Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on copyright, the Authors Guild case and the TPP

October 23rd, 2015

A few days ago, Google finally and comprehensively won a very long-running case brought against it by the Authors Guild which had claimed that Google’s Book Project – which operates as a digital library catalogue with a few snippets of content to contextualise and focus the search – amounted to a violation of copyright. In finding in favour of Google, the US Second Court of Appeals ringingly re-stated the purpose of copyright in terms that are useful and relevant here in New Zealand. Especially now that the IP chapter of the Trans Pacific Partnership ‘trade’ deal has turned back the clock and extended the copyright term from 50 to 70 years, among other negative IP commitments. A few copyright extremists have since come out of the woodwork to defend and applaud the TPP’s IP commitments.

To the US courts, ‘fair use’ is not an exemption to be grudgingly tolerated – it is the very purpose of copyright. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the lessons of the Canada election result for the Labour Party

October 21st, 2015

So Canada has delivered a resounding goodbye and good riddance to Stephen Harper and his Conservative government. Yesterday’s ‘landslide’ victory for Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party was the outcome of a campaign that (a) started out as a likely victory for the more left wing NDP party of Tom Mulcair, (b) morphed mid-way into a three way tie and (c) ended up as a runaway victory for the Liberals. Who knew? Maybe only Kathleen Wynne, the Ontario governor who put all of her political capital behind Trudeau at a time when he was running a distant third.

The final result was a tribute to Trudeau’s cool – in all senses of the word – on the hustings, and to the level of anti-Harper sentiment among the general public. As soon as Trudeau looked like the more likely agent of change, the NDP vote simply collapsed, and went over to the Liberals. Are there any lessons here for our own Labour Party?

Well, for starters… Trudeau’s victory showed that by rejecting the cost cutting, budget-balancing mania, you can still win elections. One of the decisive moments of the campaign came when Trudeau said that, if elected, he would be willing to embrace modest budget deficits for the next four years and would use that leeway to build infrastructure, create jobs, and stimulate the economy. The sky did not fall in. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the government’s refusal to tax sugar drinks and tackle obesity

October 20th, 2015

True to form, the government seems more concerned about the financial health of the food industry than the actual physical health of New Zealand children. No real surprise there. The Key government has consistently refused to take meaningful action to protect public health against the marketing of harmful products. In 2012, it watered down the Law Commission’s proposed liquor industry changes, and similarly last year it refused once again to raise the tax on alcohol – long after the role of alcopops as recruitment drugs to alcohol use and abuse by young drinkers had become obvious. Wilfully, the government has chosen to ignore the precedent whereby hiking the tax on cigarettes has been shown to reduce the use of a harmful product.

In a deliberate attempt to confuse the public, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman is talking up the difficulty of imposing a sugar tax across all food ingredients. But that’s not what’s being proposed. What is being proposed is a tax on sugar drinks. In the UK, British PM David Cameron – John Key’s mentor – is reportedly still considering a 20 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks. Reportedly, this would add 7p to the cost of a 330ml bottle of sugar pop. As celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has argued:

“We should work out who is running the country. Is it businesses – who are profiting from ill health in our country – or is it us?” More important than the tax itself, he said, would be the message it sent that the government “is willing to fight tooth and nail for public health, and especially children’s health”.

In the UK, the main fast food outlets have made some (small) concessions to public pressure. McDonalds, Wendys, and Burger King have all banned sugar drinks from the combo meals they offer to children. The need for a responsible government to take further action is pretty obvious:

The WHO says New Zealand experienced the fourth-greatest growth in fast-food purchasing among 25 high-income nations from 1999 to 2008. All 25 also increased their weight for height – and NZ was well in front with an increase of more than one point on the body mass (BMI) scale on which a score of 25-29.9 is overweight and 30-plus is obese.

Research carried out at Auckland University by Dr Helen Eyles has shown how easily fast food can contribute to obesity:

For a typical woman, the four Burger King combos that made the favourites list carried between 35 and 54 per cent of the recommended daily intake of energy and 137 to 185 per cent of the recommended daily limit for sugar. The McDonald’s favourites would give her 31 to 41 per cent of her recommended daily energy.

