We Voted For Change. Will We Get It?

It looks like voters will find out sooner rather than later whether they really did get the change of government they voted for.

The TPP partners minus the US are to meet in Japan in the next two weeks to try to revive the deal. Sadly, it appears the content is the same as it has always been, from investor state dispute settlement clauses to lengthened copyright and patent times which will bump up the price of medicine. It is still just a tool to allow corporations, many of which are, ironically, US based, to impose their rules on democratically elected governments to maximise corporate profits.

Prior to becoming the government, the Greens, Labour, and NZ First all spoke out against the TPP. They agreed trade deals need a major overhaul to ensure they work in the best interests of the people and the environment, not big corporations. Based on what was said, it should be safe to assume that New Zealand will not even consider aligning itself with the deal as it stands.

As Professor Jane Kelsey has pointed out, the new government cannot possibly implement the changes it has signalled if it signs up to trade deals the way they are written. Even the flagship policy of preventing foreign investors from buying up houses cannot happen, let alone the measures needed to make meaningful inroads into cutting our carbon emissions.

Will the government honour their pre-election promises, delivered in person by representatives of their parties to the many thousands of New Zealanders who took to the streets to protest the TPP? Or will they bow to corporate pressure like the National/ACT coalition before them?

At the very least, nothing should be signed before a thorough analysis of the effects of these deals, economically and socially, on both people and the environment everywhere. Not just in New Zealand. The world has changed significantly since the emergence of ‘free’ trade in the 1980’s. In 2017, tariffs are the least of our worries.

We now know that the Earth’s resources are finite and are being used up much faster than they can be replenished. We know that carbon dioxide emissions are set to cause catastrophic climate change if we do not act quickly to reduce them.

We know that pollution is causing damage to the Earth’s ecosystem, and that methods of production and overproduction of non-recyclable consumables is largely to blame for this.

We know that economic inequality is rife both within countries and between countries, and that much of the political and social unrest in the world is caused by inequality. But we also know that there are enough resources for all, today and for future generations, if they are distributed more equitably and sustainably.

We know that the solution is for sovereign nations, companies, and individuals to work cooperatively, not in competition with each other. Trade agreements have to move beyond each participant trying to secure competitive advantages for one or two dominant companies or industries domiciled in their country.

Our new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said that she believes climate change could be her generation’s nuclear free moment. This is an exciting prospect. But she will not achieve this without a major rethink of how trade is conducted.

There is an opportunity here for Jacinda and New Zealand to make our mark. To lead the world in developing rules for trade that will put social justice and climate change at their core. Please grasp it with both hands.

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