Our government votes on the TPP Agreement Amendment Bill next week. It is a futile gesture. The United States has pulled the plug on the TPP. President Obama has said that he will not try to pass the bill in the lame duck session before Donald Trump is sworn in.
Donald Trump says the deal is off. He has promised to protect US companies and US jobs. He intends to do this by increasing tariffs on imports, especially from China and Mexico. ‘Free trade’ is not on his agenda. It will be back to the drawing board for future trade agreements.
While Trump’s win (with fewer votes than Clinton) is disastrous in many ways, in this respect it is good news for New Zealand. The Trans-Pacific Partnership was never about trade. It was intended to allow big transnational corporations to make elected governments play by their rules. And their most important rule is nothing should interfere with corporate rights to make a profit.
If Donald Trump intends to go back to the drawing board on trade deals, the rest of us should go there too. Starting with setting the goals for trade.
Trade should not be about enabling corporate giants to increase their profits. Trade should not be about allowing producers in one country to force their products on another country to the detriment of local producers. Trade should not be about finding the cheapest workforce. Trade should not be an excuse to pollute the planet.
Trade deals cannot be about each country fostering its own interests. Trade has to be about fostering global interests. Trade has to work for every person on the planet, and work for the planet itself.
It is not good enough to use trade deals to tear up the rulebook. ‘Free trade’ comes at an enormous cost – for everyone.
Trade is not environmentally neutral. Trade increases consumption, using up resources and increasing emissions. Moving goods about the planet also increases emissions.
Regulation of trade is not bad. Regulation of trade puts people before profits. New Zealand’s gun laws reduce the profits of gun manufacturers. Should we be forced to adopt US gun laws so as not to interfere with the profit-making ability of gun manufacturers in the same way that we have been forced to increase our copyright and patent periods so as not to interfere with the profit-making ability of US pharmaceutical and entertainment industry giants? A chilling thought. Though people dying because they can’t afford lifesaving medication is just as bad.
We have a chance now to debate the socially and environmentally necessary limits on market activity. The world has already pledged to reduce global warming to less than 2 degrees, so any trade deals should include reference to the Paris agreement and ways for this to be achieved. Ways of sharing and disseminating important information and technology so that everyone can benefit should be part of discussions. So should dealing with inequality and improving human rights.
In the wake of the US elections, our government needs to get its head out of the sand. Throw out the TPP Agreement Amendment Bill – it will never happen. Start thinking about ethical, socially just, environmentally responsible trading from a global perspective, not just New Zealand dairy farm owners. Donald Trump knows what the problem is (sort of) but he does not have the solutions. He will only mete out punishment to those he thinks are to blame.
There is plenty of expertise in New Zealand and we have friends around the world that would be only too pleased to help. It is our chance to redeem ourselves. We started the whole sorry TPP agreement. Let’s make sure our next deals are about fair trade not free trade.