The government response to the particular problem of child obesity? It could hardly be more token. No new money has been allocated, and only $7 million has been shifted around from existing exercise and education programmes. As Dr. Boyd Swinburn pointed out on RNZ pointed out this morning, what the government is proposing has ignored the core World Health Organisation recommendations, and the government’s own science adviser as well.

University of Auckland professor of Population, Nutrition and Global Health Boyd Swinburn said while the plan contained positives – like identifying children with obesity – research showed many of the 22 initiatives are the least cost effective at reducing childhood obesity.

He pointed to a World Health Organisaton (WHO) report published last month on ending childhood obesity, which was co-chaired by the prime minister’s chief science advisor Peter Gluckman and identified several key measures.

They included taxes on sugar-sweetened drinks, and healthy food policies in schools, childcare centres and government agencies.

“If you really want to do something about childhood obesity then the most cost-effective measures are restrictions on junk food marketing to kids, taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages and policies for healthy food service throughout schools, early childhood centres and, in fact, any agency or department that the government has control over,” he said.

All of which the Key government is refusing to do. Forget Eminem. Here’s National’s theme song for the next election:

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Gordon Campbell on Australia giving us the flick

October 19th, 2015

Nice bloke, but you wouldn’t want him to run the country. Once again, the failings of John Key on the world stage have been cruelly exposed. Over the weekend, Australia’s new leader Malcolm Turnbull played Key like some steely-eyed Aussie test batsman facing long hops bowled with a tennis ball. Key got smashed, utterly smashed. While New Zealand’s leader has been blithering on about mateship and the spirit of Anzac, Turnbull has given him nothing in return. If anything, the deportations will be sped up, the appeals process abridged, and those affected will have the option of returning to New Zealand before the heave-ho is officially confirmed in court. Thanks, mate.

No worries, though. Not while the national narcotic – rugby, rugby, rugby – is being mainlined 24/7 into the country’s veins. Hard to think of any other developed country where sports news routinely dominates the main news bulletins in the way that it does here. For Turnbull, there was no incentive to be kind to us. The Australian public have bought the message from on high that Australia is merely packing up a bunch of crims, deadbeats, and would-be terrorists, and sending them home. Why, inexplicably, would Turnbull show any mercy to such people? Why risk denting his sky high poll ratings by showing mercy to a bunch of Kiwi losers ?

The fact that the detainees are a mixture of hardened repeat offenders and ordinary people – such as a tetraplegic in a wheelchair whose ‘crime’ was to repeatedly self medicate for pain relief – didn’t matter a jot. If the families of these people are being ripped apart, if kids who think they are Australians are are being packed off to an alien country and if Australia is running detention camps for dozens of Kiwis and denying them ready access to family support, legal help and medical attention…then tough luck, mate.

Key promised to be ‘blunt’ and the talks were said to be ‘frank.’ But frankly, Turnbull didn’t give a damn. There’s a lesson in how Australia flicked us aside at the weekend. We may like political lightweights, but the country pays a price for that indulgence when we expect Key to perform on the world stage.

Meanwhile… all credit to Kelvin Davis for going to Christmas Island to speak up for the detainees, and to bear witness to the extent of this country’s humiliation. Someone had to.

Canada Votes For Change

The latest news on today’s general election in Canada is that Justin Trudeau’s Liberals seem to be holding onto their poll advantage over Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. The Liberals’ lead has blown out to seven points, mainly thanks to the continuing erosion of support for the more left-wing NDP of Tom Mulcair, whose total failure to personally connect with the public on the campaign trail has been a surprising aspect of this election. Tellingly, seven out of ten Canadians are telling pollsters that they want change. Yet this useful breakdown of where the three main parties stand on the issues shows how minimal that change may be under Trudeau.

