Gordon Campbell on Ardern’s refugee non-deal

Jacinda Ardern, Malcolm TurnbullThe fallout from Donald Trump’s election and behaviour in office continues to reverberate through our region. Safe to say, a Hillary Clinton administration would have followed through by now on the Manus Island deal negotiated last year by Barack Obama. The 1,250 agreed intake to the US from Manus Island would have largely resolved this entirely avoidable humanitarian tragedy.

Wishful thinking. We’re not living in that world. So far, Trump has welshed on the deal to Australia, with only between 25-50 refugees having been admitted to the US, 12 months after the Obama deal was agreed on. The meantime, Aussie PM Malcolm Turnbull has been insulted and abused by Trump over this agreement. On the weekend, Turnbull humiliated Jacinda Ardern in turn, by once again rejecting New Zealand’s offer to take 150 of the Manus refugees.

One can’t blame Trump for everything though. Australia has simply walked out of the Manus Island refugee centre and abandoned the refugees to the tender mercies of the PNG military and hostile locals, well before any substantive progress is in sight with the US. For her part, Ardern has chosen not to confront Australia and has agreed to delay making the NZ resettlement offer directly to Papua New Guinea. Given the glacial pace of the US response, and the urgency of the humanitarian crisis on Manus, there is no justification for not proceeding with an approach to PNG right now. Ardern told RNZ this morning that she has a personal timetable of “weeks” before reconsidering her options.

Yes, Australia has had a problem with boat people that we do not have. But its ‘solution’ has involved tearing up the UN Refugee Convention and heaping the region’s refugees onto the plate of other, poorer countries in the region. Many of these refugees are fleeing from conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan in which Australia has been militarily involved. Contrast Australia (and this country’s) intake of refugees with the massive response to this global problem that Canada has been shouldering, but which has now evidently reached its limit.

Globally, the care of refugees continues to fall on poor countries like Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Bangladesh.

Sooner rather than later, New Zealand has to stand up to Australia over its refugee policy. Otherwise, our silence and inaction will be taken as tacit acceptance, and we will be seen (accurately) as enabling Canberra’s systematically inhuman treatment of hundreds of the world’s most vulnerable people, and their families. The clock is now ticking on Ardern’s personal timetable. On the weekend, Turnbull reminded the Aussie media about her previous deejaying experience. Turnbull’s none to subtle subtext: she’s a lightweight. Ardern has to prove that assessment wrong, and soon.

TPP 11 and its APEC deadline

Talking of timetables, the TPP 11 deal is supposedly on track to be signed at APEC. Already, the Ardern government has found an ingenious solution to the problem of its ban on foreigners buying existing homes here – basically, it will amend the Overseas Investment Act, and pass this before the TPP 11 deal is signed. Our remaining problem is with the contentious investor state dispute settlement clauses (ISDS) which – as Canada has repeatedly found to its cost – allow sovereign governments to be sued by corporates under arbitration rules skewed to benefit foreign investors.

New Zealand’s current position on ISDS measures is not extreme, and some precedents exist even within our current trade deals.

If New Zealand was to negotiate a carve-out it would not be without precedent. The Australia-New Zealand investment treaty of 2011 has no investor or state to state protection mechanism.

The Singapore-New Zealand FTA, meanwhile, has a clause which states an investment dispute can be referred to arbitration, but that the state being sued can withhold its consent on a case-by-case basis. However, according to Deborah Elms at the Asia Trade Centre, it is a “non-starter”.

She says: “There’s no way at this point that you’re going to get rid of ISDS from the TPP, particularly if you’re going to sign in two weeks. If New Zealand was serious [ about ISDS] I suspect the reaction of the rest would be: fine, you can come in at a later date.”

So if we’re serious about ISDS, we’re out of the deal. On other fronts… reportedly, last week’s talks in Japan narrowed the range of items (in the original TPP deal) that are agreed to be “frozen” until such as time as the US may choose to rejoin the pact. Two weeks out from the supposed signing, this suspension list had been narrowed down to 15-20 contentious clauses.

Japan and 10 other remaining TPP economies have been negotiating to determine which measures that were agreed for the old 12-nation TPP will be frozen. Initially, the existing members had proposed that implementation of a total of 50 measures be suspended. But the number was reduced to 15 to 20, informed sources said.

The repercussions from suspending those clauses are still unclear. Canada for example, has some incentive to pursue a TPP 11 deal that would give its beef exporters better access to Japanese markets – at which point Canada would be in competition with Aussie and NZ beef exporters, who entertain similar hopes. (None of the modelling of TPP ‘benefits’ tries to measure this competition – it assume everyone’s a winner.)

The wild card as TPP 11 heads for the finishing line is Donald Trump, who is visiting Japan between November 5-7 with his Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in tow. As the experienced Canadian trade commentator Peter Clark pointed out in a recent column, the US has reasons of its own to ask Japan to slow down the pace of TPP 11….

POTUS will be carrying demands from U.S. beef, pork, rice and soybean producers that he try to improve their market access to Japan and other Asian countries. Their stakeholders do not want to lose ground to Canada, Australia, New Zealand and others in a TPP of Eleven. Japan should be mindful of [US Trade Representative Robert] Lighthizer’s approach on supply-managed products in NAFTA. National farm co-operative JA Zenchu has been monitoring that situation and is no doubt actively lobbying.

Given the range of Japan-U.S. issues which will be discussed in the Trump-Abe summit, there will be pressures on Japan to go slow on making the TPP of Eleven a reality.

Will Japan (and Canada) resist this pressure from Trump to slow down on TPP 11? Japan, after all, has invested a lot of diplomatic prestige regionally, in pulling this deal together. Also, will Trump’s visit to Asia result in him having a conversion experience on the TPP? Would Canada strengthen (or weaken) its NAFTA hand by signing up now (or later) to TPP 11? There are a whole lot of balls in the air right now.

Clearly though, if a final deal is not signed at APEC, the blame for the delay cannot fairly be laid at the door of New Zealand, and the Ardern government. What has always seemed more likely to emerge from APEC is an announcement of a broad agreement in principle, but one whereby all of the outstanding issues will continue to be worked upon. Ultimately, APEC will see the final TPP 11 deal that you get when you don’t have a final deal.

Miguel, Weaponised

Offhand, one mainstream artist who seemed the least likely to release a political song in 2017 would have to be Miguel – the slow jam king hitherto more interested in the smell of coffee in the morning, after waking up with his lady love from the night before. Yet here we are : Miguel’s new album is called War and Leisure, and the first single (‘Shockandawe’) is a ringing condemnation of (a) the US notion of manifest destiny and (b) the related readiness of the US to ask other nations to disarm while it builds up its own military capacity.

As a song, this track may not be as epochal as Outkast’s “Bombs Over Baghdad” but it is a really interesting progression.

And clearly, it isn’t an anomaly either. Over the weekend, Miguel released another similarly explicit political dance track. “Told You So” uses metaphors of ‘control’ in both a romantic and political sense, with video imagery to match. Go, Miguel.