TPPA: Resistance is fragile, but not futile

The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (either the TPPA or the TPP) is the next step in our neo-liberal pilgrimage to economic Mecca. Our government, in particular John Key, Steven Joyce and Tim Groser are trying to tell you it is too dense and complicated for you to understand, but you can trust them to do what is best to ensure Aotearoa New Zealand grows its GDP. Why growing GDP might be a good thing is a moot point.

The New Zealand Herald has done an outstanding job at pulling together the voices for and against the TPP in a range of articles and columns that helps us understand this 6,000 page agreement. Follow that link and look in the Trade headlines if you are interested. The key points I got out of the range of NZ Herald articles are:

  • over the next 20 years, without the TPP, our GDP will grow by 47 percent. Over the next 20 years, with the TPP our GDP will grow by 47.9 percent.
  • dairy in Japan and the USA is explicitly and formally excluded from the TPP, so our largest export earner is hamstrung at the outset.
  • Te Tiriti o Waitangi is not explicitly and formally excluded from being subject to the obligations and authority of the TPP, so, despite protests to the contrary, it will be subservient to this agreement.
  • the TPP is for corporations more than it is for states or the citizenry. Key to this is it allows corporations to sue governments where their activities impinge on their business and profit. For example, Australia has spent AUS$50 million on plain packaging for cigarettes in international court costs before they even rolled out the initiative, and this has been prior to TPP, which strengthens corporations’ rights.
  • the TPP will stunt our response to climate change, the most significant threat to humanity’s survival, as it restricts the rights of states to act in ways that will impact on corporations. Overall, the dominant corporations rely on carbon emitting activities to survive and grow.
  • economic commentators here and overseas are almost unanimous in believing the TPP will affect legislation and policy in states involved, and the Aotearoa New Zealand commentators have gone as far as to say the TPP will have a “chilling” impact.

Which comes to a question my cousin asked me: why would the government sign this agreement? Her confusion is founded in a fundamentally wrong assumption held by the majority of New Zealanders: the government of Aotearoa New Zealand exists to enact the will of the voting public, and takes actions each term to better life for the voting public. The government’s motivations, whatever the flavour, are far more complicated than that, and we do not give enough credence to the hold that corporations and well-financed lobbyists have on their decisions. For a quick study, watch the documentary Hollow Men, based on the book of the same name by Nicky Hager. Signing the TPP is consistent with the loyalties of the New Zealand government.

If you are unconvinced of the role of corporations, here is a list of the 605 corporations (originally published by Elizabeth Palmberg of Sojourners) who have had access to the TPP text from the negotiations to final copy, when you and most of our Parliament have not. This lack of access and debate is identified by Paulo Freire as a form of violence:

“Any situation in which some men prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence;… to alienate humans from their own decision making is to change them into objects.”

The TPP is not a trade agreement; it is a trans-national corporation policy document and an act of aggression against you. Of the thirty chapters in the agreement, only six deal with trade issues. The rest align laws and policy to allow corporations to operate with less barriers across borders.

Despite the secrecy around the TPP, the problem has not been finding out if the TPP is a good deal or not; enough information has been around for years to know that it is not a good deal for most New Zealanders. The problem with the TPP has always been how to resist it when our governments have been so firmly supportive of it.

Hence the breathless excitement when Labour decided that they (excepting Phil Goff who gets a Hall Pass to be a free trade curmudgeon) oppose the TPP. We really do need to take a breath on this supposedly principled position. Labour are not opposed to the TPPA; they are opposed to being in opposition. Never forget that the foundation stone of neo-liberal economics in Aotearoa New Zealand was laid by a Labour government and that government included people who are still in the Labour party today. I trust they are sincere in not wanting corporations to impact on the “average” New Zealander, but they are also firmly entrenched in upholding and supporting our current economic system. They will not dial it back.

This week at Waitangi it is likely we will see reasonably clear statements that iwi leaders do not support the signing of the TPP. But again, do not be left in a haze of confused optimism. Iwi leaders are not opposed to the TPP; they are opposed to being left out of the presumed benefits of the TPP. The most financially, politically and socially successful iwi are corporations in their own right. As fledgling corporations, they want the access they believe the TPP will provide; they just want to make sure that each iwi has a bigger bite of the benefits than other corporations because of their Article II and III rights under Te Tiriti o Waitangi.

