Speeches and Articles

TPP and human rights

29 November 2012


  • I present my sincere apologies for being unable to join the Symposium this evening due to other commitments.  I congratulate the Association on taking the initiative to discuss these issues - it is right that there should be robust public debate on all aspects of TPP
  • Those opposed to TPP claim that the future agreement will be more than just a conventional FTA.  This is true.  TPP has the potential to go way deeper into domestic policy settings than a conventional FTA and thus requires careful consideration.  But TPP is still a work in progress (which is why we don’t refer to it as “TPPA” - there is no A, at least not yet).  Opponents of TPP often claim with certainty that TPP will do this or that - such as spell the end of cheaper medicines, result in multinationals suing governments or bringing down the Internet - in fact, at this stage such criticism is premature because the final contours of TPP are simply not yet known. In a similar way those of us who are TPP enthusiasts need to be careful not to present the expected benefits of TPP as a given.  Much will depend on the work of negotiators and their success in bringing a complex negotiation to a successful conclusion
  •  TPP is a negotiation between 11 economies in the Asia Pacific (including of course the largest of them all, the United States).  Negotiations are by their nature uncertain in terms of outcome.  It is tempting to see the negotiation proceeding in terms of a given template but this is clearly not the case.  Of course all the participants have templates of their own and want others to sign on to them (even New Zealand has a preferred template which is clear from our FTAs with China and ASEAN) but at the end of the day this will depend on the ability to find common ground and strike a consensus.  Even the United States will not get all it wants anymore than it has in other international negotiations in a range of other areas.  It is not for nothing that trade negotiations are called the art of the possible.  In the context of TPP there are 11 partners trying to find a common way forward but united in the idea that more trade and investment, better regulations, less time and cost in doing business will be good for the economy, for growth and jobs.  And in a world where governments are broke and finding it increasingly difficult to pull on the levers of sustainable growth, it’s not surprising that they are turning to trade and investment to get economies growing again
  • If it is to be ultimately successful in promoting growth TPP needs to reflect the way business is being done today - increasingly today business models based on import/export are giving away to more sophisticated forms of internationalisation where services and investment come into play and business is being transacted with global supply chains.  That’s probably why TPP is often described as a next generation or a 21st century agreement.  What this means in practice isn’t entirely clear and probably won’t be until the work is complete, but what this seems to point to is that the range of issues under discussion is broader than previously.  Trade negotiators are increasingly being drawn into uncharted territory.  And this means they will need to take account of a range of issues and interests that they may not have encountered before.   Any next generation trade agreement is only going to be as good as the policy development process that has gone into its formulation.  What we see today is that the policy formulation process is going to need to be very careful in the way it draws in the views of stakeholders including business and civil society.  That’s why TPP negotiators in all economies are reaching out to stakeholders and why a TPP Stakeholder Forum will take place in Auckland next week 
  • Those opposed to TPP will claim this is not enough and that true consultation can only take place on the basis of the text of the agreement.  The unfortunate fact of the matter is there is no final text, and won’t be until the negotiation is concluded - revealing the negotiating texts too soon in the negotiating process will simply lead to the negotiation being undermined by different groups who fear their interests are being impacted negatively.  We have seen this time and time again in other international negotiations both in the WTO and the Kyoto Protocol.  That certainly doesn’t mean that negotiators should not be open to stakeholder views. Here in New Zealand officials are meeting regularly and often with stakeholders from all sectors of the community.  Steps towards greater transparency in the process are welcome - but not at the price of getting the business done.
  • Where does all this leave us in terms of the impact on human rights?  The question is a legitimate one but perhaps a little premature:  until the negotiation is concluded I suspect it is hard to be definitive however much those opposed to TPP will take a different view.  In any event there would be little interest in business for a future arrangement that posed challenges for human rights in any TPP economy. For the time being I believe we can have confidence that our negotiators are working under the close supervision of Ministers under a mandate established by Cabinet and with a fair degree of bipartisan consensus in Parliament.  When they have finished their work the final result will need to be subject to the ratification process established under New Zealand’s international treaty making processes - this means scrutiny by Parliament and Select Committee, national interest analysis, submissions from stakeholders including those in this room and elsewhere, and changes to legislation where these are required.   If we have confidence in our national institutions -  and I realise there are some here who do not and they are entitled to their view - but if we do, then I think we can be reassured that TPP once concluded will not diminish human rights in New Zealand but will have positive impacts on growth, jobs, and national welfare.


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