12 FEBRUARY 2011: TPPWatch report that over 800 individuals and dozens of national representative organisations have now signed a letter calling on NZ Prime Minister John Key to release the text of the TPPA for public scrutiny.
Signatories include the NZ Council Of Trade Unions, Oxfam, church leaders, social justice groups, and IT and open-Internet advocacy groups.
National Distribution Union general secretary Robert Reid says that as the issues being negotiated run deeper than mere trade in goods, and to key issues of economic sovereignty and domestic powers to regulate foreign firms, discussions cannot be conducted in secret. The letter may be seen and signed here.
To coincide with the beginning of the next round of talks, a demonstration is being held at Wellington's Midland Park at 12.45pm on Monday 14th of February, which will then proceed to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Lambton Quay.
9 DECEMBER 2010: Media scrutiny and discussion of TPP negotiations has continued in earnest this week, even as much of the debate turns around how much of those negotiations the media and the public can see.
A number of activist groups have called for the negotiating text, rumoured to be being assembled for the first time at Auckland talks, to be made open, with the NZ national union body's economist saying some of the items being negotiated were 'more important than legislation'. The call has been backed by some business groups as well, with small businesses especially worried that the TPP could see them shut out of government contracts in favour of foreign firms.
BusinessDay reported CTU chief economist Bill Rosenberg warned that trade simple was a 'very small part' of the envisaged agreement, compared to the potential foreign investment regulations and IP reforms a TPP may contain. However, Stephen Jacobi of the US-NZ Business Council lobby has warned that any early release of sensitive information akin to what the CTU is demanding would 'undermine negotiations', saying that if the final agreement is not in NZ's national interest, "(it) doesn't have to sign it".
Meanwhile, former Waikato University vice-chancellor Bryan Gould has written an editorial for the Herald warning against the 'potentially-far-reaching consequences' of TPP, and Tim Watkin of Pundit has criticised NZ MP Heather Roy for claiming that the country's nuclear-free stance will prevent any chance of a TPP agreement with the United States while also warning about the agreement's trade-offs.
4 DECEMBER 2010:
Ahead of the commencement of the fourth round of TPP talks at Auckland’s SkyCity convention centre, Australian and New Zealand civil society groups have issued a press release urging Prime Ministers Julia Gillard and John Key to adopt a progressive and balanced approach to foreign investment during the talks.
A joint letter signed by 43 organisations urges Australian and NZ negotiators to reject anticipated US demands for the sort of investor-state enforcement mechanisms included in previous US FTAs.
Australia previously refused to incorporate such agreements in its 2005 FTA with the US. Professor Jane Kelsey, who coordinated the open letter on New Zealand’s side, has applauded the steps already taken to dismiss the idea of such provisions by both governments, but suggests that Australia and NZ go further by negotiating an agreement that “that rebalances investor rights with enforceable responsibilities and restores the primacy of national sovereignty and democratic control over investment-related decisions”.
The letter can be read here. A press release covering the rationales behind the letter appears below.
5 DECEMBER 2010:
The NZ Herald’s Fran O’Sullivan reports
that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka wrote to NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser a fortnight ahead of this week’s talks, warning that a change to New Zealand’s employment laws recently passed under urgency may have prematurely jeopardized US union support of NZ inclusion in the TPP.
In late October, New Zealand’s parliament passed the Employment Relations (Film Production Work) Amendment Bill, the effect of which was to make film industry workers by default independent contractors, rather than employees. Previously, New Zealand’s Employment Relations Act required courts to interpret the ‘real nature’ of the work undertaken to determine whether a worker was in fact an employee or contractor. The extra-contractual nature of this interpretation exercise is also taken by employment courts in Australia, the US, the UK, and Canada.
The Bill excluded all workers who undertake ‘film production work’ from the definition of employee. It was passed as a reassurance to MGM Studios, who were threatening to move filming of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit to the Czech Republic following a dispute between actors’ unions and the studio which MGM claimed would make continued production in New Zealand untenable.
