Monday, February 07, 2011

Key lied about investment clauses

One of the worst features of modern free trade agreements are investment clauses. First emerging in NAFTA, these allow foreign companies to sue governments for profits "expropriated" by regulatory changes (for example, by tightened environmental regulations, changes to employment law producing better working conditions, or safer food standards). Such clauses transfer power from elected democratic legislatures to illegitimate, unelected corporations - and effectively prevent the former from acting in the interests of their voters.

Our government is currently negotiating a far-reaching FTA called the "Trans-Pacific Partnership". Given their past record on including such agreements in FTAs (such as the NZ-China FTA), people here were concerned that the TPP would include such a clause. So, they asked the Prime Minister about it. He denied it, calling such a suggestion "far-fetched" [link removed]. Later, his Trade Minister stood by the denial in Parliament.

It turns out they both lied to us:

This week, US trade negotiator Barbara Wiesel said that was no longer New Zealand’s position, according to TPPA critic Professor Jane Kelsey.

In response to questions about New Zealand and Australian positions during a briefing to civil society in Washington on 31st January Ms Wiesel said “New Zealand had retracted the Prime Minister’s statement. It is not their position.”

(Emphasis added)

Oddly, New Zealand was never told about this. We had to hear about our government's change in position second-hand, from the people they were negotiating with (supposedly on our behalf). Nice to know our government has such contempt for democracy that they will lie brazenly about their foreign policy to us, while cutting a deal to sell us out behind our backs.

I expect this will become a major issue when Parliament resumes tomorrow. Key and Groser are going to be asked whether they stand by their earlier denial, and their reasons (if any) for the change in position. Unfortunately, I don't expect they'll give any. That would be treating us like adult citizens in a democracy, capable of making our own decisions about what sort of deals we want to cut. And that is something that is apparently anathema in foreign policy. According to MFAT, us dirty peasants can't be trusted to know our own interests, and have to be kept in the dark to prevent us from messing things up.

The problem is that foreign policy conducted in this fashion is fundamentally illegitimate. It has no democratic mandate. Doing things this way tarnishes not just the deals in question, but our entire institution of government.

This has to change. We need openness and democracy in our foreign policy. We need openness so we can ensure our government is acting according to our wishes and not betraying us, and we need democracy in order to provide legitimacy for the deals it makes. Democracy cannot stop at the border. We cannot have a society which is a democracy internally, and a dictatorship in foreign affairs.

Update (6/10/15): Removed link that now points to a spam site.