At this stage, there does not appear to be any serious chance of RCEP being concluded in the immediate future.
In the last IOF bulletin I had a brain fade and erroneously stated that there had not yet been any leaks of the RCEP negotiating texts. This is not true. The complete list of leaks to date are available between KEI Online (the website of Knowledge Ecology International) and bilaterals.org. Analysis of the negotiations to date are available on both sites, as well as at the dedicated website, https://rceplegal.wordpress.com/. Of particular concern is the inclusion of Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions in the leaked negotiation texts.
Despite the slow movement on the RCEP negotiations, grassroots opposition to the agreement is growing. Since the last bulletin, both Medicines San Frontiers and a large alliance of Peoples groups in India have released open letters critical of the RCEP negotiations. These are available here and here.
New Zealand Trade policy “refresh”
On 24 March 2017 the National-led government released its long-heralded refreshed trade policy. Unsurprisingly, the policy is nothing new. Significantly, the policy seeks to cover 90 percent of New Zealand’s merchandise goods exports through FTAs by 2030. Critical commentaries penned by Green Party MP and former IOF co-ordinator Barry Coates can be found here and on the daily blog.
Trade in Services Agreement
In the last bulletin we mentioned that the Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA) negotiations were on hold while the world tried to come to grips the US government’s trade agenda under Donald Trump. This isn’t any clearer now than it was then, and sources close to the TiSA negotiations report that there will be no further meetings towards the agreement for the remainder of 2017.
IOF election campaign
Thank you everyone for your input so far on a progressive trade policy platform to campaign around in the upcoming New Zealand general election. In light of the developments around TPPA-minus-1, we are still developing our approach. In the meantime, please keep sending through your ideas on the policies and values that ought to underpin a progressive trade model to replace the outdated neoliberal orthodoxy in our rapidly changing world.
Ngā mihi koutou, please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions or comments.
It’s Our Future Coordinator