Watkins on TPP

at Stuff writes:

A large group of US senators and members of the House of Representatives have already written to US Trade Representative Ron Kirk opposing any moves to open US dairy markets to New Zealand. We know from bitter experience the strength of the US lobby against increased agricultural access.

If there is no dairy access, I think there is no deal. The danger is that either there are loopholes which allow the US to keep blocking free and fairy dairy access to their consumers – or that the US Congress doesn’t ratify the agreement.

As an example of just how far it could reach into daily life, our librarians have joined groups questioning the deal, because of concerns changes to copyright law will push up the cost of buying books.

There is widespread concern, meanwhile, both in the business and web communities, about intellectual property clauses.

Governments tinker in that area at their peril: think back to widespread protests against section 92 copyright law changes that would have seen users have their internet connections cut for taking free downloads of music and movies. The Government was eventually forced to rewrite the law.

This is right on the mark. The concerns over the US proposed IP chapter are widely shared by many businesses, as well as the Internet communities and other groups such as libraries and the Royal Foundation for the Blind.

The concern is that the Government may see the IP chapter as something it can trade off for improved dairy access. So far the Government’s position has been to reject anything which would force a change of our current IP laws. I am hoping that stance remains.

The Greens argue foreign investors will have even greater rights than domestic investors and a company like Shanghai Pengxin, which is behind the contentious Crafar farms purchase, would be able to sue if the Government impinged on their operations by moving to regulate or legislate to clean up water pollution.

That’s their spin.

The Government spin, backed by Labour, is that such a clause is nothing new and is, in fact, included in the China Free Trade Agreement. It is also, as Groser reminds opponents, protection for New Zealand companies overseas from having the plug arbitrarily pulled out from under them.

It’s a pretty standard clause in most FTAs. Without such a clause, then governments can undermine the agreements with other forms of barriers. I’m not that worried over such a clause in the so long as it has the normal exemptions.

But no one is suggesting the US will demand anything as crude as scrapping Pharmac. It will instead seek the ability for either the drug companies or consumer groups to challenge and appeal its decisions.

A leaked 2004 Wikileaks cable, written by then US Embassy deputy chief of mission Dave Burnett notes that “after trying in vain for years to persuade the New Zealand government to change its restrictive pricing policies on pharmaceuticals, the drug industry is taking another tack: reaching out to patient groups with information designed to bolster their demands for cutting edge drugs”.

This is a strategy hardly unique to drug companies. They are one of thousand of groups who try to build up political pressure for the Government to spend more money on an activity.

I’d be surprised if the TPP, if completed, has anything in it which affects Pharmac.

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