Nationalism, and James Talley

Reportedly, Jimmy Carter’s favourite singer was the great Oklahoma folk musician James Talley. On Youtube, I’d hoped to find Talley’s definitive version of the old Woody Guthrie song “Deportee”… but no luck. Instead, here’s Talley’s version of “This Land Is Your Land.” It takes genius to take an old chestnut like “This Land” and make it sound fresh again. Talley combined the usual pride and awe at the American vastness with a sense of what’s been lost in the years since an Okie like Guthrie first had the gall to lay claim to a stake in his country’s abundance.

Not that anyone is willing to give up the ghost just yet. Townes Van Zandt for instance, could pull the will to endure out of even the darkest places:

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Gordon Campbell on Labour-bashing over the TPP and Canada’s election

October 16th, 2015

Should we be surprised that Labour has ended up as the media’s cheap and easy target over the TPP? Clearly, it would be more risky to attack with similar gusto the government that actually negotiated and signed this deal. Treasonous even, for NBR readers.

Lest we forget though… the Key government said constantly that it wouldn’t sign anything less than a high quality, 21st century deal – but ultimately, it caved in and signed a deal that failed to win any meaningful access in Japan and North America for our major export commodity – the milk powder upon which we’d also gambled all of our negotiating chips.

Make no mistake, New Zealand was – and was widely seen elsewhere to be – the big loser from the crunch negotiations in Atlanta. Ultimately, we got suckered by the US via the same hub and spoke negotiating tactics that the US used on all of the TPP member countries in order to elicit their wish lists, and get them on board for concessions in other areas. In our case, the US then comprehensively failed to make the mirage of North American dairy access come to pass.

Obviously, none of this had anything to do with Labour. Oh, and the government has now also upped the risk of this country being subjected to the kind of investor/state disputes that are globally on the rise, and which have been taken (and won) against Canada this year, when it sought to protect its environment from the effects of development by foreign investors. Sure, when the texts are finally released we might get some analysis of the actual net gain from this deal: but I doubt it. We will also wait in vain for any analysis of the potential diplomatic fallout – now that we have aligned ourselves with the US in the Asia Pacific region against the country (China) that happens to be our main trading partner. The TPP was always as much a geo-political gambit of containment as it ever was a trade deal.

No, but that stuff is too hard. Far easier to play horse race politics on the TPP – who’s ahead, who’s behind – and lay into Labour, who didn’t negotiate it, and haven’t signed it. The advantage for the media with this response is that it’s a guaranteed win either way. If Labour oppose the deal in any way whatsoever, they can be lambasted as anti-trade, loony left extremists, as the professional hysterics in the National Business Review have already labeled them. Yet on the other hand, if Labour do anything less than condemn the deal outright they can equally be lambasted as mealy-mouthed hypocrites unwilling to offend their base by coming out of the closet and ‘fessing up to their free trade proclivities. On the TPP, Labour was bound to enrage its enemies – who will brook no criticism of the free trade caliphate – and disappoint its friends.

Is anyone over the age of ten really, really surprised that the Labour Party that negotiated the China FTA should find much to its liking about the TPP? On trade, on defence, on security and surveillance issues…. the two major parties have always been like Tweedledum and Tweedledumber. Centrism is like that. As long ago as 2012 in Werewolf, Labour was signalling its embrace of the TPP – subject only to a certain limited set of conditions.

In New Zealand, something close to bipartisan agreement exists between the two major parties on trade issues, says Labour’s trade negotiation spokesman Clayton Cosgrove: “You don’t play politics with it [trade].“ Labour, he adds, “has a proud history back to Mike Moore and beyond of being free traders.” In Cosgrove’s view, “The TPP potentially offers massive opportunities in terms not just of agriculture, but government procurement.”

All the same, bottom lines do exist for Labour on the TPP…. “Pharmac has to be protected,” Cosgrove says. “ IP. Investor /state. SOEs, and how they are treated. The treatment of the foreign ownership of land is obviously a large one for us. So is agricultural access. And we’ve always said New Zealand must always retain the ability to legislate and regulate in the public good…” Since no one is talking about scrapping Pharmac, Labour’s commitment to Pharmac amounts to what, exactly? Cosgrove: “To its core ability to bulk purchase in a single desk fashion medication, as it does now…” .So does that mean protection for Pharmac to do its job as it currently does? Not really. “ It may mean if you look at the Aussie example, that issues are negotiated around transparency and decision making …I’m not offended by that, because transparency and accountability need not necessarily impact on what Pharmac does.”

