Many New Zealanders have spent the best part of the last two years fighting that misnamed “free trade” agreement, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), with no end in sight. And now we have its spawn, TISA (Trades In Services Agreement) and PACER-Plus (a Pacific free trade and investment agreement covering 14 Pacific Island countries, plus Australia and New Zealand), to contend with. The Europeans have their equivalent in the TTIP, and they don’t like it any more than we do.
By now most people have worked out that corporatist profit protection is what these deals are about. They are about allowing corporates to roam the world at will to find the cheapest way to produce their goods – lowest wages, poorest working conditions, laxest environmental controls. They enshrine in every country’s laws the right to indefinite protection for their logos, trademarks, and product designs. And they force governments to allow them to make a profit out of essential public services, previously provided by the government themselves or small local not for profit organizations. This is the real definition of “free trade”. There is nothing free about it – except for an elite few.
What a waste of time and energy. In the meantime, inequality is increasing and climate change is gathering momentum with each year. Not the ingredients for a safe and stable future world for anyone, rich or poor.
Imagine if, before they embarked on this futile free trade mission, the powers that be had looked around themselves and consulted a little more widely than with the corporate CEOs offering them a free lunch. They might have realized that the problems confronting the world were not tariffs and other restrictions that prevented transnational corporates from making as much profit as possible, but rather the abysmally poor wages paid out to many of the world’s workers, appalling working conditions, and the highly polluting, resource-wasteful ways most of our goods and services are produced.
Imagine if our global trade agreements had set out to address these very issues. Instead of protesting, we would have been celebrating. Celebrating fair trade agreements that required a living wage to all workers (not just a minimum wage), imposed stringent health and safety conditions, and prohibited environmentally damaging production methods. The dispute tribunals embedded in the agreements could have been used to give states the power to challenge corporations that did not meet these standards, rather than allow corporations to impose their will on democratically elected governments.
Greater equality, well paid, healthy workers and their families across the globe, reduced pollution, lower threat of global warming, respect for democracy. What’s not to like? Is there one good reason why we can’t be negotiating fair trade agreements right now? Other than the corporations don’t want us to.