TPPA: An Agreement for the Ruling Class

Agreement on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPPA) was reached early on Tuesday morning.  The final signing could occur in 90 days’ time, with the text likely to be made publically available for the first time during the that period.  John Key and Tim Groser claim that deal will not impact Pharmac’s ability to subsidise the cost of medicines in New Zealand but it is certain that the cost of supply medicines to New Zealand will increase, and with the continued pressure on government departments to cut costs such promises should be taken with a healthy dose of scepticism.   The deal also places restrictions on state ownership and the operations of State-Owned Enterprises, effectively bedding in the privatisation regime introduced by Labour and National governments in the 80s, 90s and 2000s.

Public opposition to the deal by Labour and the Greens has focused on the degree of advantage offered to New Zealand industries, especially the lack of explicit benefit to New Zealand dairy businesses.  “The government promised meaningful gains, but the dairy industry is describing the outcome as disappointing” said Labour’s Grant Robertson in a press release.  Green Party co-leader told reporters it was “hard to tell” if the agreement was beneficial, adding that the TPPA “doesn’t sound like a good deal” because it adds only one percent to New Zealand’s GDP.

This kind of luke-warm opposition, based on defending the “national interest” (which in reality is the interests of the New Zealand business class) is insufficient.  It is the working class – in New Zealand and every country signing up to the TPPA that is really being betrayed.  The TPPA is aimed at cementing key elements of the pro-business, neoliberal regime that has enjoyed bipartisan support in almost every nation since the 1980s.  The agreement reveals is the real unity of the New Zealand ruling class.  Divisions over benefits to one sector of the economy – even one so large and heavily monopolised as the dairy industry in the end proved to be secondary, and Fonterra Chairman John Wilson praised the government for their efforts.  The focus of disappointed business leaders is clearly on extending and widening the agreement, not revolting against the government – hence why Labour maintains a policy favouring free trade.

But there is an alternative approach that could have defeated the TPPA and stopped the government in its tracks.  Workers in every capitalist country have enormous potential power to make their demands heard by refusing to work, bringing business to a screeching halt.  If the impressive movement of protests and militant street actions had been backed up by strikes the length and breadth the country, the news might be very different today.  But the union movement was not prepared for this.   While many trade unions did oppose the deal, their strategy was to look to parliament, Labour and the Greens rather than organising their own members.

Tuesday of course, is not the end of the road.  The agreement is yet to be signed.  Key wants to proceed with a minimum of fuss, but there should be a parliamentary debate.  Faced with the failure of the Labour Party, the Greens and trade union leadership, it falls to the radicals – all those who protested and demonstrated against the TPPA to articulate an alternative and chart a new way forward.  A debate could provide a focus for further opposition and protest, and a chance for radicals to cohere there forces.  Because the TPPA is not the end – it is just the first in a whole tranche of trade agreements, accompanied by retrograde domestic policies.  Further battles lie ahead.