Oppose the TPPA – An open letter from The Catholic Worker to MPs

The biggest moral question (outside climate change) facing this country at the moment concerns the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. We are worried sick about it.

The picture of the Italian luxury liner Costa Concordia tilting dangerously on its side as it sank provides an apt metaphor for what the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) offers its signatories. Shapely but hopelessly unbalanced, its guts had been wrenched out forcing people to die below decks in terror and darkness, swamped by the in-rushing sea and trapped and powerless to change their situation. The captain and ship owners are denying all responsibility.

The public spin-controlled image of the TPPA resembles this doomed ship. With the whole world economic system tilting dangerously and listing in choppy seas through its lopsided distribution of wealth and the resulting poverty that has flowed, the TPPA promises millions more people will become victims of neo-liberal economic policies as the rich elite seek to maintain their global grip on wealth and power. Our ship of state will list even further.

There is every incentive for the rich and powerful to further entrench inequality into the current social and economic systems. Why would they not? They are driven by pure greed. The TPPA does that for them. It seeks to trade away small signatory nations’ independence in everything but name.

The TPPA represents the sale of NZ’s sovereignty to overseas transnational corporations, and greatly reduces the effectiveness of our democratic processes. It is an attack on democracy itself. And it is all being done in secret.

These secret TPPA negotiations are all about further enriching the corporate elite of world capitalism. They are evolving internationally binding structures involving blatant structural theft on a scale possibly unseen before. There will be virtually no accountability. In particular, the TPPA further disenfranchises the very people Jesus blessed while on earth – the poor and the disadvantaged.

There are a number of dimensions which could be highlighted. One standout feature is that the TPPA will give international corporations the right to sue democratically elected governments if they interfere with corporate profits and don’t toe the line on imports, workers’ rights and internal treaties with indigenous peoples. ‘Any NZ government could be sued if it wanted to reclaim ownership of electricity, stop building private prisons, phase out charter schools or bring in costly mining regulations.’ The Nation, TV3, 26 October 2014

In January 2015, Wikileaks posted the almost completed investment chapter of the secretly negotiated TPPA. It made chilling reading. It confirms the NZ Government has already capitulated to US demands, including the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS).

Globally, there are growing concerns over the threats that the massive surge in ISDS cases poses to some national policies and public budgets. Countries like Germany, France, India, Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have all taken strong stands against them. Prominent critics now include former World Bank chief economist Joseph Stigliz, and the Chief Justices of Australia, Robert French, and New Zealand, Dame Sian Elias.

In May 2012, over 100 prominent jurists in New Zealand, including retired judges, former attorney generals and law professors, signed a letter opposing investor-enforcement in the TPPA. The Government ignored their plea.

Indeed, New Zealand did the exact opposite, signing up to new obligations with the Korea Free Trade Agreement which gives South Korean firms similar rights to sue us if we change our laws in ways that significantly harm their bottom line and impinge on their profits.

Secret Dispute Resolutions

‘Investor-state’ disputes (ISDS) are fought out in multi-national investment tribunals where decisions commonly favour investors and awards often run into the hundreds of millions of dollars. For example,

Chevron is suing Ecuador, one of the world’s poorest countries, to overturn a $18 billion court order to clean up toxic damage in the Amazon basin that has killed thousands of indigenous people.

Germany is being sued for US$6 billion by Swedish energy giant Vattenfall for its decision to phase out nuclear energy.

Australia and Uruguay have both been dealt billion-dollar law suits as a result of their tobacco control laws, while last year we saw the largest award in history, $US50 billion, being made against Russia, 10% of its annual budget.

A property developer in Libya, who invested only $5 million in a project he didn’t complete, was awarded $US900 million. It was mainly for lost future profits after Libya cancelled his 99-year lease. Money sucked out of Libyan state coffers!

According to the OECD the costs of defending a case averages $US8 billion. The Philippines – a country with almost 27 million people below the poverty line has so far paid $US58 million in legal costs for a long-running dispute over an allegedly corrupt contract to build an airport terminal – and an investment tribunal just decided it has no authority over the claim.

Unlike most other countries, New Zealand does not have many agreements with ISDS. Agreeing to ISDS in the TPPA, which includes the US, will allow some of the largest and most litigious companies in the world to sue New Zealand if they think the government has damaged their investment.

Veolia, the company that operates Auckland’s train system, recently sued Egypt for US$80 million for raising its minimum wage.

Newmont, the gold-mining company that operates in Waihi, recently launched a billion dollar claim against Indonesia for regulation requiring domestic processing of raw materials, which resulted in Indonesia accepting a regulatory concession.

The tobacco companies have threatened to sue the government if it goes ahead with the plain packaging tobacco laws.

The TPPA will prevent PHARMAC from bulk bargaining some generic drugs at the lowest price, thus increasing the costs of our medicines. Overseas trans-nationals will ultimately decide what drugs PHARMAC can buy.

The Treaty of Waitangi will be over-ridden if it interferes in any way with corporate business conducted under the TPPA. Maori will not be able to contest in court any decisions detrimental to their interests made under the TPPA. The Crown won’t be able to either on their behalf.

Even Business New Zealand said it sees no need for ISDS in countries that have good functioning unbiased domestic courts.

Moral Issues

There are huge moral issues at stake which Christians and all people with a heart for justice should be gravely concerned about. The TPPA process undermines some fundamental concepts of Church social teachings, and strikes at a core message of Jesus concerning the dignity and freedom of the sons and daughters of God as human beings. Billions of the already poor will be most disadvantaged.

Take the common good, first spelt out in detail by St Thomas Aquinas 800 years ago and held as sacred Church teaching ever since and a foundation stone of social justice. In our time, the common good is based on the presence of five integral features – the protection and enhancement of the environment, the need for solidarity with all those affected by decisions detrimental to them, the protection of the principle of subsidiarity so that the strong and powerful don’t dominate the poor and weak, protection of basic human rights, and a ‘preferential option for the poor and the oppressed’.

Where is there any evidence that any of these conditions will be met by the TPPA? Where is the analysis which says that trade pacts like TPPA are good for the ordinary people of a country and that they fit the prescriptions of the common good? Who will be the voice for the poor and the voiceless affected by these policies? Where are the issues of justice for workers and consumers considered? Why don’t worker organizations and consumer groups get a say in the formation of the agreements? Where are indigenous rights and treaties considered? They are not. They are simply ignored.

What rights will workers have to a fair wage and decent conditions when trans-national corporations are even further dominating the world’s economies? What about the freedom of manufacturers to get a just return for their products? If countries are locked into a pact with ‘slave labor’ economies, where will free will and choice fit into their efforts to promote fair trading practices? The TPPA is the antithesis of the common good.

These secret TPPA negotiations are all about further enriching the corporate elite of world capitalism. They are evolving internationally binding structures involving blatant structural theft on a scale possibly unseen before. There will be virtually no accountability. In particular, the TPPA further disenfranchises the very people Jesus blessed while on earth – the poor and the disadvantaged.

Pope Francis frequently, and more recently the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome, have been damming in their condemnation of ‘economic liberalism’ and ‘the idolatry of the market.’ The TPPA is a process of economic liberalism and a product of a desire to have the so-called ‘free market’ control everything. The pope has labelled this concept another word for idolatry.

New Zealand First has a Fighting Foreign Corporate Control Bill before parliament that would stop the Government including ISDS in any future treaty. We are urging you to oppose the TPPA at every turn because of the damage it will do. If that means setting aside party politics and supporting the Bill, so be it. We are begging you to do what is best for the people of this country. Give this issue an informed conscience vote.

Please. Don’t vote for the TPPA in any form.

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