Leave aside that Cosgrove’s last sentence is untrue. (Laying Pharmac’s decisions open to legal challenge via ‘transparency” is likely to disruptive and costly, as this “The Neutering of Pharmac” Werewolf article showed, back in 2012.) The more important issue is the tension that always exists between (a) elected governments retaining the sovereign right to legislate for the public good and (b) the international commitments we make via treaties, alliances and trade pacts. Regardless of the Hooton hollerin’ in NBR, there is absolutely nothing controversial about Labour saying that if certain treaties and trade pacts like the TPP prove to do more harm than good, we should be willing to exit them, as we did with ANZUS.

Again, this point was covered in Werewolf several years ago:

As constitutional law expert Bill Hodge points out, the TPP may contain provisions that bind future governments – but as with any international treaty, it will also almost certainly contain exit clauses that could be activated by any future government prepared to ride out the consequences.

“They may have to give a certain amount of notice, but generally future governments can get out, ” Hodge says. Anzus strikes him as a classic example. ”A new government can say we’re opening the books on these things, and are giving notice that we no longer consider ourselves bound.” On current indications however, the Labour parliamentary caucus seems to be far more united behind the TPP than it ever was behind Anzus.

It still is. To sum up: the majority of the Labour caucus is not – and never has been – seriously opposed to the TPP. Certainly, those voters who feel insecure if New Zealand does anything other than prostrate itself before the altar of free trade should follow NBR’s advice, and vote for National in perpetuity. Good luck with that. On the other hand, those voters who continue to oppose the TPP as a poor deal for New Zealand (and a deal that contains many damaging and anti-competitive elements) will have to look elsewhere than Labour, in 2017. For similar reasons, Labour will not pose any threat to the government’s intentions when it comes to the Cullen /Reddy review of the powers of our security services, either. It is a party driven by the fear of its own traditions.

Canada Votes

Conservative parties cuttentl;y rule in Australia, New Zealand, the UK…. and in Canada, which has an election on Monday. Polling suggests that Monday could well spell the end of Stephen Harper’s Conservative administration. A minority government headed by the Liberals, under the leadership of Justin Trudeau ( yes, the son of Pierre) seems the likely but not inevitable outcome. This is as good a summary of the campaign as any:

Harper has alienated progressive Conservatives and driven other progressive voters to levels of outrage rarely seen. Three out of four voters want change, and one in two crave it badly.

Canada’s usual third party, the socialist-oriented New Democrats, had an unprecedented opportunity to win this election, and have wasted it. ….The current leader Thomas Mulcairwas masterful and full of brimstone in the House of Commons but has turned out to be a disappointing campaigner. His style suggests a cranky uncle more than a firebrand for the oppressed. Mulcair saddled himself with a platform that is heavy on policy trinkets (think restoring home delivery of snail mail), and is more fiscally prudent than political prudence would recommend.

In a country with a balanced budget, and a low debt-to-GDP ratio, Mulcair chose to promise balanced budgets as far as the eye could see, in a bid to woo new supporters from the centre of the spectrum. This backfired, badly, when the centrist Liberal leader, Justin Trudeau, promised instead to goose the economy with a few years of modest deficit spending on infrastructure, a position more consonant with mainstream public opinion on the left and in the centre.

Modest deficit spending? We’d buy that here, if it meant having a decent and functioning health system again. However, modest deficit spending would require recanting from the current manic pursuit of a surplus, at whatever social cost. For New Zealanders, one of the other interesting aspects of the Canadian campaign has been the role of Lynton Crosby’s tactics of diversion. Under Crosby’s tuition, Harper has played the fear-of-immigrants/ refugees-as-terrorists card constantly. While effective to some degree, it has also damaged Harper and enabled Trudeau to look much more modern, tolerant, and progressive. Meaning: Crosby-ite diversions like our flag campaign – or pandas – will divert the public for only so long from your basic failures of governance. In Canada, Crosby finally seems to have jumped ship, rather than go down with it.