Both Labour and iwi are very useful in opposing and resisting the TPP, but neither should be considered the lead in opposing the TPP. As I was preparing to write, I returned to Pedagogy of the Oppressed to understand my discomfort with the leadership they are showing:

“…the fact that certain members of the oppressor class join the oppressed in their struggle for liberation, thus moving from one pole of the contradiction to the other… Theirs is a fundamental role, and has been throughout the history of this struggle. It happens, however, that as they cease to be exploiters or indifferent spectators or simply the heirs of exploitation and move to the side of the exploited, they almost always bring with them the marks of their origin: their prejudices and their deformations, which include a lack of confidence in the people’s ability to think, to want, and to know. Accordingly, these adherents to the people’s cause constantly run the risk of falling into a type of generosity as malefic as that of the oppressors. The generosity of the oppressors is nourished by an unjust order, which must be maintained in order to justify that generosity. Our converts, on the other hand, truly desire to transform the unjust order; but because of their background they believe that they must be the executors of the transformation. They talk about the people, but they do not trust them; and trusting the people is the indispensable precondition for revolutionary change. A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.”

Which is to say that both Labour and iwi represent forms of power and rule. In different situations, they are themselves representatives of oppression and they bring the assumption of power-over leadership to our resistance. I reject that. Resistance is your responsibility and it is my responsibility, indeed Freire asserts that there is no higher calling: “The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves.”

Yet how can we, so weak and vulnerable, excluded and ignored, resist the TPP? On Radio New Zealand on Saturday 30 January, Kim Hill interviewed Erica Chenoweth, Professor at the University of Denver, on non-violent resistance and terrorism. It was a fantastic interview and I highly recommend you take the time to listen. There are many jewels, but relevant to considering resistance to the TPP was her point that historically, when over 3.5 percent or more of a population have been activated to resist or change their state, they have always succeeded in forcing change.

You cannot vote for the resistance. You can only join the resistance.

There will be protests at the signing, and clearly the government is worried because they have released the violent arm of the state to inquire as to the health of prominent activists. If you are available, join the protests this week. There may well be protests at Waitangi, and I encourage you to join those as well. But keep your eye on the prize. Protesting the signing by foreign ministers is like picketing the servants’ quarters. The corporations are the master, and one has to defeat the master. The corporations listed above pay the piper, and the government dances the tune.

We need to improve our awareness of these corporations and resist them and their activities:

  • protest their meetings and events. In many instances current and previous ministers come to speak at said events;
  • blockade and disrupt; most of them have offices and sites here that make it viable;
  • expose their activities and operations to public scrutiny online, in articles, in letters, in anything.
  • educate ourselves and the public about who they are and how they are impinging on our everyday lives;
  • encourage boycotts of their products. This sounds a bit pointless, but a well organised mass boycott has changed many a behaviour over the years.

The Greens and Labour (and certainly not the Māori Party or New Zealand First) cannot resist for you. They can only enter into the moral high ground of exiting the TPP agreement if we create the public consensus that it is necessary and right to exit the agreement. That consensus requires only 160,000 people nationally to become active in any or all of the above acts of resistance. Impossible? No. Change is the norm in our society and this change is not only possible but probable if it is tied to the necessity of providing a life worth living to your children and grandchildren:

“It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”

2 thoughts on “TPPA: Resistance is fragile, but not futile

  1. Remember an expert view of the TPPA, Groser said, ‘Swallowing Dead Rats’.
    Farmers are massively in debt, will the banks hold onto their mortgaged land until 2030,
    John Key thinks they will, but hey he was insulated against the 2008 crash wasnt he.
    Think about that, NZ Farmers, who do the consumers no favours, as Dairy n meat prices are set in New York, not at the farm gate.
    Its a Pyrrhic victory for National, as a major political party they wont survive until 2030.
    +Corporations will use the secret trade court to veto laws thru punitive threats.
    Political parties signing this deal are setting their golden egg laying goose free.

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