Thursday, June 14, 2012

National lies to us over the TPPA

Back in 2010, when criticisms first emerged of the possibility of an "investment clause" allowing foreign companies to sue governments in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, John Key was unequivocal. Such a possibility was "far-fetched", and New Zealand would not sign up to any such clause.

He lied. The latest leaked draft [PDF] shows exactly such a clause, with the full support of New Zealand. As for what it will mean in practice, we have only to look across the Tasman, where tobacco companies are suing the Australian government under their investment treaty with Hong Kong to prevent the implementation of that country's plain-packaging law.

This is an obscenity. It is also an explicitly anti-democratic move, allowing foreign corporations to overturn the decisions of democratically elected governments simply because they potentially cost them money. But beyond that, the mere existence of such a clause and threat of such lawsuits will have a chilling effect on public interest regulation. Want to raise environmental standards? Increase the minimum wage? Protect public health? Some bunch of greedy, psychopathic Americans might sue.

The New Zealand government should not sign up to this treaty if it includes this clause. If National does, the opposition should make it clear that they will withdraw from it. It is that simple.

Meanwhile, its worth remembering that the only reason National can get away with this two-faced duplicity of telling us one thing while telling foreigners another is because the negotiations are conducted in secret. We need more transparency in our foreign policy, so that our government can be properly held to account for it.