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News and views from New Zealand – End of sovereignty (Pt 2)

Dennis Dorney

Late last year I wrote about how little NZ has achieved from its five years of negotiations in the TPP Agreement. Today the 6000 pages that comprise the NZ part of that deal has just been wheeled into parliament so that the NZ public at last will have some idea of its contents during the cut and thrust of political debate.

On February 4th the trade ministers of the twelve participating nations signed off on the agreement in Auckland (ironically in a casino) while – outside – 25,000 protesters brought the city centre to a standstill. None of the mass media, that I have seen, mentioned that impressive number or printed photos that would permit the readers to see the sheer scale of the protest.

This is necessary to maintain the illusion, avidly promoted by the press, that opposition to the TTPA has come from a few left wing academics, supported by a small sprinkling of “rent- a-crowd”. The entire strategy of the government has been to ridicule the opposing views; to substitute 30-second sound bites for rational debate; to be evasive if possible, and where that fails, to lie. No doubt the situation is similar in Australia.

Recently 250,000 marchers in Berlin protested against the TTIP, a sister trade deal very similar to our TTPA, and their complaints are very similar to our complaints. Needless to say, the media had nothing to say about that.

So what is the likely outcome? Inside parliament the government nominally has a majority of one, thanks to the one-man parties of ACT and United Future. In practice that majority could be much more secure. The Labour Party has stated that it is strongly opposed to the TPPA in its present form, but – like so many supposedly left wing parties worldwide – the NZ Labour Party has given up on its labour origins and has become a pale pink neo-liberal organisation.

This dichotomy between the party itself and the wishes of its membership explains why it can’t keep a leader for more than a few months and can’t gain any traction in the polls. Again, I suspect this is all very familiar to Australians. What this means in practice is that when a vote is called for on the TTP, there is absolutely no guarantee that the Labour Party will not split in two.

Outside parliament the issue is becoming much clearer. A number of surveys (mostly unreported in the mass media) have been conducted on the subject of the electorate’s position on the TPPA and shows that a majority oppose the treaty. The pro-TTPA high-ground was achieved just after the twelve nations agreed on the trade deal, when govern- ment spin was at a peak. Since then the details have been made public, the opposition has put a massive effort into decipher-ing the legal jargon and it has made clear that, not only is it a bad deal – it is not even essentially a trade deal. It is primarily a political union to protect the USA’s hegemony in the pacific region.

Already the public seems to have grasped the message. There will be an election in November 2017 and it is possible that the agreement will not have been ratified by then, so there are nearly two years to argue the fine print. A endless stream of 30- second sound bites simply won’t do. It is possible that now is the high tide of the neo-liberal agenda.

Milking the environment

New Zealand exports about 96% of all its milk production, which it must sell on world markets in competition against other countries which heavily subsidise their milk production. This is one reason why the NZ government is so keen on a TPPA. A better move might be to be less reliant on the milk industry and, instead, try to protect its secondary industries, which at least have the virtue that it protects jobs in urbanised areas.

However the government has promoted the objective of doubling milk product- ion, regardless of overseas milk subsidies, while ignoring the environmental effects of dairy farming and its impact on NZ’s second most important industry (tourism). Photos of cows up to their bellies, wading through mountain lakes, are not helpful.

This myopic attitude has helped to produce a world-wide glut on the milk market. Since my last report on the precipitous fall in NZ milk prices, which had fallen from over $8 per kg to the mid $4/ kg, the situation has deteriorated. In nearly all recent milk auctions the price has continued to fall.

Today ANZ economists are predicting it will fall to about $3.95 before the season ends. The break-even point for farmers is thought to be in the low $5/kg range and no recovery is expected before the end of 2017. This would cost our economy $17 billion over the next five years. I shudder to think what it will cost our farmers. Meanwhile, product- ion of heavily subsidised milk in the EU is up by 2.2%. It is hard to see sanity prevailing soon.

Fortunately other parts of our largely primary industries are doing much better. In our local Central Otago exports of apples, cherries and other stone fruits are at record levels, but again we are talking about low skill, lowly paid seasonal labour.

Tourism is booming too, especially in Dunedin, which depends heavily on tourism. The income is welcome but much of the labour employed is again low income and seasonal. Nevertheless I am always pleased to see the tourists from the cruise ships. I just hope that none of them have an itch to take a dip in a mountain lake.

Dennis Dorney is a regular contributor and lives in the Otago region of New Zealand.

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