Gisborne Herald | 25 February 2018
The ‘new’ TPP and our shrinking democracy
by Tony Holman
The hope of many people for a fresh, principled coalition government has already been dashed for those who believed Labour and NZ First would keep to their earlier statements strongly opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal — especially removing the core problem of the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement) provisions.
Although much factual and research information has been published in various places, many are probably not aware of the effects TPP will have on their local council. Unfortunately they may be considerable.
It is important for citizens to put aside the comforting, vague spin words from the Government and its advisers. A reality check shows that local government will have to conform to major restrictions and interventions from overseas corporates, in the same way that central government is going to subject itself to.
In essence, this is the penultimate stage of the complete privatisation of all public services. Penultimate because within three to five years after the TPP becomes operative, further regulations will come into being giving even more power to the supra-national corporates, including through ISDS.
This one-sided tribunal exists to protect the TPP “investors” (ie the corporates). Worse, the effects on your rights as a citizen are severe, as democratic and legal processes in this and other member countries are systematically demolished.
To provide some authority for this statement I refer to an article by Anthony Robins published in The Standard on February 4, 2017, who wrote:
“Last week a panel of UN experts issued warnings on the TPP.” In particular they voiced concern over adverse impacts on human rights. These concerns related to the “. . . potential detrimental impact these treaties and agreements may have on the enjoyment of human rights as enshrined in legally-binding instruments, whether civil, cultural, economic, political or social. Our concerns relate to the rights to life, food, water and sanitation, health, housing, education, science and culture, improved labour standards, an independent judiciary, a clean environment and the right not to be subjected to forced resettlement.”
Robins wrote: “Observers are concerned that these treaties and agreements are likely to have a number of retrogressive effects on the protection and promotion of human rights, including by lowering the threshold of health protection, food safety, and labour standards, by catering to the business interests of pharmaceutical monopolies . . .”
He notes that experience shows the ability of member states to legislate in the public interest is fettered and made much more difficult by the treaty processes and challenges of corporates. ISDS chapters “provide protection for investors but not for States or the population. They allow investors (companies) to sue states but not vice versa . . .”
So these factors affect both our central and local government, which, of course, means our rights as citizens at both levels.
Democracy requires that our elected bodies (central and local) must be accountable to their constituencies. Citizens must be able to influence their various levels of government, and those governments must have the freedom and flexibility to be able to respond to the needs and demands of their people.
However, it is clear from some existing international trade treaties (which have the ISDS or similar “authorities” in place) that governments are more and more tightly bound by the strict rules and policies required by the treaties, and that the ability to respond to the needs or requirements of their people and local circumstances are to be greatly shrunk.
Decision-making is being rapidly removed from our legislative and regulatory institutions and courts to an unelected body based abroad, made up of corporate interests only, and our democracy demolished in the process.
All this is happening without a full and frank disclosure to the public as to what is happening. The participating governments are acting without the authority of the people whom they are supposed to represent and protect. Instead, we are being handed over to a commercial tribunal in a foreign country comprised of representatives of companies interested only in protecting (or improving) their profits long term.
Human needs, aspirations, environment, quality of life, health, education, public ownership of water and a host of other things (including the right of the people to have a say in what happens in their country) are out the window.
Profit is king. People are the pawns, and the Government will seem to be in favour of supra-national conglomerates if it signs this “new” TPP inclusive of the ISDS.
Tony Holman QSO is a former North Shore City councillor (1995-2010), has been CEO of the Royal NZ SPCA and is a former chairman of Watercare Services Ltd. Tony lives on the North Shore.