Here’s a song for Canada, and its wide open spaces ….

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Gordon Campbell on our apparent inability to stand up to Australia

October 13th, 2015

If you fight your bullies, the TV series Freaks and Geeks suggested, it can be painful at the time… but you earn respect and they will tend to leave you alone afterwards. Alas, and only days before the first meeting between our Prime Minister John Key and the new Australian leader Malcolm Turnbull, this country is showing no sign of standing up for itself. Quite the reverse. We seem to be rolling over, and making gestures of appeasement.

It’s been that way for quite some time. Since 2001, New Zealanders resident in Australia, who have been paying taxes and contributing to their economy, still do not qualify the same range welfare and/or healthcare assistance as we offer to Australians in need over here.

It has gotten worse. Late last year, Australia passed laws that enable New Zealanders convicted of offences carrying more than a year’s imprisonment to be deported back here – regardless of how long those individuals and their families have lived in Australia, and regardless of whether the families uprooted by this decision have any meaningful links with this country. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on John Key’s trip to Iraq

October 8th, 2015

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has just returned from a quick visit to our troops in Iraq, where he reportedly discovered that (a) Iraq is hellishly hot and dusty (b) our troops are doing a great job and (c) that he personally, certainly made the right call in sending them there. The media who accompanied the PM on this mission totally agreed – and they reached the same conclusion almost instantaneously, it would seem:

John Key’s trip to Iraq asked and answered the question about whether our troops are making a difference. It only took a day watching the Kiwi troops and their students in action at Camp Taji in Iraq to know they are making a real difference and it is more than just a drop in the ocean.

As in most of these exercises in delusional self-aggrandisement, the trainees are depicted as being almost child-like:

Part of what the Kiwis do is demystify the enemy to Iraqi soldiers, demoralised by the slick mind games of an enemy that has mastered social media to spread chilling propaganda. Among the myths that have taken root are that IS has millions of soldiers and snipers who can shoot them from 6km away.

And of course, they SO admire the Kiwi way:

…..the Kiwis have been debunking the myths and boosting the confidence of their students that IS is an enemy that can be beaten. And they are doing it in a typically Kiwi fashion that has earned them the respect of the Iraqi soldiers. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Serco’s emerging role as the government’s favourite corporate crony, and the TPP fallout

October 7th, 2015

There’s no success like failure, as Bob Dylan once said, and Serco’s failures mean nothing but trouble on the horizon for ordinary New Zealanders. Unfortunately, its abysmal track record isn’t stopping the relentless intrusion of this particular multinational into the provision of crucial services in this country. Despite their proven history of failure in running British prisons, Serco have been granted major contracts within our prisons and they have no incentive to do better. Because when they have failed spectacularly this year, the Key government waived the fines for which the firm were liable:

It has been revealed in Parliament that private prison operator Serco has been let off hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines for serious contract breaches.

Mt Eden Prison is currently under the management of the Department of Corrections, while an official investigation is carried out into allegations of mismanagement by Serco.

The firm’s problems have now spread to Serco’s management of the new privately run prison at Wiri.

Undaunted, Serco has also shown an interest in the co-ordination of youth protection services.

Ms Tolley has said she would still be open to Serco – which is looking at running child services in the UK – being contracted to provide more social services.

Tolley’s readiness to put out the welcome mat for Serco is significant, given that the Rebstock review of Child, Youth and Family is due in November – and the Rebstock terms of reference have shown that this government has a strong interest in the privatization of some CYF services.

The Serco invasion of New Zealand is now spreading to public transport in the capital city – again, despite its abysmal performance in running similar services in Britain. In a terrific piece of reporting that got overshadowed by the TPP finale, Lindsay Shelton revealed on Scoop that Serco is now on the shortlist for the contract to run Wellington’s commuter train service. Inexplicably, the Regional Council has decided that local experience is insufficient to run the local train service – and this requirement has forced Kiwirail into a joint contract with an overseas company in order to stay in the running. Failure overseas though, is obviously not a disqualifier. Lindsay’s report is a must-read, available here.

