Editorial : Sell-out New Zealand – The TPPA

Reprinted from The Common Good, No 60, Lent 2012

The picture of the Italian luxury liner Costa Concordia tilting dangerously on its side provides an apt metaphor for what the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) offers our region.

Shapely but hopelessly unbalanced, its guts have been wrenched out forcing people to die below decks in terror and darkness, swamped by the in-rushing sea and trapped by a powerlessness to change their situation. The captain and owners are denying all responsibility. The public spin-controlled image of the TPPA resembles this doomed ship. With the whole world’s economic system tilting dangerously and listing lopsidedly in choppy seas, the TPPA promises millions more will become victims of neo-liberal economic policies as the rich seek to maintain their grip on their wealth and power. There is every incentive for the rich and powerful to further entrench inequality into the current social and economic systems. Why would they not? The TPPA does that. It seeks to trade away New Zealand’s sovereignty in everything but name.

In essence, this treaty is about investor clauses which allow foreign corporations to rip the guts out of NZ public services. Economic control of our own future simply slips further from our hands. Such corporations are unelected and unaccountable. In these international agreements, these huge conglomerates wield almost total power and use their muscle to fend off the competition.

There is every incentive for the rich and powerful to further entrench inequality into the current social and economic systems. Why would they not? The TPPA does that

Take for example the issue of smoking and tobacco sales. If the NZ parliament decided that packets of cigarettes should be black with only death warnings on the packaging, under the TPPA the government here could be prevented from allowing such health warnings and instead be forced to promote the brand in glittering letters. So much for sovereignty!

The talks are being conducted in secret. The public have virtually no idea of what is going on. All the public have been given is a bit of political spin, like a tourist brochure for a cruise liner. Deny it as they may, it is the weaker economies which will suffer most. New Zealand has one of the weaker economies. The nine governments have agreed to not release texts and background documents until four years after negotiations have concluded! This is intolerable.

Section 9 of the SOE Act requires the government to comply with ‘the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’. Is the abolition of Section 9 the smoking gun the government wants to hide in its TPPA negotiations? It makes sense that it should if you follow the government’s thinking. Rest assured that overseas investors will not want a bar of any talk of the Treaty in their dealings with NZ. No need to give preference to Maori if Section 9 is abolished. Secrecy is essential for this further act of betrayal.

Moral Issues and Christian Teaching

There are however huge moral issues at stake which the Church should be gravely concerned about. The TPPA process undermines some very core concepts of Church social teaching. These are insights which flow from the Gospels and have formed part of our social teachings framework for more than 800 years. Take the issue of the common good, first spelt out in detail by St Thomas Aquinas and held as sacred Catholic teaching ever since.

Christians should be concerned. These are all issues that the Church has strong moral teachings on. The recent social justice document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome is damning in its condemnation of ‘economic liberalism’ and ‘the idolatry of the market.’

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, the protection of the principle of subsidiarity so that the weak and powerful don’t dominate the poor and weak, protection of human rights and a ‘preferential option for the poor and the oppressed’.

Where is there any evidence that these conditions are being met? Where is the analysis which says that trade pacts like TPPA are good for the ordinary people, that they fit the prescriptions of the common good? Where is consideration of issues of justice for workers and consumers? Do worker organizations and consumer groups get a say in the formation of the agreements?

What rights will workers have to a fair wage and decent conditions when trans-national companies are totally 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 labour’ economies, where will free will and choice fit into their efforts to promote fair trading practices?

Christians should be concerned. These are all issues that the Church has strong moral teachings on. The recent social justice document from the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace in Rome is damning in its 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 make the ‘free market’ control everything. That’s another word for idolatry.

These secret negotiations are all about further enriching the corporate elite of world capitalism. This involves blatant theft on a grand scale. There will be virtually no accountability. It further disenfranchises the very people Jesus blessed while on earth – the poor and the disadvantaged.

Our Government needs to be told in no uncertain terms to withdraw from these talks.

Jim Consedine

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