This cartoon by Mat Brady won the people's choice award in the TPPA cartoon competition

When is a trade deal not a trade deal, but a grab by multinational corporations to undermine our environmental protection law?  When it’s the TPPA.

In early December, the next round of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) negotiations will be taking place in Auckland.  But what exactly is the TPPA?  When in Asia recently, John Key was talking up his discussions with President Obama about making ‘progress on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement’. Sounds very important and must have something to do with free trade, and you would be forgiven for thinking so.

The Government is selling us this deal as ‘a mega trade deal’, which is wrong. Much of what this actually means for New Zealand is being withheld; discussed in secret and will be withheld from the public for many years after the agreement has been signed. Indeed the Auckland meeting will be entirely secret.

The TPPA is not a trade deal.  It is not about imports and exports – it’s about regulations and control. Its framework is designed to allow corporations to compromise the way we manage our natural resources, our health care, intellectual property. –Its tentacles reach into every aspect of our lives – to service the shareholders’ bottom line.

Our democracy, Treaty of Waitangi obligations and our self-determination are all on the line and John Key wants you to ignore the protests.

Leaked documents have shown that this agreement contains clauses that will allow overseas companies to sue the New Zealand Government. One in particular – known as the investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) - gives foreign investors special rights to take legal action against our Government (or any future government) if it attempts to change New Zealand law in a way that might undermine their profits.

Let’s look at an example.  Right now, the Government is in the process of introducing rules around activities in our Exclusive Economic Zone (the waters out to 200 nautical miles from our coast), activities such as deep sea drilling for oil.

These new rules could mean that an international oil company, such as Shell or Anadarko, may not have to meet the necessary high environmental standards proscribed under the UN Convention of the Law of the Seas (UNCLOS). Indeed, deep sea drilling could be a “permitted activity” instead of “discretionary” where they can just go ahead and drill, as of right.  Remembering of course that the BP Deepwater Horizon blowout in the Gulf of Mexico took place on an exploration well.

Both Labour and The Greens have pledged to repeal this legislation, to ensure that we meet UNCLOS requirements and put in place an environmental bottom line.  Such a move could include a provision that requires an oil company to have a relief rig on standby to help deal with a blowout.  Given recent history, and the distance we are from any help, his would seem like a fairly sensible option to safeguard our marine environment.

But if regulations requiring such a relief rig were to be imposed on Shell or Anadarko’s drilling operations in our waters, under the TPPA, they could take legal action to stop those laws - because that pesky relief rig, there to protect our precious coastlines, could affect the company’s profits and shareholder dividends.

And these court cases DO happen.  Only this month, US gas company, Lone Pine Resources, has announced it is launching a legal challenge to Quebec’s fracking ban - seeking more than NZ$300 million in compensation. The challenge is under NAFTA’s provisions very similar to those that would be in the TPPA.

In Australia, tobacco giant Phillip Morris is suing the Government for introducing plain packaging legislation, using provisions from the bilateral investment treaty Australia has with Hong Kong.

This is why Australia, also involved in the TPPA negotiations, has rejected this clause out of hand. Indeed, the Australian Government’s Productivity Commission's warned that a clause opening up the country to corporate compensation claims had no economic justification and would carry policy and fiscal costs.

Fears that American mega-companies could gain control over New Zealand's lawmaking process have provoked a strong response from dozens of the country's legal minds. Over hundred retired judges, prominent legal academics, lawmakers and leading practitioners from New Zealand and overseas recently called for the investor state dispute settlement provisions to be excluded from the TPP.

Which begs the question: why would New Zealand complacently accede to these provisions?  What would we gain?  The answer is very little, if anything at all.

Given the widespread implications of this deal, it is hardly surprising that the Government is refusing to open up the negotiations for public scrutiny. All negotiating countries know what’s on the table, as do the major corporations, including Fonterra - but not the New Zealand public.

The Government has been quick to reinforce the notion that this “trade” agreement is part of Steven Joyce’s business growth agenda – the Holy Grail of economic recovery. It is the same ideology that has seen the Government gutting the Emissions Trading Scheme and pull out of Kyoto - the only binding treaty to cut climate changing emissions.  This ‘growth at any cost’ is riding roughshod over our environmental laws to favour big polluters.

If we want to put this genie back in the bottle, the TPPA will prevent us from doing so.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Trade and growth are good for our country – but they have to be driven on our terms. We can trade with those nations that need our skills and expertise in renewable energy and want to invest in our innovators without having our hands tied behind our back. We can deliver prosperity and growth for New Zealand by using our greatest resource – us and our ability to stand tall in the world. It is these strengths that have defined who we are as a nation.

A recent report from business group Pure Advantage highlighted the huge economic benefit from moving to cleaner and smarter ways of doing business. They argued that the Government is taking us in the wrong direction and making short term decisions which will have long term implications. Whether it is dismantling of our environmental safeguards or bowing to overseas corporate pressure, these decisions are not in the best interest of ordinary New Zealanders. 

By agreeing to a deal that opens the door for the corporate wolf to savage our values and monetise our heritage we will forfeit our ability to preserve our greatest assets of all – our land, our air, and our oceans.

TAKE ACTION NOW: Send a message to the leaders of all NZ political parties asking for transparency and a deal that’s in the best interests of all New Zealanders or stop the negotiations altogether.

There is lots more information about the TPPA at

Cartoon by Mat Brady won the people's choice award in the TPPA cartoon competition