TPP, the day after

So you keep the public entirely in the dark for eight years, refuse to comment on drafts that contain horrendous proposals of what you intend to do, and then when the international public outcry forces the hand ofother governments – eg Australia – to stand firm on key points like the cost of medicines (long after we have abandoned ship). Them, when the worst is narrowly averted, you then blame the TPP critics for fear-mongering and ignorance ! Incredible stuff, even by the NZ Herald’s usual standards.

The blizzard of spin during the last 24 hours has been pretty astonishing. In reality, the government’s performance has been abysmal. Remember all the previous talk about how the government wouldn’t sign anything but a high quality, gold standard trade deal for the 21st century? Forget it, because they have. What we’ve got instead are a claim for a level of gains by the year 2030 that would be dwarfed – or wiped out altogether – by the gains/losses from currency fluctuations.

Time and again in the coverage yesterday, the prospect of not being in the TPP tent was presented as being utterly unthinkable. The opportunity costs of doing so are being ignored. No small thing, given the losses in innovation and extra costs imposed by the copyright extension to 70 years and other restrictive IP measures contained in the TPP – which will land us with the same bad US standards and copyright terms that Europe has rejected. So far, the net gain ( if any) from the TPP has yet to be calculated. Some commentators in Canada have tried to calculate the gains from being in the TPP and also what Canada would have lost by not joining:

The benefits of TPP membership may actually be smaller than what Canada would have lost by not joining. Dan Ciuriak, a former deputy chief economist at the federal trade department, has estimated that the TPP will boost Canada’s economy by 0.1 per cent, while staying out would have cost it 0.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

On the political front, the Key government has almost entirely escaped criticism for its ineptitude. Tactically, New Zealand failed. It placed all of its eggs in the dairy basket – leaving Australia to fight the good fight on the costs of medicines on its own – and then failed to deliver on dairy. ( Lets leave aside for the moment the immorality of trying to trade off the added cost of patented medicines needed by sick people with the hoped-for gains to dairy farmers.) Ultimately, an almost empty handed Trade Minister Tim Groser has been left to claim that history will absolve him.

Happily, the Canadian press has been scotching that forlorn hope. Macleans magazine for instance, headlined its story with the announcement that Canada had successfully seen off the New Zealand challenge.

Canadian officials have slammed the door on a suggestion by New Zealand that it might push for greater access for its dairy products as the Trans-Pacific Partnership moves forward.

But disappointed New Zealanders, who ran headlong into Canada’s sacrosanct adherence to supply management during the talks, maintained that the day will come when Canada’s dairy farmers will no longer enjoy having their “hands held” by protective policies.

Faint hope. Not in our lifetime, evidently.

We have come a long way from the threat of eliminating supply management,” said Wally Smith, a B.C. dairy farmer and chairman of the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Similarly, the Dairy Farmers of Canada body doesn’t share Groser’s view that the end is nigh for Canada’s dairy protectionism. As the TPP deal was clinched, the organisation tweeted exultantly : “No negative impact and supply management preserved for a generation.” If anything, the huge $4.3 billion compensatory TPP package that the Harper government has provided for Canada’s dairy industry will enable the exit of small dairy farmers, and will speed up the consolidation of Canada’s dairy industry and its evolution into a more formidable rival for Fonterra. Good work, Mr Groser ! Give that man a knighthood. Again…nothing succeeds like failure.

Footnote : The nadir of yesterday’s TPP coverage would have to be the claim by Crawford Falconer, Kathyrn Ryan’s RNZ Nine to Noon star commentator on the TPP, that investor-state disputes “certainly aren’t targeted at countries like New Zealand.” Rubbish. Here’s the Toronto Globe and Mail on two examples of huge ISDS losses inflicted on Canada in this year alone.

