Even before this week’s leaks via Wikileaks about the current state of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) talks, there were signs the deal was in trouble. As Werewolf has been reporting for months, precious little progress was being made on this deal despite (a) all the money lavished on it, (b) the many, many rounds of ministerial meetings and (c) all the empty claims that “significant progress” was being made, which has been an amusing cliché for years now. Then came the revelation in late August by the Chilean chief negotiator Alvaro Jana that only a quarter of the deal (i.e. all the easy administrative bits) had been completed, and that little or no progress had been made in the main TPP chapters still in contention. (i.e. Everything else.) This should have been a wake-up call. But no, the TPP apologists have kept insisting that the deal was in the end game, and that a year’s end 2013 conclusion was still a realistic prospect. At the same time, we’ve heard a few rehearsals of the fall back position – that it would be better to take a bit longer and get a good deal, than to try and rush the process. Hah. If only. At this rate, an all-in, all issues quality deal won’t happen until about 2035.
As the TPP talks head into the last 2013 gathering in Singapore, the Wikileaks documents only confirm what Jana had been saying. The two leaked documents consist of (a) a table that shows the bargaining positions of some of the participating countries (but not Japan. Malaysia or Vietnam) on the main issues still in dispute and (b) a heavily redacted commentary on the last TPP round held in Salt Lake City. The commentary is damning: e.g. “…even leaving aside all the more complex issues (IP, SOEs, and Environment) [this] demonstrates a situation that makes it very difficult to think of a complete closure in December…This involves being prepared for as partial closure scenario, or even a failure in December.” Apparently, either a TPP victory will be declared at year’s end on the basis of a closure so “partial” as to be all but worthless, or the TPP will fail entirely.
Taking the two leaked documents together, it is hard to believe at times that the US is serious about this deal any longer. From the commentary: “US chief met with all 12 countries and said that they were not progressing according to plan. One country remarked that up until now, there had not been any perceivable substantial movement on the part of the US, and that is the reason for this situation.” On the Transparency Index on Medicines, the “bad news” was that the US had “re-submitted a text that had been strongly rejected in the past.” On the Investment chapter – which contains the controversial investor/state dispute mechanisms whereby corporates can sue governments – “the commentary is again, critical of US intransigence: “The US, as in previous rounds, has shown no flexibility on its proposal,” which seeks to bring almost every conceivable significant contract under its ambit. (In a hair-raising aside, it is clear that the US wants investor-state dispute procedures to apply to all existing foreign investment contracts, and not only to those entered into after the establishment of the TPP. According to the commentary, only Vietnam objects to this outright, while Malaysia and Brunei have various conditions for various forms of screening as to which contracts would, or wouldn’t qualify.)
The US bargaining position has noticeably hardened in recent months as the US business lobbies have sought to stiffen the spine of President Barack Obama and his chief trade representative. Obama has duly played ball, most obviously over fighting the tobacco health regulation exemptions being promoted by Malaysia. Obama is between a rock and a hard place here. Due to the midterm elections looming next year, he needs to get a TPP deal (of some sort) in shape by year’s end, and only some flexibility by the US will achieve that, and not sheer brute force – much as the US has been applying plenty of that as well.
Yet if Obama is too flexible in achieving a deal, he will enrage the business lobbies and can kiss away any chance of winning the “fast track” authority he will need to get the TPP pact through Congress, unamended. So far, there is no sign of a “fast track” Bill in Congress, or even on the horizon – and meanwhile, there is mounting opposition to the TPP and its ludicrous secrecy provisions, on both sides of the House. Obama is a master of asymmetric political warfare. Right now, it looks like any victory that is declared over the TPP will be vacuous, and virtually meaningless. The Obama administration may well prefer to let this deal quietly die, having given it its best shot, and will conserve its efforts to get fast track authority for the more important EU/US trade deal now in prospect. Either way, a substantive, all in, no exemptions TPP deal looks like toast. (Next week in Werewolf, there will be a more comprehensive analysis of the Wikileaks documents.)
Asylum seekers being persecuted by New Zealand government
This should be a source of national shame. New Zealand already takes in a pitifully small proportion of the world’s refugees, and does so almost entirely via the UN quota system. It also regularly has a far smaller intake of asylum seekers who claim protection here via the Refugee Convention, that New Zealand freely signed. Here’s where it gets really shameful. Despite the fact that the asylum seekers have been strictly vetted by our immigration/justice authorities to verify that yes, they are genuine victims of persecution (on, say, political, racial, religious, gender or sexual orientation grounds) and despite the fact that they may well have been traumatised by their experiences prior to arriving here…a vindictive and penny pinching NZ government then denies them access to welfare assistance and to language training, and refuses to allow them access to work.
That situation persists until that they get permanent residency here, which routinely takes months, or years. In the meantime, the families affected are forced to rely on charity to survive. Why is New Zealand doing this? Arguably, this policy is in violation of our obligations under the Refugee Convention. Are we really trying to make life so miserable for asylum seekers and their children that fewer will come here? The cost involved in extending to asylum seekers the same assistance that we give to quota refugees would be minimal. Only about 140 people a year are involved. Immigration Minister Michael Woodhouse has been silent on this issue. For a country that likes to think it punches above its weight internationally, why are we punching the vulnerable below the belt?