Despite the hype, trade negotiators walked away from the latest round of Trans Pacific Partnership talks. They put on a brave face. They were 98% in agreement, so they say. And each participating country was quick to point out it wasn’t their fault negotiations failed. They bargained in good faith.
But fail they did, and for that the people of New Zealand and all the other countries involved should be truly grateful. The TPP is not a deal that will benefit any of us unless we have shares in one of the massive multinational corporations that would call the shots if the deal went ahead.
The TPP was scuppered by parochial vested interests, dairy farmers in New Zealand and Canada, the automotive industry in Japan and Mexico. Only Chile seemed to have wider public good in mind with their major sticking point the increased patent period for new biologics.
The 12 years proposed by the US would push up health care costs and lead to restricted access, further exacerbating the two tier system that already exists globally where the rich have access to much better health care than the poor. That someone could die from a health issue that is treatable simply because of the cost of treatment should have been an anathema to all participating countries, but scarcely raised a mention.
Negotiators say they will eventually reach agreement and will meet again, possibly in November. However the sticking points are difficult, the proponents of both sides generally support the neoliberals so cannot be dismissed without fear of voter reprisals.
For now there is a window, a breather for Minister Grosser’s “breathless children”. We have a chance to talk about the type of trade deals we would like to see. Trade deals that put reducing inequality and protecting the environment at the top of their agenda, not increasing corporate profits.
Trade is important. It could improve the lives of people everywhere, but it needs to be approached from a different angle. Trade deals have the potential to rein in and downsize the corporates rather than give them carte blanche to roam the world at will. Trade deals could enact such vital documents as the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the Earth Charter. Trade deals could all but eliminate poverty.
But to do that, trade deals would need all participants to put aside parochial interests and think globally. Representatives of workers organizations, indigenous peoples, health professions, environmental experts, small scale producers would need to be allowed to put their views to negotiators. Conversely, corporations would need to be barred from any access. Let them be the ones to wave the placards and march down the main street trying to get their voices heard for a change.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus in the US has put out their prototype for a decent trade deal, “Principles for Trade; A Model for Global Progress”. This is a starting point. New Zealand progressives should do the same and call on other countries to join in.
We “the breathless children” have the wind in our sails. Public opinion has swung against the TPP and we must make the most of it. We need to show what we are made of, that we can do more than just critique the ideas of the neoliberals. We need to put forward solutions, a better alternative, so that when the corporates and neoliberals regroup – and regroup they will – ours is the standard they are measured against.