As mentioned previously in this column, the Canadian government was deemed liable in the Bilcon case when it sought an environmental impact review of the effect of a quarry that it had agreed to in principle:

The Bilcon decision [which has laid Canada open to a $300 million damages claim] has raised a number of concerns about the investor-state dispute settlement provisions that are commonplace in international agreements, ranging from the North American free-trade agreement, to the Canada-China foreign investment agreement, to the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership currently under negotiations.
A dissenting member of the panel – University of Ottawa law professor Donald McRae – warned that the ruling represents a “significant intrusion” into domestic jurisdiction and will “create a chill” among environmental review panels that will be reluctant to rule against projects that would cause undue harm to the environment or human health.

There is a growing concern in legal circles that the arbitration panels are expanding their mandate – including substituting their decision-making role for domestic courts – and that they cannot be appealed, Toronto trade lawyer Larry Herman said Tuesday. The Bilcon decision “will feed ammunition to those who oppose international arbitration as a form of dispute settlement,” he added.

It’s the second high-profile NAFTA loss for Canada. Last month, Ottawa was ordered to pay Exxon Mobil Corp. and Murphy Oil Ltd. $17.3-million after a NAFTA panel ruled that Newfoundland and Labrador had violated the trade agreement by imposing retroactive research-spending requirements on its offshore oil producers.

It remains to be seen whether the final ISDS wording in the TPP will remove the expectation of profit as a grounds for liability. If it doesn’t, New Zealand would indeed be liable to exactly the same Bilcon-style cases, if it subsequently chose to seek an environmental review of a foreign investment that it had greenlit.

In sum… the whole TPP gains/losses equation will be moot if the US Congress nixes the deal. As mentioned in this column yesterday, the Washington Post is reporting that the House and Senate votes will not occur until April 2016, at the earliest. Meaning: our Parliament may end up passing a TPP that the US then votes down. Therefore, any rush to legislative change to make us TPP compliant will have to weighed against what is at least a 50/50 chance that the US Congress will torpedo the entire deal.

Finally, could a future government exit the TPP if we so choose? Well, we exited ANZUS, so anything is theoretically possible. Given the general consensus on international trade deals held by both Labour and National, such a route is unlikely. In reality, the TPP will effectively tie the hands of future governments.


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Gordon Campbell on the TPP deal reached in Atlanta

October 6th, 2015

If the TPP was the Rugby World Cup, the New Zealand team probably wouldn’t be making it out of pool play. While the final details will not emerge for a month, the TPP is offering disappointing returns for New Zealand… and over a very long phase-in period… of up to 25 years in major areas important to us, even though many of the concessions we have made would take immediate effect. Typically, Prime Minister John Key has already been spinning the “93% tariff free” outcome across the TPP region, as if that situation was entirely due to the TPP deal. To get that figure, Key is adding all pre-existing tariff reductions and adding them to the TPP. To take a relevant example… 80% of US trade with other TPP members is already duty free.

Yes, the TPP has helped to knock a few points off the tariffs facing our exporters. Yet some of those alleged dollar gains may well have been made regardless over time – and without the negative baggage of the concessions in the non-trade areas (intellectual property, copyright extensions, investor-state dispute mechanisms etc) that the TPP deal also brings in its wake. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the TPP countdown, and Mary Margaret O’Hara

October 5th, 2015

While Australia and the US have reached agreement on the patent exclusivity term for biologics – the new drugs that have been one of the last sticking points on a TPP deal – this agreement has reportedly been rejected by both Chile and Peru, and it is this final impasse that has been holding up the unveiling of the final shape of the dairy deal reported in this column last Monday.

The Australian/US biologics deal is reportedly for an eight year term presumably sweetened for Australia by some movement on sugar access to the US, for which Australia has been pressing. The desperate rearguard attempts by the US dairy industry to prevent a US dairy market access carve-out for New Zealand have included this appeal.

Coming into the talks in Atlanta, the auto parts wrangle between the US and Japan one side and Canada and Mexico on the other was resolved in a fashion that perfectly illustrates how the final compromises in this kind of deal are reached: essentially by finding a face-saving recipe for the cave-ins that are actually occurring. Read the rest of this entry »