Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Give and take"

John Key says there will be "give and take" in the negotiation of a free-trade deal with the US, and that we shouldn't rule out anything. Unfortunately, his specific examples - Pharmac and intellectual property law - are exactly the areas which we should be laying down as bottoms lines, and refusing to shift on. Pharmac saves us millions of dollars a year by leveraging our bulk purchasing power to bulk-buy pharmaceuticals and buying generic rather than branded drugs (the pharmaceutical equivalent of Pams or HomeBrand). But those savings mean that the American pharmaceutical industry - which has an army of lobbyists in Washington - doesn't get to screw us for monopoly profits, and so the Americans want to get rid of it.

Its a similar story on intellectual property. Currently despite the government's best efforts, we have a fairly standard intellectual property regime. But the US wants to impose on the world their draconian system of guilt upon accusation, near-permanent copyright (backed up by mandatory Digital Rights Management to prevent legal fair use), and bullshit patents for obvious "innovations" - all so Disney (who likewise has an army of lobbyists in Washington) can continue to screw profits out of cartoons that in any civilised country would already have entered the public domain.

These are both cases where we should not have a bar of any US demands, and any negotiation by the government will result in a significant loss to the people of New Zealand. But Key doesn't care about us - he only cares about getting the kudos for cutting the deal.

Meanwhile, I'm wondering how else Key is willing to sell us out to get a deal. Both ACC and the public health system limit the ability of US insurers to profit from human misery (and by cheating their clients). Are they on the table too? The problem with these sorts of negotiations is precisely that they are conducted in secret, giving us no effective oversight - and once they're signed, we can't get out of them; there's no Parliamentary ratification process to limit the ability of the government to make a bad deal. The result is that major policy changes can be made by stealth, with complete immunity from the OIA or parliamentary oversight. And there is nothing we can do about it. That sounds like something we should change...