Yesterday in Parliament I asked the Prime Minister if he is planning to change our laws to implement the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA), even before it is clear if the US Congress will ratify it.
The Prime Minister said he was going to push ahead with changing our laws and wouldn’t wait to see if the US was going to actually ratify the agreement.
If Congress doesn’t agree to the TPPA, or if the Japanese Parliament doesn’t, the whole deal falls apart. This is because the TPPA requires ratification by countries representing at least 85 percent of the total GDP, and that means the US and Japan have to be on board.
The problem is that it’s far from clear if the US Congress will ever ratify the TPPA in its current form. A majority is currently opposed. Some members are demanding further concessions for the US tobacco industry or the big pharmaceutical companies, which would be bad for New Zealand. While President Obama is supportive, none of the Democratic or Republican front-runners to replace him support the TPPA.
We could find ourselves in a lose-lose situation where we’ve changed our laws to suit the TPPA, but the TPPA itself never comes into force so the tariffs and other trade barriers don’t disappear for our exporters.
So then I asked, if the TPPA becomes null and void because the US Congress dumps it, will New Zealand reverse the changes to our laws that we’ll have already made?
The Prime Minister’s answer was no. The Government won’t delay introducing and passing legislation to ratify the TPPA, and then won’t reverse the laws if it doesn’t go ahead.
He seems to be saying that we could be left with several alarming changes to our laws, with absolutely no trade benefit in return. These include:
- Raising the threshold at which Overseas Investment Office approval is needed from $100 million to $200 million, making it easier for overseas investors to buy up our farmland and industry.
- Changing the length of copyright from 50 years to 70 years, with an annual cost of around $55 million. We’ll also need to establish new enforcement powers for Customs, and new civil and criminal penalties for copyright infringement.
- Changes to the Patents Act, which are likely to complicate Pharmac’s access to cheaper medicines.
- Changing the Plant Varieties Act, making it harder for farmers to save seeds for use in the following season, and the Agricultural Compounds and Veterinary Medicines Act to strengthen the rights of agricultural chemical manufacturers.
- Changes to the Tariff Act and the Customs and Excise Act – dropping our tariffs for other TPPA countries.
- Changes to the Trade Marks Act.
Thankfully, some of the most alarming aspects of the TPPA, such as the investor state dispute process that allows corporations to sue governments, don’t require legislative change. So if the TPPA does fall apart in the US Congress, we won’t have already swallowed that particular dead rat. But we will have swallowed others.