Trumka’s November 15 letter to Groser said that the “misclassification” contained in the Bill represented a “serious problem” which deprived workers of the right to organize and bargain collectively.
He want to say that the Bill “would violate the labour provisions of any future trade agreement between our two countries that we could support."
The Herald goes on to report that NZ Industrial Relations Minister Kate Wilkinson will respond to Trumka’s letter, re-affirming her government’s view that the law change reflects the realities of the film industry without preventing film production workers from being employed as employees where all parties in a contract agree.
30 JULY 2010: Following the unveiling of widespread labour law reforms by John Key's National government, the NZ Council of Trade Unions has announced it will no longer co-operate on trade issues, while AFL-CIO head Richard Trumka has cancelled an impending visit to NZ in response to the changes in employment conditions.
A fortnight ago, Key announced a raft of changes, including a universal expansion of 90-day 'fire at will' probation periods for new employees, requiring permission for union representatives to visit workplaces, allowing workers to trade in a fourth week of annual leave for cash, and requiring workers to provide proof of illness on request if they take a sick day.
The CTU president, Helen Kelly, said that while her body has been "prepared to work with government and business to promote the best possible outcome for New Zealand" in the past, the government's new path of "undermining workers" means that unions cannot support the government any longer on trade matters.
Trumka was set to make an official visit to NZ early next year as part of National's campaign to build strategic allies ahead of further TPP negotiations, but he made the decision to 'indefinitely postpone' the trip following the reaction of the NZ union movement to the changes. Kelly has expressed concern that he would have been 'paraded' by Key's government in an attempt to give NZ a more union-friendly appearance.
NZ Trade Minister Tim Groser has already criticised the union stance as short-sighted. While the leader of the opposition Labour Party, Phil Goff, blamed National for Trumka's cancellation, he also re-affirmed his party's support for the TPP.
17 JUNE 2010 - The Christchurch Press in New Zealand has run an op-ed by Council of Trade Unions policy director Bill Rosenberg, which highlights what he sees as the potentially risky areas of the TPP negotiations. He argues that for any final negotiated agreement to be truly '21st century', it must tightly regulate financial services and control the international flow of currency, especially subsequent to the credit crunch. Additionally, he argues that negotiations need to respect the independence of NZ's Pharmac agency as well as its current overseas investment rules. The full article follows below the break.
7 JUNE 2010 - The Wall Street Journal has written on the 'relatively modest regional deal' (in their words) that is the TPP. The pieces focuses on the gaps between the Obama administration, civil society groups, and business interests around the agreement, and quotes the National Association of Manufacturers' fears that inclusion of '21st century' labour and environmental standards could end up being too tough.
The article also quotes the sponsor of the TRADE Act bill, Michael Michaud, as reporting that House supporters of the Act's aims have met with the USTR and are working towards a 'positive trade agenda'.
18 MAY 2010 - The leaders of trade union councils from New Zealand, Australia, Chile, Peru, Singapore, and the US (though not Vietnam or Brunei) have written a joint letter to the Trade Ministers involved in TPP negotiations, calling for greater transparency in the negotiation of the agreement from this point forward. The letter, which follows below the break, argues that this set of negotiations present an opportunity for an agreement to be worked out in a more open and participatory way. It recommends that:
- An official joint TPP website be created and regularly updated with information about upcoming rounds and the ability for civil society groups to respond and post documents and and proposals;
- 'side rooms' be established at each round of negotiations for civil society groups could be briefed on the course of the agreement and present their views;
- consultations with civil society groups be on-going, not 'one offs';
- TPP negotiating members with indigenous populations consult such populations with procedures in accordance with ILO Convention 169.
MARCH 15, 2010: Trade unions from across the Pacfic have called for a fairer trade agreement network today, fearing the possible outcomes of an 'everything on the table' agreement. New Zealand's Council of Trade Unions has been keeping counsel with its counterparts in the US and Australia. The joint declaration of the combined TPP unions (Australia, NZ, Singapore, USA) can be read here. The individual unions, including CTU have issued their own statements.