When New Zealand, Chile and Singapore kicked off the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership in 2005, the idea was that we'd win at international trade agreements by starting our own. It wasn't quite that simple.
Negotiations began in 2007 for the USA, Australia and a cluster of other countries to join the pact -- whose name was officially shortened to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) even as its membership expanded -- and they're still going on, largely in secret. The meeting just concluded in Auckland was the fifteenth.
Our own Trade minister Tim Groser is enthusiastic about TPP's potential, even as he grants that any agreement will pare back New Zealand's sovereignty, chiefly through the proposed investor-state dispute process, which would give international companies the right to sue the government.
But others beg to differ -- and although there's a well-organised public lobby against TPP, its opponents aren't just the usual suspects. Internet NZ and its counterparts around the region are alarmed by TPP's intellectual property chapter, which they believe would trade our sovereign copyright law for agricultural access to US markets.
They see the end of parallel imports, region-free DVD players, and the open internet. Most worryingly: the erosion of Pharmac's leverage in buying medicines for our health system.
The scrap hasn't troubled the front page much -- but commentators have argued furiously in the business pages. In the Herald, Fran O'Sullivan has noted the conflicting imperatives of the tech and agricultural sectors -- and acknowledged sharply differing views on TPP in the winder business community -- but remains a supporter of the pact:
If the TPP is in New Zealand business' interests - as I believe it is - the business sector needs to step up both its public and private advocacy.
Gareth Morgan shares none of her optimism and believes than any trade gains New Zealand might make in a TPP agreement will be outweighed by losses:
Leave Pharmac alone America, just buy our butter and wool and we’ll buy your Harley Davidsons. Or get lost and we’ll deal with China instead.
If there's one thing both sides might agree on, it's that TPP has not been discussed nearly broadly enough, given its likely impact on New Zealand and New Zealanders. Good, bad, oversold or underappreciated: TPP is happening.
On Media3 this week, we'll invite Fran O'Sullivan and staunch TPP opponent Bernard Hickey to have it out with respect to the agreement and, the way it's covered (or not) in the news media. It'll be lively.
If you'd like to join us for tomorrow's recording, we'll need you to come to the Villa Dalmacija ballroom, 10 New North Road, at 5.30pm.