Gordon Campbell on the EU/NZ trade deal, and Scotland’s growing rejection of independence

So Europe is “considering” whether to launch free trade discussions, with New Zealand ; the parties plan to establish a scoping process and will hold talks next year and if all goes well, negotiations will proceed from there. Given that the EU already has free trade deals with all but a handful of OECD countries, this is hardly a major breakthrough. Unfortunately, the initial reporting is depicting the possiblility purely in terms of the positives for this country, as if such deals carry no downsides with them. This morning for example, RNZ was already talking about potential savings in the tens of millions of dollars on the compliance costs of doing trade in Europe.

Well, free trade is not “free” – as the Canadians have discovered in the course of their recently concluded free trade deal with the European Union. According to this study, Canadians now face huge increases in the cost of prescription medicines in the wake of the Canadian/European Comprehensive Economic and Trade deal (aka CETA)

The recently announced free-trade deal with Europe will likely cost Canadians hundreds of millions of dollars more for prescription drugs, says a new analysis. The report, by two York University professors, says concessions by the federal government to cement the deal will delay the arrival cheap generic drugs by about a year, on average. And the delay will add between $850 million and $1.65 billion — or up to 13 per cent — to the total drug bill paid annually by Canadians, either directly, through insurance plans or by provinces…..The report warns that all Canadians will likely wind up paying more in taxes, or higher premiums for private drug plans — and Canadians who can least afford it will bear the biggest burden.

Interestingly, one of the co-authors of this analysis was Dr. Joel Lexchin, who carried out the independent review of Pharmac in the early 2000s for the Clark government. The summary document for the EU/Canada trade deal is available here.

In terms of the agriculture trade of obvious interest to New Zealand, Canadian farmers got better quotas for beef and pork from the CETA deal, at the expense of their dairy farmers – who now face competition from the greater access for European cheese imports. Canadian dairy farmers had to hold the line against intense pressure for greater coincessions. Despite early fears that the CETA copyright provisions would be draconian, most of these measure collapsed in the European Parliament, and Canadian IP expert Michael Geist’s summary of the final deal is relatively benign. It should be noted that from the outset Canada ruled out any trade in education of health services.

Clearly all this is a long way down the track. But it is useful to flag from the outset that there will be major risks involved. The usual empty-headed boosterism of free trade provisions helps no-one to identify what those risks are,. and who will bear the brunt of them.

Independence for Scotland? Unlikely
The visiting Scottish politician Michael Russell has been in Dunedin talking up the prospects of Scotland voting for independence in the referendum due in September.

Asked about earlier polls showing a 20% polling lead for the ”no” vote, [Russell] said the polls had since narrowed considerably, to about 10%, and the momentum was with independence campaigners.

Well, that’s not the case. This morning, the Scotsman newspaper carries the results of a poll that shows support for independence has plummeted to 28%, although 30% of Scots do remain undecided.

The TNS UK results are well down on a weekend poll in Scotland on Sunday, which put support for Yes at 39 per cent.

The latest poll suggests 30 per cent of Scots remain undecided, while 42 per cent intend to vote No. The results are broadly unchanged from the last TNS poll in January.

The spin merchants are already hard at it. The pro-independence groups are arguing that the poll-of-polls gap is not as large as the recent results, and the gap with the “Nos” has halved since December. The “No” groups claim – more credibly – that the momentum is with them.

Better Together campaign director Blair McDougall said: “The momentum is clearly with the campaign for Scotland to remain in the UK, with support for separation falling, even though it is already below historic levels. Alex Salmond’s failure to be honest about the consequences of separation is damaging his campaign.”